When West marries East

Updated: 2013-02-13 11:03

By He Na (China Daily)

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When West marries East

The Meehan family's three boys have performed well in academic subjects as well as leisure activities, such as sports and music. Photos Provided to Chine Daily

Mutual respect holds key to successful marriage

The Meehans are seen as a model transnational couple

Doug Meehan and Tian Yixue (Esha Meehan) met at Old Dominion University in Virginia, where they spent time as study partners and began learning about each other before they started dating.

"Although it was not love at first sight, we each had a deep cultural interest that led to getting to know each other better. We spent a considerable amount of time talking about our backgrounds and interests as classmates and became friends before we became a couple," said Doug, 41, a business-strategy data analyst for a global grocery retail chain.

"I found her to be very pure-hearted, smart, and beautiful. I was inspired by listening to stories about her journey to America."

They developed a relationship through long discussions of their backgrounds, interests and thoughts of the future, and found commonality in areas such as career development, family values, and the desire to raise children.

"As our understanding of one another grew, feelings of affection set in. Our friendship blossomed into an intimate relationship," Doug said.

"In the beginning of our relationship, I drove an hour to her apartment, where she lived alone on a stormy night to ensure that she was OK. She was not expecting my arrival and was touched by my thoughtfulness."

They were married in 2000 in Norfolk, Virginia.

"We threw out traditional wedding customs from both cultures and participated in an annual Valentine's Day group wedding ceremony along with 32 other couples," said Tian, 35, who works as a controller for a power-tool company in the United States - a subsidiary of a Chinese-owned international company.

"Local television stations held broadcasts of the event and country singer Keith Urban performed live for the couples and guests. The ceremony has left lasting memories and is always a fun story to share and hear," said Tian.

Deeper feelings

It has been 12 years since they married, but they still have countless words to say and often stay up to chat.

"We never lost the feelings for each other and they keep growing and deeper as days come and go," said Tian.

They are the most compatible couple in the eyes of their relatives, colleagues and neighbors. Although they come from and grew up in totally different cultures and backgrounds, the difference brought more fun to their lives than trouble.

"While travelling in China, we spent an evening in a public bath. Chinese people seem to be much more comfortable exposing themselves in public than what I am used to," Doug said.

And other fun story Tian told is that they have friends who are also in a transnational relationship, but theirs is between a Chinese man and an American woman. When they go out as two couples, people often mistake who is with whom.

"I don't think cultural differences create friction in our lives. We spend a considerable amount of time in open communication," Doug said.

"We have similar beliefs on most topics and come to a quick compromise on any disagreements that may come up. Any frictions that arise tend to be basic things all couples will encounter."

But Doug still says that he needs time to accept some Chinese habits, such as the way Chinese people tend to speak very loudly and forcefully to each other.

"There have been many occasions where I thought Esha and her mom were arguing, when actually they were just discussing a dinner plan or ideas for the day. I'm still not sure why basic conversations have to be spoken so loudly," he said.

Children and in-laws

The couple has three sons who have performed well in academic subjects as well as leisure activities, such as sports and music.

"Getting the kids to understand their Chinese heritage is difficult while living and growing up in America. However, we have worked hard to teach them how to speak and write Chinese," said Doug.

"With their Chinese grandparents living in the house, the kids have learned many Chinese cultural customs."

Tian added that their children were introduced to many developmental activities such as sports, music, art, martial arts, and education-enrichment programs. "We use their Chinese heritage as a driver to pursue and develop under this demanding activity workload," she said.

Recently, Doug has found the festive atmosphere at home growing.

"My in-laws always make traditional Chinese dishes to celebrate the Chinese New Year. I enjoy celebrating with the family. Chinese Spring Festival is a special holiday for the family. My boys and I like to participate in decorating the house with Chinese paper art," he said.

"We have learned how to live in harmony with each other with respect and care. My Chinese in-laws are wonderful people who care deeply about family and want nothing more than to participate in the success of our family."

Many friends of the Meehans take them as a model transnational couple. To refresh and maintain the stability of their marriage, the couple provided some advice based on their living experience.

"Beyond the common respect and appreciation for each other that all couples must practice, transnational couples must have a genuine interest and appreciation of their partner's culture, participate in elements of their partner's culture, always be open and honest with one another and understand that your partner's culture will become a big part of your life," Doug suggested.

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