Our Cross-Cultural Marriage, Part 1: TSA, Chickens, and Sandals

Ryan and Abigail live and work in the Boston metro area. Ryan immigrated to the United States from China in 1999 and currently serves as a pastoral intern and staff member at Christ the King Presbyterian Church. Abigail grew up in Champaign, Illinois, and currently works and studies at Tufts University. They met while working in Washington, D.C., a city they love dearly. Make sure to check back over the weekend for the rest of the series!

We did not refer to each other as husband and wife, but we were wearing our rings.  It was a beautiful fall weekend in New England, when all the trees decided to put on their seasonal best for the thousands of tourists, ourselves included, who came to visit the mountains. The owner of our Airbnb cabin was a middle-aged woman who had lived in multiple major cities around the country. Through the course of our conversation, we mentioned that I am a pastor-in-training and that I had just finished preaching in a nearby church earlier that morning. The visit went really well, and our stay was pleasant. A few days later we received an email from Airbnb, informing us that our host had given us a review on the website. I didn’t pay any attention to it until Abigail pointed out to me that our host referred to us as “Ryan and his friend.” 

My wife is an Anglo woman from Champaign, Illinois. I am a Chinese-American immigrant who came to the U.S. at the age of twelve. We realized that somehow, it seemed more likely to our host that a prospective pastor would have a romantic getaway with “his friend” than that we were married to each other.

This may seem to be an unfair and insecure reaction, but situations like this are part of the regular pattern of our life. Very often during TSA checks and in restaurant lines we are mistaken as two separate parties. When people see that the last name on my wife’s ID is spelled “Z-H-A-N-G,” a momentary bewilderment often flashes across their faces. The number of intercultural marriages between Chinese and Anglo-Americans is growing. Marriages between Chinese women and Anglo men are more common, but it is still rare, especially in smaller towns, to spot a Chinese man with an Anglo wife.  

Although I spent my childhood in Guangzhou, China, I went through middle school and high school in a small town outside of Cincinnati, OH. I was the only Chinese-born student in my graduating class of 750, and all of my best friends were white Christian boys. I feel very comfortable stepping outside our home into the American world, but my parents and I still retain many Chinese customs at home. We cook Chinese food at home (which is still the only type of food I know how to cook), watch Chinese television shows, and speak to each other in Chinese.

I had grown very accustomed to stepping between these two worlds without even noticing any alteration in myself, until my best friend from college visited my family. He commented the next morning, “Oh my gosh, everything makes so much sense now!” I asked him, “What do you mean?” He responded, “Now I know why you are who you are, because when you leave your house you are in America, but when you go home you’re in China!” Despite the academic research I’ve done on Chinese-American immigrants, I had never fully grasped that I too inhabited two vastly different worlds. The switch between my home culture and the outside world had become so seamless that I barely noticed its existence. I didn’t know there was a noticeable difference in my home and “away” lives.

Now imagine my Anglo-American girlfriend visiting my Chinese family in Cincinnati for the first time. After dating for about four months, Abigail came back with me to visit my parents, and I received a chance to see our lives through a white girl’s eyes. Abigail courageously ate all the food that was set before her, listened to my conversations with my parents in Chinese, watched Chinese television with my parents, and attended Chinese church services at my dad’s church. She also carefully abided by all the shoes and sandals rules in my parents’ house. At the end of the week, my parents sent us back to D.C. with whole cooked chickens in each of our bags. Abigail didn’t even know you could travel on the plane with a whole cooked chicken! I began to notice our eccentricities. Most importantly, I had the chance to see how Abigail grew comfortable with my parents, communicated with them through hand gestures and meaningful glances, and treated them with the reverence and respect that all Chinese mothers and fathers-in-law look for.

To my delight (and my parents’ too), this warmth has continued into our married life. Abigail and I have celebrated Chinese holidays with my extended family in Boston, grieved through the illness and death of my grandma, and visited China with my parents for two weeks. Our cultural differences have only added colors and flavors to our marriage. That does not mean we don’t differ over traditions, holidays, and dinner decisions. And of course, we still attract perplexing looks and double-checking from waiters and TSA agents. In the next few days, you will get to hear from both of us about our story, our experiences, and some of our reflections. You will get to see how our cross-cultural marriage opened our eyes to see our own primary and secondary cultures, and how God works through our marriage to nurture our faith in Him and love for one another.

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Further Reading

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Nanjing: Loving People Through Prayer
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Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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