This is part of an on-going installment. For Part 1 click here.
Going back to the West would mean giving up my well-paying job, my financial independence, and starting from scratch as a single mother. With little meaningful work experience, and a baby to raise… Or could I get away yet stay in China, just move out? It’s his China, and the reason I’m here is him, so it would be wrong to leave him yet stay here… These were some of the thoughts I had when I decided to leave. Usually that meant home, but I didn’t know how to get there this time. I felt safe at home and that was my ultimate destination. But this wasn’t the plan. I wanted to stay in China for another two to three years, to improve my Chinese and improve my language skills in pursuit of a future career. So I stayed.
Moving out into a hotel with the baby was the first step. But moving out just increased the tension and stress. Every morning dropping my precious boy off to his nainai filled me with dread and fear that he wouldn’t be there when it was time to pick him up again. I would never leave my child, but the horror stories of intercultural relationship breakdowns in a country which isn’t signatory of the Hague Convention (on child kidnapping) haunted me. Because if my husband wasn’t on my side, then how could I trust him anymore?
My relationship with my mother-in-law also understandably broke down. Once I moved out, she was no longer on my side, nagging my husband to be better and to be a more responsible partner. I didn’t know if she would still be rooting for us to reconcile or plotting to take her grandson away, where he couldn’t be taken abroad.
Looking back I don’t think I knew what I wanted to achieve by moving out, though I could see we were heading towards a divorce. But I needed some headspace. I didn’t want my marriage to fail, especially in such spectacularly clichéd fashion, but I couldn’t stay just to not fail. I wanted a happy marriage and a happy life, and I couldn’t see it with my Chinese husband, uninvolved and uncompromising. Not my life partner.
I knew he didn’t want me to move out. Of course he wanted me to stay and for our marriage to continue at all costs. In his culture divorce is not an option, and certainly a failure and loss of face. But no one had ever taught him about marriage and the effort that it takes. Or the work that goes into family life. For my spoilt, chauvinist, one-child era husband, work fell to his mother and life was easy. Marriage meant staying together no matter what. So he couldn’t comprehend my viewpoint, he just wanted to keep us together.
And so came the grand gesture: turning up at work in his smartest outfit and his hair perfectly styled with a massive bunch of flowers and a sample of the cards I had given to him on special occasions (rarely reciprocated). He’d printed a list of the things he would change in order to keep me and had words full of love. It breaks my heart to look back. It was a good effort and he was putting in all he could think of. But life is not a movie with a fairytale ending, and I was too far gone. I felt betrayed and lost and couldn’t go back to the frustrations of our life. His words were almost empty to me, I knew he would never make me a cup of tea or cook dinner once a week. I knew he didn’t want an equal partnership and couldn’t understand my principles of equality. So I turned him down.
Check out Part 1 of Trouble in WWAM Land here, and stay tuned for what happened next.
- Trouble in WWAM Land III - May 15, 2017
- Trouble in WWAM Land II - April 21, 2017
- Trouble in WWAM Land I - March 24, 2017
This post was originally incorrectly attributed to Jocelyn Eikenburg and has now been updated to the correct author, Caroline Zhang. Apologies for any confusion caused.
Can’t wait to read more of it