Thursday, 8 July 2010

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Hold on to your roots, embrace the good and discard the bad


At some point in time while living overseas in a cross-cultural marriage, this searching stage will hit most, if not all, and most will have to deal with it. Each will find his or her way. For those who come after me, I share my experience below.

Being in Denmark, I certainly at least look different – I am an Asian from the Little Red Dot. I ask myself, who am I? Where do I come from? I began my journey on an identity search 9 years ago…

My Significant Other and I visited Singapore on a regular basis. I read up and explored ferociously about Singapore – its history, its culture, etc. - like a tourist. I actually think I did a better job than when I was a student back then trying to pass the history exam on Singapore! I had the urge to trace my roots and to visit China, the place my great-grand parents came from. I read up about China and Denmark in the same regard. We visited China, me for the first time in 2002, but I didn’t feel very Chinese there. I read up books on cross-cultural marriage. “Intercultural Marriage – Promises and Pitfalls” by Rugan Romano made interesting read, but it did not provide satisfactory answers to what I was looking for. I tried to find guidance from those who have trodden this path before me, but alas, there were few to be found.

The identity search intensified when I was expecting J two years ago. What is our baby? Is he half Singaporean? Half Chinese? Half Danish? Is he full Singaporean? Is he full Danish? Is he neither Singaporean nor Chinese nor Danish? How can I raise up our baby well without knowing who I am?

Ironically, the identity search was completed and closed when J was born.

I found the answer to who I am when I was introducing J to his first solid food. When it comes to food, I take the best and give it to J. I look for wholesome, natural, basic food created by God. For example, a carrot. A food is basic, but the cooking style differs. Not all Chinese food is good and healthy. Not all Danish food is good and healthy. A carrot eaten raw is good. A carrot steamed is good. A carrot fried with fat is no good, at least not on a regular basis. Whether it is Chinese or Danish or the rest of the world, I take the best from all of them, and discard the bad. I improvise on the traditional Chinese food and make the modern healthy version for J. I introduce J to the best food from other cultures so that he will grow up to be at home in most part of the world – For example, tahini: Mediterranean and Arabic, millet: African, quinoa: South America.

This attitude on food flows over to my parenting. At the heart of it all, we are all basic human beings created by God, but the traditions, languages and mentality we have differ, which together make up the tapestry of cultures.

What does God think of Singapore, Denmark and China? Does it matter to Him?

I believe God is proud of Singapore, Denmark and China. I believe God is sad about the short-falls of Singapore, Denmark and China. I believe God is patient with the growth and maturity of Singapore, Denmark, China and the rest of the world, not wanting anyone to perish.

Thus, I would like to pick from what I think is the best, healthiest and most wholesome from the Singaporean, Chinese and Danish traditions and pass them on to J. I would like to discard and minimize the short-falls of what I think are not so good, be it Singaporean, Chinese or Danish. Cultures are not stagnant, be it in Singapore, Denmark or China. I try to improvise and simplify the traditional traditions to keep it relevant and fit it into our modern and fast paced lifestyle.

I love my husband. He is Danish, thus allowing me the unique privilege of gaining first hand insights into the Danish culture, although I don’t quite understand it to the extend I understand Singapore or Chinese culture. Thus, I work on cross-cultural understanding. I work on maintaining my languages – English, Chinese and Danish, wherever it is realistically possible and time permitting. Knowing the language helps me to understand the culture and mentality. It is a lot of hard work! My Chinese has improved a lot since I moved from Singapore, and my English is maintained.

I love Singapore, I love Denmark, I love China and I have compassion for the rest of the world. Without Singapore, I won’t be who I am today. China has connected me with the past to the present and Denmark has provided me with my master degree totally free and with no conditions attached, to which I am forever grateful. I have come to regard both Singapore and Denmark as home.

And J? He should be what he is, uniquely J. I should try to resist to make him more Singaporean or more Danish. As a mixed kid, he should be allowed to one day go through his own searching process. But as his parents, we have the responsibility to help him to understand his roots and to support him in his challenges. Prayerfully, he will be able to bridge the gap and be comfortable in Danish, Mandarin and English. Prayerfully, he will embrace the best of Singapore, Denmark and China, where his roots spring forth and go forth comfortably to embrace the rest of the world.

It took me 9 years to find out. Yes, I now know who I am.

I am a Chinese in this make-up: modern, Christian, western-educated, Danish-experienced, cross-culturally-exposed Singaporean-born Chinese embracing the good and discarding the bad in her cultural experiences.

With this post, it marks the end of the journey of my identity search.

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