by Alain Fontaine
Ile de France, France
17 years ago, I was a young man with an open mind and a goal: to go to Asia, first to Taiwan and learn Chinese, then to Japan and learn Japanese. I figured that already knowing French and English, I would be on top of the world.
I first went to Taiwan and started to learn Chinese, but soon my plan went astray: I met a Taiwanese girl. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but after a few weeks, I did start to like her very much. She was beautiful, lively and outgoing, the opposite of me, who at that time was in fact shy and a bit bland.
We dated for a couple of months, but she got tired of me tagging along with her and her friends, some of whom must have asked what she was doing with a guy so different from herself. One day she called to say that it was better for us not to go out together for awhile. I can’t say the news shattered me. I just went back to my student life at the Taipei International House with the other fellows who lived there and that was OK.
Then four or five months later, she called again. She wondered if I would like to go bowling with her and a friend. This time, it was a totally new start for us. Maybe I had changed in those few months, maybe being able to speak much better Chinese I had better ways to communicate with her.
We started a stable relationship, eventually got married and are now the proud parents of three wonderful children. I never really wondered why she had called me again to ask me out after dropping me. In fact, I found out only a few years after we got married.
The reason behind the call was my mother-in-law to be. She asked her daughter: “What happened to that nice, quiet young Frenchman? You know, if you want to pick a foreigner to go out with, he is a good pick.”
You see, when my mother-in-law was young, she fell in love with somebody different. She was Taiwanese, he a Mainland Chinese who had arrived in Taiwan from China with the Kuomingtang retreating army. At that time, over forty years ago, Mainlanders were often despised by the Taiwanese, for many reasons. So when my mother-in-law decided to marry a Mainlander she had difficulty convincing her family to accept her choice. She luckily had the support of one of her elder brothers, who managed to convince her parents.
Later she promised herself that she would never go against her daughters’ choices when it became their time to get married. Too often, parents don’t remember that they were once young people needing freedom to find their own way. My mother-in-law did remember, and honored this daughter’s tendency to marry a foreigner. I adore her every day for that, and will use her example as my children grow.