In a perfect world, being an international couple would be as glamorous as a James Bond movie. You would spend your days intermingling your world in different languages, swept away by the fascinating customs of your partner’s country, and have the benefit of dual citizenship and a jet-setting lifestyle.
It would be nice, wouldn’t it? If only you weren’t sleeping with the enemy.
I should know. As close as China and the US have come in recent years, they aren’t putting their arms around each other like the US and Britain. And yet, even with all of the strides we have made, somehow somebody (such as Tim Geithner) has to pull out the China unfairness card (in this case, on the artificial value of the RMB) and, before you know it, we all feel like enemies again.
I wouldn’t necessarily mind it, save that this silent quarrel wreaks havoc upon our lives in curious ways.
As I think about my future — which currently means a move back to China with the husband after gaining his PhD — there are so many bizarre details that no couple should ever have to face…but we will. Take for example, having kids. If we go back to China and, say, decide to have children, the kids can either be US citizens or Chinese citizens, but not both (and if they are US citizens and then I take them out of the country, they need a visa to come back in). Then there’s the fact that merely being married to a Chinese man does not automatically grant me a green card. Fortunately, there is at least a Chinese green card system, but in China I have to live there continuously for five years before I’m even eligible.
I could only imagine how more horrendous it would be if our two countries were at war.
Except, I don’t have to — Pearl Buck imagined it for me, and for the rest of us, in her book Patriot, which follows the world of I-wan, a smart young man who faces the unthinkable: being married to a woman from Japan, a country invading China.
I-wan is not only married the the enemy – he works for them too.
I-wan’s father sends him to Japan, after being outed as a revolutionary, to work for his longtime friend, Mr. Muraki, an import-export businessman who lives in Nagasaki. His love for Muraki’s daughter (who eventually becomes his wife) blinds him to the reality behind the antique Chinese vases and scrolls and jewelry that pass through his inspections in the warehouse (let’s just say, this merchandise probably wasn’t bought gently, or even at a fair price). But by the time he realizes the betrayal, things are already headed for disaster. His best friend in Japan is sent over to China for battle, and, in a drunken stupor, admits to mindless acts of hatred, such as ravaging teenage Chinese girls to death. Meanwhile, once the war is underway by Japan, Muraki, who I-wan’s father had long praised as an upstanding citizen, is quietly confiscating letters between father and son. As for the media, the headlines in Japan are filled with mindless propaganda, such as how the Chinese welcome the Japanese invasion, leaving out footnotes of horror like the Rape of Nanjing.
As I-wan’s anger grows, it becomes even harder to reconcile reality with his domestic life. He dearly loves his wife, an obedient, thoughtful woman who eschews politics, and instead puts her energy into providing I-wan with the best food, family, and relaxation. Yet, can he see beyond her country to embrace her for the person she is, and not her nationality? Worse, he fears that his sons, growing up in Japan, will never love and experience Chinese culture.
While I-wan considers what to do for his country, his revolutionary communist past could jeopardize all of his efforts, and even put him at risk of being labeled a traitor by Chiang Kai-Shek.
There are ultimately no easy answers for I-wan, though I will say he follows his heart without betraying his family.
There are no easy answers for me and Jun, either. But one thing I know is this — he’s the best thing that ever happened to me, and he’ll never be my enemy.