Most of us have heard the phrase “When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do.” And many of us WWAMs who are living in China are struggling to do just that, or at least trying to find a happy medium, where both of our cultures can be acknowledged and respected. But an ever important question is: how far should a “non-Roman” go in order to be culturally appropriate?
In my own case, there are challenging aspects of Tibetan culture that I find more…doable than others:
- Woman, doing all the housework and keeping busy while the men sit around and smoke cigarettes,
- Showing respect to people who have not demonstrated that they actually deserve it,
- Waiting two extra days for your socks and pants to dry because they can’t be hung up on the regular clothes line like everything else.
But recently, I’ve been encountering a cultural situation that is extremely hard to go along with: the suggested procedure for buying an apartment.
Our situation is a bit special. Most families here pool their resources so that there is enough money (or whatever) for the family member in question to achieve their goal. In our situation, neither of our families are able to help. Not only that, but my husband doesn’t have an Iron Rice Bowl (Government) job, nor a high formal education. Yet he is approaching middle age, and really feels like he needs to have his own home. Even I am growing weary of renting and moving every year.
So what is a couple like us to do? Well, I am a foreigner, able to earn higher salaries than local people, especially in other provinces. Regardless of if I would like such a job (because that seems to be very unimportant indeed), doing so means that I will have to be apart from my family.
This is the aspect that I struggle with, being apart from our three year old daughter. Growing up, my family was always together. When money was tight, we made things work as a family and would never consider one of us going elsewhere to send money back home. Therefore, the idea of doing that myself is difficult to bear. I would be missing how many years? How many milestones, family trips and events?
But for many people in Asia, doing just that is a way of life. One or both parents go elsewhere to earn a higher salary and save for the family leaving children with their grandparents or relatives, sometimes only being reunited once a year. Therefore my husband thinks nothing of this plan, reminding me that it is for the greater good of our family.
He has a good job in Qinghai, and it doesn’t make sense for him to leave it now, otherwise I would suggest relocating together. Also his family is nearby, and he will need their help if he is going to take care of our daughter while I am gone.
Unable to figure out any other options, I have agreed to, yet again, do things the “Roman way,” hoping that this particular sacrifice is indeed worth it in the end.
What has your experience been? Have you had to do a long-distance relationship with a family?