“Crazy Rich Asians”: When art imitates life

Crazy Rich Asians has been receiving critical acclaim since its premiere last week and is currently sitting  at the top of the box office. The story depicts an American-born Chinese lady, Rachel Chu, who agreed to spend her summer with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, in Singapore. Little did she know that this summer break would turn out to be one of the dramatic one that she will ever experience in her life. As the first Hollywood film in 25 years featuring an almost all Asian-American cast, it’s re-ignited the public’s interest in the stories of Chinese couples.

Much like the film portrays, relationships among Chinese in America can run into problems despite similar racial backgrounds because of different upbringings, family backgrounds and the influence of American culture.

Stories such as these have been related back to 2RedBeans and we’d like to share a few with you.

Case 1: “I want a proper relationship. I don’t want to waste my time dating for nothing!”

Sindy: 29 years old, came to the U.S. 3 years ago

Ken: 29 years old, came to the U.S. 20 years ago

Sindy arrived in the US 3 years ago with the intention to pursue her master’s degree. Ken moved to New York with his parents when he was very young. Both of them met through a badminton class while attending the same college.  It just so happened that during one lesson, Sindy tripped and sprained her ankle. Ken was the first person to rush to her attention. He brought her to the side of the court and immediately attended to her. His care and concern for Sindy left a lasting  impression.

As both of them were pursuing very similar  degrees, they had a few classes together. Naturally, their friendship grew and Ken would often ask Sindy out after class. They would go for meals or even play a few games of badminton. Weekends would even be spent together going for hikes or visiting museums. However, one thing at away at Sindy. They were still just friends.

Problems arose when when Ken’s older sister flew in to visit. Ken introduced Sindy as his friend. Sindy’s heart sank. It had felt like Ken had been treating her as his girlfriend and that their relationship was more than just a friendship. Ken felt differently. They were still in the dating stage. But Sindy wanted more. She wanted their relationship to be defined. Ken realized this was very important to Sindy so to reassure her, they officially became a couple a week later.  

Fast forward to today. Sindy says that whenever her parents call, they would always ask about their marriage plans. “When are you settling down with Ken?”, “Has he proposed to you yet?”, “Don’t make us worry!” Ken, however, was always career-driven. He didn’t want to focus on marriage and a family just yet. Sindy was tired. She felt like she was dragging Ken along in their relationship.  

Ken finally told Sindy that he didn’t like labels. To him marriage required too big of focus and dedication. He wanted to  concentrate on his career first so he can provide for her and their family in the future.

Case 2: “I love you, but I’m intimidated by your family.”

Grace: 30 years old, came to the U.S. 8 years ago

Jim: 30 years old, came to the U.S. 15 years ago

Jim and Grace have been in a relationship for 3 years. With marriage plans in mind, both of them decided to return to their hometowns in China to pay their parents a visit. If Jim knew what was in store for him, he wouldn’t have had such a shock. After meeting Grace’s parents for the second time, they started talking about  the dowry they want from him. He thought those traditions were long extinct , at least in big cities.

Even though Jim moved to the US 15 years ago, he always had the impression that China had become more modernized and perhaps more westernized as well. He never knew that such traditions of dowry money and the amount given were still openly discussed, and worse, used by parents as a way to brag. This placed Grace in an extremely awkward position.

Case 3:

Ivy: 25 years old, came to the U.S. 22 years ago

Zack: 30 years old, came to the U.S. 24 years ago

Ivy also faced similar issues meeting Zack’s family.

Before getting to know Zack, Ivy was under the impression that she was very familiar with Chinese traditions. Even though she moved to the US when she was very young, her family maintained their “speak only Chinese at home” rule. Similarly, even though Zack moved to the US when he was young, his tight-knit  family maintained a traditional upbringing.

Turns out, they were mistaken: Upon meeting Zack’s aunts, Ivy seemed to be under constant scrutiny. She shudders at the thought of having to face them in the future. Zack’s mom is also always worried about her son. She can’t seem to let him live with Ivy in peace. She’ll always unnecessarily come over to their place to clean up the house and do the chores. With a mother-in-law like that, it’s a lot of pressure for Ivy.

This lead to a few arguments. “I love you, but your family intimidates me and I feel like running away.” They still have a long way to go in order to solve these issues.

Case 4: “He’s Chinese, but it’s as though he isn’t.”

Jane: 25 years old, came to the U.S. 7 years ago

Alvin: 28 years old, came to the U.S. 10 years ago

Jane and Alvin knew each other through a meetup group. Both of them were the only Chinese people in it. When they introduced themselves, they professed their insatiable love of food to each other.Who knew that food would also become a source of their conflict?!

Alvin likes trying out different Western restaurants and enjoys the atmosphere in them. “Eating is not just about food, the mood is also important.” Alvin also likes Chinese food, but he doesn’t like the atmosphere in Chinese restaurants. During special occasions, Alvin would even whip up his own Western cuisine for Jane. Jane is touched, but she can’t seem to get into the Western flavors. Jane came from Chongqing, and her love for Chongqing cuisine never wavered. She likes the hustle and bustle of Chinese restaurants back at home. She feels that eating in Western restaurants is too ‘formal’ for her.

Not only that, but sometimes when both Jane and Alvin talk to each other, the lack of understanding of certain Chinese phrases brings about conflict. Even though both of them studied in the US, Alvin’s college was in a relatively remote city with few Chinese students causing him to lose touch with his Chinese heritage. On the other hand, Jane studied in California, which is full of Chinese. A certain misunderstanding between both of them escalated. Alvin misinterpreted a Chinese phrase that led to an argument.

Jane said: “There is nothing wrong with Alvin. It was an issue of communication and Alvin’s lack of understanding of Chinese that led to their conflicts. We just have to slowly work things out together.”

Even with similar racial backgrounds, different upbringings, family backgrounds and the influence of American culture can still make or break a relationship. This is a real problem and can only be solved through conflict management and, of course, tolerance for each other.

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