Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Large Family Has Too Many Stories (1) 大家庭的故事太多了

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Ma presided over her daughters and daughters-in-law. As the eldest daughter-in-law, I was her chief assistant. A big concern was matrimony. First, there was the worry about what would happen if Eldest Sister’s fifth child was not a boy. Our prayers were answered, which was a good thing because I don’t think anyone could have done anything otherwise. Then, one of the unmarried sisters had an inappropriate boyfriend. Ma became very distressed and did everything in her power to find a proper match.

At this time, Pa was working with two young men who had had their own contracting company. They had many contacts and lots of energy, but they didn’t know too much about bidding or doing skilled construction labor. So Pa and his family joined forces with these two young men. It was a win-win situation. Ma was eager for this alliance to continue, and she felt the best thing to do would be to marry the elder brother to one of her three unmarried daughters. Since one daughter was about to be ruined with a bad boyfriend, Ma persuaded Pa that they should go to work cajoling her into cementing the family fortunes.

Every time the poor woman came home, the two brothers would be invited to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at our house. And after they had finally gone home, Ma would regale her daughters on the benefits of building alliances through marriage. Then she would go into filial duty to one’s parents. And she would finish off with a good dose of shame about the inappropriateness of the boyfriend. Fortunately, my Hakka was not so good, so all I had to do was smile and nod and then excuse myself. I did not really have any heart for this kind of pressuring.

In the end, that daughter moved out for awhile and rarely came home. Ma was left without a prospect for her matchmaking. Another one of the sisters who was quite obedient and docile had taken all the rhetoric to heart and decided to marry the man. She was working her way through night high school, but to cement her father’s business alliance, she got married before she was finished. Her wedding was about two weeks before Peace was born. Because I was pregnant, I was only allowed to attend the feast and to sit outside under the awning. I was not allowed into the house except for to use the bathroom. Yuni and the twins were allowed to run all over.

Not long after the marriage, the younger brother joined a gang and began using drugs. My sister-in-law and her husband worked long and hard, but the mother-in-law took their hard-earned money and slipped it to her younger son whenever she got the chance. By this time he was an addict, so he spent it on drugs and frequently wound up in jail. My sister-in-law and her husband argued and argued with his mother, but she refused to apply tough love. In the end, it created many problems in their marriage, and the great business alliance was not so great after all.


Barrie said...

So very very different from North American families. And yet drugs still managed to sneak in :(

murat11 said...

Ah, the advantages to being Hakka-challenged! Able to slip out, to minimize exposure to the harangues. With all the previous lovely stories of the culture, this is one aspect - marriage as business alliance, marriage as practicality - that I have a hard time with. I'm too much of a romantic not to have passion take the lead.

But then, I do not live in a culture that looks to the group as primary, rather than the individual. For me, marriage was never about family alliances. I wonder what it would have been like to have been acculturated to "group as center."

Sorry to be so long in getting here. Best to you, Teresa.

Teresa said...

Barrie, unfortunately, drugs are pretty ubiquitous all over the world. And they do create problems for the families of addicts.

Murat, I have to say that no culture is perfect. There is much in the Hakka/Chinese culture that is good and admirable, and it certainly has been around for 5,000 years. That says a lot for its effectiveness as a tool of survival. It does, however, subordinate the individual to the clan, and women are not so highly esteemed.

I think that any time we look at cultures, we need to get into the depths. I have seen fellow Americans go on an "Asian binge" and try to embrace all things Asian as being better than American. I think that in part, I was doing that in my youth. Every family on my block growing up but one went through the parents divorcing. I was searching for a different paradigm to make marriage work. And I threw myself into it singlemindedly and whole-heartedly. But mine was NOT an average marriage.

I think that, in general, the reality is there are good points and bad points in each culture. Ancient does not alway equal good, no matter how wise some of its precepts are. I like being able to pick and choose the parts that work from several cultures while dropping the parts that don't.

murat11 said...

Teresa: Completely agree. I certainly have gone on my Asian binges, while looking for something other than the prevailing paradigms here. The beauty of your witness is that we can see the theory and ethos applied: sometimes, what looks wonderful on the page or in the head is not always the same once applied.