Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mr Cat, meet Mr Pidgeon

"Mr Cat, meet Mr Pidgeon...the rest I leave to you."

So goes the old saying, which indicates the strong order of things that seem to drive so much of the human condition.

Much like the laws of nature, so with humans, our likes, our reactions, our affiliations and our nemeses.

Or so I thought.

A few months ago I started seeing a new patient, an elderly Chinese man who was suffering from moderately advanced Parkinson's Disease. In the consultation was his daughter, a feisty, assertive but genuinely caring woman, doing all she could for her father, as well as the gentleman's wife, a woman in her eighties who could not speak any English, but seemed to be the decision maker in the unit.

This man was luckily very responsive to first line treatment, and at least for now many of his symptoms have come under control, resulting in a better quality of life for this man, and as is almost always the case, for his long suffering wife.

At our last appointment the wife expressed her delight that she could now go for long walks without worrying about her husband, who she previously believed needed 24 hr monitoring. In response, I jokingly mentioned that since they live close to me, that she could come and visit my mother-in-law.

Given all that they had in common, their age, their heritage, their language, the vicinity to each other's households, I thought this was a no brainer, and this would provide my mother-in-law an opportunity to mix with other people, and have broader interests and independent friends.

So naively, I arranged for us to meet one day over yum cha.

From where I was sitting, everything seemed to go smoothly. There was a lot of chatter, a lot of smiles. My mother-in-law and the elderly women seemed to talk the most, and why not after-all, they were so remarkably similar.

Well in the days and weeks after that lunch, I slowly noticed that there was no reference, no discussion about the new friend.

At first I barely noticed it, but I kept on asking my wife whether her mother saw her new friend today, in a way feeling chuffed that through my handy work, my mother-in-law had benefitted.

My wife would respond without asking her mother, with a bland "no".

After a few weeks of this, it occurred to me that this simply didn't sound right, so one night, while lying in bed with my wife, I asked her why her mother had not seen her new friend since the yum cha.

My wife said that the woman called 3 times, but her mother didn't want to see her.

I found this so strange. My mother-in-law has so few friends, so few peers of the same age, and she had such a burning desire for conversation, how could she not want to see her new friend?

After more prodding, my wife finally spilled the beans.

She said:

"My mother doesn't like her. She feels that she is below her."

My wife continued:

"My mother was a teacher back in China. This woman was just a commoner."

"My mother now has a son-in-law who is a doctor. This woman's daughter works in a factory. How could you think they would have anything in common. All you have done is embarrassed my mother."

Ditto! Maybe there are some things about the laws of nature that I have yet to fully understand!


Anonymous said...

Wow. Rather sad that your mother-in-law could not connect to her "new friend" on just a basic human level. I guess she would rather be lonely then associate with a "commoner." I feel for you, considering both your mother-in-law and wife are snobs...

Anonymous said...

wow! so pathetic!

Anonymous said...

I have read several of your posts.

1. There should not be secrets in marriage. When a spouse develops their own private life, this signifies that they are trying to re-establish a separate, individual identity. I do not write anything in an email, or say anything to friends or coworkers, that I would not say to my wife. (And if I say something I probably shouldn't have, I tell my wife.)

2. Your wife sounds very rigid. There is nothing wrong with being rigid, but even traditional Chinese culture appreciates that being flexible can often accomplish goals when rigidity cannot.

3. Are you sure your wife did not marry you because her mother wanted her to? She values you for your accomplishments, but does not seem attracted to you.

4. I would have a frank, heart-to-heart talk with her. I would focus how you yourself could be a better husband. If she offers no comments, I would start going over each aspect of your life together, asking what you could do better. Hopefully, at some point, maybe in the following weeks, she would reciprocate and ask you how she could be a better wife.

5. Never let your wife dismiss your feelings as "silly" or unimportant. If they are important to you, they must become important to her. The reverse is also true.

I truly wish you good luck.


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Anonymous said...

The 'new friend' only calls mother-in-law because she wants to improve her own social standing, not because she likes her, and in return mother-in-law snubbs 'new friend' because she wants someone to belittle or is afraid of being judged by other Chinese on the friends she keeps. This abhorrent attitude the Chinese have to those of a different social class shows a total lack of integrity. Modern Chinese culture really is morally bankcrupt.

Anonymous said...

This may seem pathetic and close minded to us but it does seem to be a part of their culture. They have been like this for thousands of years so I don’t blame your mother in law. I only feel sorry for her, missing out on a possible friend just because of her class.
It’s a shame your wife didn’t realize you were just trying to be nice to her mother.

What do you like/dislike most about Chinese women?