On Interracial Marriage in China

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As many of you know, my lovely wife Michelle is Caucasian, and I am not. Interracial marriages (esp. Asian/Caucasian) are not at all uncommon on the West Coast of the US, although ones where the husband is non-white are less common. In Seattle, we occasionally bump into surprises where people don't think Michelle looks like a "Chor" or don't guess we're together, but by and large it's not a big deal. In other parts of the US, we draw stares occasionally but it's not a big deal these days (twenty years ago it was a little different with open staring when we were outside the West Coast.)

Here in China, however, while the white dude/Chinese wife combo is not odd, our particular combination is very rare. This has lead to a surprisingly common phenomenon: everyone thinks I'm Michelle's driver. I guess this isn't surprising since it's not an uncommon sight to see a Caucasian expat woman out shopping with her Chinese driver (who translates, carries bags, etc. – much the same as my responsibilities when we go shopping).

Still, it caught us by surprise the first time a shopkeeper asked if I was her driver. People often think Michelle is kidding when she replies (in Chinese) that I'm her husband. Even kids think this; at the kids' international school, one of their classmates asked if I was their driver. ("Only in the US" was the right reply.)

Most recently, however, I was invited into the Chinese driver club. When we were in Xian last weekend (to see the Terracotta Warriors), our family and two friends took a pair of cabs from the airport. Just outside the airport they pulled over, and the other driver came over to our car. He leaned in and said, "Shifu, let's make a deal…" ("Shifu" means master; it's the title used for drivers.) He went on to say (in Chinese of course), "Hey, we're all drivers here. We want to turn off the meter so our boss doesn’t see this fare. We'll give you a good deal, and we get to keep some money." It took me a second to realize what was going on. Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough on my feet. As Michelle suggested later, I should have asked for a cut.

Of course, I shouldn't complain. Until 1967, anti-miscegeny laws (laws prohibiting interracial marriage and/or sexual relations) were still in effect in sixteen US states; worse, it took until 1998 and 2000 before the last two states (South Carolina and Alabama, respectively) removed the last such provisions from their state constitutions (and then barely in Alabama). I guess these cases of mistaken identity beat not being married to Michelle or having the police barge into our bedroom (like they did with the Lovings, whose case resulted in the US Supreme Court ended all anti-miscegeny laws in the US. It seems like there are parallel lessons that should be applied today to other cases. We're so dumb sometimes.

Anyway, Michelle and the kids think this whole thing is hysterical and have started calling me "Shifu". I'll have to start smoking by the car to complete the picture, I suppose.

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Tony S Reply

Try being gay and Asian and hold hands with a Caucasian/European person in the streets of Hong Kong! The locals look at you as if you got bugs on your head!

Seriously, I personally think this is bigotry. Several weeks ago, I was eating noodles in a small restaurant when I overheard a young Chinese couple belittling another couple sitting at the next table was chatting and eating happily because “they think the white man is taking the Asian woman for a ride” with no justification whatsoever. I was this* close of flipping the table!

Eric R Reply

Me and my wife have been married for 6 years now. She is Chinese and I am a white guy from LA. When I first visited her family in China about 6 years ago, when I was about 21, I had a similar experience... believe it or not. Her family is wealthy, and it was a widely known fact in the area they lived. One day I was moving one of their company vans for my father-in-law, when a kid asked him in a surprised tone "you have a white driver!" (in chinese of course). We all had a good laugh about this afterwards of course.

Also, people would stare at me like I was some kind of creature from another planet when I first visited China. Nowadays though, after the olympics and Expo ended, I am nothing special. Just another face in the crowd.

Point is, just hang in there. China is changing so quickly that you won't even remember this happened in 5-10 years.

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