Monday, April 26, 2010

Chinese people and Anglo names

Australia is a multi-cultural country. You come across people from many different cultural backgrounds here.

We of course have the Europeans, which comprised originally of peoples from Anglo backgrounds, followed later by Continental Europeans.

More recently we have had an influx of Asians, comprising primarily of Indians and Chinese, amongst others.

What I find suprising is that even though the Indians share a common history with the English, when it comes to first names, almost all the Indian Australians that I have come into contact with choose to keep their original Indian name, rather than use an English name, which is the more common practice amongst migrants.

In fact I don't think I have come across any Indians with an Anglo first name, not even Christian Indians, who tend to adopt Christian surnames.

Conversely, this is not the case with Chinese Australians. It is very rare indeed when I come across a Chinese person, whether they be an adult who emigrated to Australia or a child born in Australia, who are known by their Chinese first name.

I don't know what it is about the Chinese, but they place a lot of importance on selecting a novel Anglo first name for themselves and their children.

And these are not standard Anglo names like John or Sharon. They are names with a distinctly Victorian flair about them, almost as if the names were chosen directly from an English novel straight out of the 19th century.

In fact I can often pick out a Chinese child simply from a list of names, simply by looking at their first name only, because the Chinese Australians tend to out-British the British when it comes to choosing names with that certain Brittanic feel to it.

When it came to our child, my wife insisted on choosing his name alone.

She naturally gave the child a Chinese middle name, although she let her mother choose the middle name.

With regard to our child's first name, my wife laboured over this choice for many many years, long before she was even pregnant.

Even as close as a few days before she gave birth, she had still not settled on a name, even though she consulted with people far and wide, and read novel after novel, in order to find the name that she felt was just right.

Finally she chose a name after a previous English Prime Minister, because she felt the name represented strength and resilience, qualities that she wanted in our son.

Anyway, this is how our son was named, and both she and I expected this name to be a rarity today, but nonetheless a familiar name amongst English speakers.

To our suprise, when our son started school, we found out that 4 other boys in his year also had the same name, and, well you guessed it, they were all Chinese.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

We have been arguing lately

My wife and I have been having a number of arguments lately.

It all began when we started looking for a new house. We have outgrown our current residence, and with our boy getting to an age when he is always running around, we decided it was time to find a house with a big backyard.

Well all well and good, and given my income, we may not even need to sell the home we currently live in.

Well that's where our problems begin.

You see our current home was bought and paid off by me before I met my wife. She on the other hand had no real assets to speak of when we married.

This means that our house is technically owned by me, although this would make little difference if we were to get divorced. In that case of course the house will be divided between my wife and I, according to other factors, like the welfare of our child.

However this still bothers my wife. She is annoyed that our current house is only under my name, but as an accountant she is fully aware that to transfer the deed into both our names would be an exercise in wasting money, as the stamp duty incurred would run into the tens of thousands.

So my wife, in order to "balance the arangement", as she puts it, wants to purchase the new house in her name only.

I find this a remarkably bizarre request, and I have tried to ask her to explain how this will benefit us. She keeps saying its fair this way, but this really is not a reasonable explanation to me. It simply does not make any sense.

Anyway, while we were viewing a property last weekend, my wife starting complaining to the real estate agent that I was not willing to "buy" her a new house. This confused the real estate agent because he thought we were looking at the property precisely for that reason.

I tried to explain to the real estate agent what my wife actually meant, and he simply said "oh!", nodded his head, and continued showing us the property.

On the way home however, my wife kept on repeating that the real estate agent said "ohhhhhhhhhh!", indicating that he was embarassed that I was not buying her the property in her name.

It seems to me that she was convinced that the real estate agent sympathised with her complaint, where in truth he didn't care one way or the other, as long as he got a sale.

So he we are, locked in dispute, over a pointless little detail. Part of me says to simply give my wife what she wants, but something else in the back of my mind is nagging at me. I keep asking myself why she wants his and her property, when we are married.

I don't know. It simply doesn't make sense.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

DNA envy and the dinner conversation

We recently went to a friend's house for dinner. They were celebrating their 10 year wedding anniversary, although they lived together for a further 5 years.

Invited that evening were another 3 couples, all being doctors and doctors wives (2 of those wives were also doctors).

The couple celebrating their anniversary are a very loving couple, he being a surgeon and she being a stay at home mother. They are very compatible, although quite different in many respects. Their ongoing adoration of each other is quite palpable, and quite refreshing to experience.

During dinner, the conversation naturally turned to the other relationships in the room, and eventually to mine.

I was asked what it was that attracted me to my wife originally, and I responded in what is probably a typical male fashion, stuck for words but then falling back on the typical qualities such as sense of humour, looks, emotional connection and a sense of compatibility.

Well, then it was my wife's turn, and I could hear the whole room quiten down as she was asked what she found most appealing about me when we first met, and what it was that made her consider marriage with me.

Naive me, I thought she would say that she thought we were compatible, that I was caring and loving to her needs, that I was a good provider and responsible, and maybe, just maybe that she felt that she loved me.

Instead, my wife responded by saying:

"I liked the fact that he was left-handed, and that he had blue eyes and blonde hair. We Chinese admire those physical traits"

When further prompted about the qualities in me that she liked, she continued:

"I liked the fact that he was a doctor. I knew that all my friends and extended family would be jealous of me if I married a doctor."

Everyone at the dinner table smiled, out of politeness I think, but I think my poor wife simply didn't realise that she she was being asked for human qualities, not pragmatic ones.

I tried to interrupt and hopefully change the topic, but I was gently brushed aside, in a helpful and supportive way, by one of the wives sitting beside me, who said to my wife:

"Love, what we mean is did you marry him because you thought he would support you through thick or thin, or did you maybe think he would make a great father to your child?"

My wife seemed like she understood, she took a deep breath, smiled and then said:

"I thought about what my child would look like if I had a child with him. I wanted my child to have light coloured hair and eyes, and to be a doctor too. I liked him for, how do you say, for his DNA?"

Everyone laughed, I guess because no other response was appropriate, and we simply moved on to other topics.

I felt somewhat embarrassed by my wife's response, truth be told, but there was a huge language and cultural barrier that made it difficult for her to talk in those terms, so I simply put it aside and tried to forget it.

At work however, I still get a jibe from my colleagues, who while diagnosing a condition for the ocassional chinese female patient, ask me whether I think they have DNA envy, and then they smile and wink.

Yes, its funny, and simply part and parcel of a cross-cultural relationship.

What do you like/dislike most about Chinese women?