Reverse cultural impacts

We eloped, married in the State Registry, and stayed with friends. It was a good feeling to be with someone who cared, and to be supported by friends. Life was good again. Then, disaster struck. As the Chinese say, “Misfortune is not that which can be avoided, but that which cannot.”

… … My reception back home was as warm as an Eskimo Pie (an ice confection sold in Malaya). There were no recriminations and no comment. That was the worst of it.

… … Is this how destiny works? To chuck us into limbo, leaving it to us to sort ourselves out from there? The agony of uncertainty was like that, I supposed, of someone treading water in dangerous seas wondering whether a saviour or a shark would surface.

A few weeks later, my wife insisted on joining me…. … No one spoke about our predicament. No relative or friend came to visit. It was quite weird, as if we were on holiday. It was actually peaceful. But my mother must have thought to herself, ‘I take some twenty years to mould my son in my own image, just to see some other woman make a fool of him in as many minutes.’ (I’m sure that some smart alec had already said that somewhere else.)

The exception to this peaceful life was a stranger who greeted me thus, “Son, I expected to see you here this month.” I couldn’t believe it! … Now, this stranger explained that my mother had consulted him because, sometimes, he could see the future. On this occasion, many, many months before … this man had seen me in that house in that month! And there I was! As for the future, he said that I would have great difficulties for a very long time! … Bad luck is fertile, as the Russians hold.

… … If free will is indeed as limited as it seems to be, let destiny roll on. I intended to live, find myself, and have fun in the meantime. I preferred to adopt another Russian saying: “In the kingdom of hope there is no winter.” So I set out to live, aided by my wife … We had no future, no idea where to go or what to do. But the universe was before us.

There are also sensitivities, related to cultural traditions and customs. For example, the wife does not ask her husband to get up and go to the kitchen and fetch her a drink in his mother’s house. He does not pull out a chair for her, seat her, and then find his own seat. She does not tell him, certainly not in front of his mother, what he or they will or should do. One also exercises discretion in opening up a topic of any sensitivity. One does not go, like a bull at a gate, into an issue to be explored before seeking, hopefully, a consensus.

All this was well documented in books about Asians returning home with English or other European wives. The men were inevitably accused of turning “native” again, because they were expected to live according to Western traditions in an Eastern home, simply because they had a Western wife. The need for the wife to adapt to her husband’s milieu is rarely conceded. There were also so many intangibles for the Western wife to be sensitive to, like the use of the right hand and not the left, for giving and receiving: the taking off of shoes at the door, and so on. My wife was not unaware of all of these, but it was easy to stumble (we trip not on mountains but on molehills).

The obverse also applied – Asians seem to pussyfoot around some issues. They seem to prevaricate – when they mean “No”, they do not say it. They appear to agree when they do not (but it is not a rejection, either). I was caught between two traditions – and neither side listened, because (I suspect) both saw me as weak or a fool; and I did not want to know which.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ reflect, in a sense, disparate perceptions by colonialism-tinted Westerners and traditional Asian cultures. Only time and greater intercourse socially would lead to compromises. The perennial issue in such cross-cultural contacts is: whose cultural values and practices shall prevail in different countries?)