Mini Story: The Battle Of Love

“Yesterday I threw all his books out the window.” Lulu says to me.
“Really?” I feign surprise but I’m not really surprised.
“I made sure the car is not parked in the driveway first and the screens were taken down for the winter.” Lulu and her husband Tun live in a tenement style townhouse and the driveway is right underneath the living room window.
“I liked the sound of the books hitting the asphalt. He ran out to pick them up while shouting that I’m the meanest woman he’d ever known.”

We were sitting at the dining area of H Mart, a Korean grocery store, in Edison, New Jersey, and sharing several steamed red bean buns. Originally we planned to go to Menlo Park Mall together afterwards, but Lulu’s obviously not in the mood. I guess the shopping trip is off. I have to be careful when Lulu complains about her husband. If I don’t ask for details, she is going to be hurt that I don’t care about her; if I ask too many details, she is going to think that I am too nosy; if I don’t criticize Tun, she’s going to think I am not on her side; if I criticize Tun, she may be annoyed. Two months ago I gave Lulu several suggestions when the couple was having a spat. When they reconciled afterwards, she told Tun everything I said. Tun has not spoken to me since and probably will never speak to me.

“You know his parents were against our marriage and thought we are not suitable to each other. Now I think about it. They have a lot of foresight.” Lulu says.
“Why did they say you are not suitable?” I ask.
“His zodiac sign is sheep and mine is dog. They think the dog will eat the sheep. At the time I thought that’s just nonsense old superstition.” Lulu says.
“It is nonsense. You are not saying you start to believe it now?” I say.

Lulu and her husband Tun met in Singapore where she was working on her computer science degree. Tun moved there with his parents several years before Lulu. Tun’s father is the best player of an obscure string instrument in the world and also a rare scholar in a pictograph language with dwindling native speakers. Under a new diversity initiative of the Singapore government, scholars like Tun’s father were recruited to the universities there to give lectures and demonstrations. Tun’s father didn’t want to move. They were living in Northern Thailand at the time and had a modest income and a stable job and very high social status. However Tun’s mother were interested in the opportunity and persuaded her husband that it would be good economically for the whole family. In this tropical city state, both Tun and Lulu were immigrants with very few friends and very limited resources. The locals shun poor immigrants socially if not professionally, and the couple felt lucky that they found each other.

Several years later, Tun worked as his father’s assistant and Lulu’s company opened a new office in New Jersey. Tun and his parents didn’t want her to come, but she didn’t listen to them. She came and settled down and battled with her husband and in-laws, who eventually caved in. Her husband came but could only manage to get very ill paid jobs.

“I gave him an ultimatum–either he starts to learn computer to get a good job or…” Lulu says.
“What if he doesn’t want to learn computer? He’s not like you.” I shrug my shoulders.
“Oh, he has to. He has to sacrifice for our family.” Lulu says, “and you know we have an opening for web testers and document writers. If he just learns a little bit of computer and passes the entrance test, he can triple his current salary.” Lulu says.

Two weeks later, Lulu calls me. She kicks her husband out.
“Isn’t that a little too dramatic? What are you going to do?”
“I threatened to kick him out and now I did it.” She says with a sad triumphant tone.

Three months later, I meet Lulu again. She happily informs me that her husband has just moved back home.
“Is he learning computer skills now?” I ask.
“No. He’s just his old self.” She says, a little crestfallen.
“I am glad it’s blown all over now. Let’s just relax and be happy. This is love, you know? You just have to accept who he is.” I smile at her. There’s never a crestfallen woman happier than Lulu, I think.
“OK, I’m accepting him all right, but can you talk with him? I mean to persuade him to learn computer?” Lulu asks.
“What do you mean? You can’t persuade him yourself. How can I persuade him?” I’m a little panic.
“Well, you deal with people and you know how to persuade people.” Lulu insists.

Just when I think their battle of love is over, I realize it is not.

A Mini Love Story

G is my distant cousin and he is always considered, by my parents and my relatives, to be the most intelligent and most unfortunate among all my cousins. His life started well–a cute kid, indulged by his parents, growing up to be a handsome teenager. He’s half Mongolian, just like me, but he looks more Mongolian than anybody else in my family, the very handsome kind of Mongolian. Actually Mongolians are not as homogeneous as we tend to think. They come from many different tribes scattered among a vast area and people have quite diverse physical features–some are short and some very tall, some with thick black hair and some with soft thin kind. G is the best looking boy. He’s also talkative and gregarious. Everybody loves him. If he’s not my cousin and if he’s my age group, I would have fallen in love with him.

When he’s about 15 years old, due to political reasons, he was sent to a remote area at the border of China, Russia, and North Korea. Nobody could save him from his fate. He went and stayed there for 20 years. Actually among the same group of young men who were sent to the region, he’s the last to leave. I don’t really know the particulars, but I suspect that G refused to bribe the officials, either on moral ground or economic ground. From my observation, he is rather high minded and also very stingy, both working against him for the purpose of an early return. My parents always insisted that G is too intelligent for his own good. He doesn’t go with the flow as others do, and he ends up making himself conspicuous, usually in a bad way.

When G came back to the big city, he was so unskilled and so uneducated that he couldn’t get a job. His mother had to quit her job so that G could replace her. It’s a low level clerk job, but it is a good job in a convenient location. If G could keep his mouth shut and behave well, promotion was very possible.

Now everybody started to introduce girls to him. His parents–my aunt and uncle–were very anxious to see their only son settle down as soon as possible. They saved for him for decades. He also had his own savings. The only thing lacking was a wife. But he’s difficult. My parents said again he’s just too intelligent and his aim too high. His intelligence obviously works against him again–especially in the marriage market. He’s 35, with no marketable skills. What could he expect? Just like what my parents said, G rejected all the girls people introduced to him.

Then one day he came home with a girl, X, who’s almost as tall as him, almost as old as him. She’s quite nice and elegant, working in a place very close to G. On closer inspection through a deliberately prolonged dinner, my aunt and uncle found that X is actually from a different ethnic group. I won’t name this ethnic group since my relatives have strong prejudice against this group and often criticize this group. Now I realize how prejudiced my relatives were. At the time I followed their example as if that’s the only valid opinion in the world. Everybody was against this marriage. My parents were called upon to denounce this girl and they did.

The wedding eventually happened despite all the objections. I think the reason G likes X is that X loves theater as much as G. They like plays, movies, operas of various kinds. Not that they had so much money to spend on these, but in those days everything was broadcast on TV and they watched everything and discussed it endlessly afterwards. It’s a Mongolian tradition to love theater. I guess everybody living in the far north with long winters would eventually develop a penchant for theater. There’s no entertainment available in winter except watching people dressing up and posing as fictional characters.

Soon after the wedding, their married life became a common topic circulated among the relatives. My parents couldn’t go visit them since they were not welcomed anymore due to their strong objection to the marriage. However, my parents talked with my uncle and my aunt to get all the details. The newly weds were waiting to get their own place, but while waiting, they lived with my uncle and aunt.

First X had a bad eating habit. My uncle and aunt whispered to my father, who related it to my mother at our dinner table. X didn’t eat formal meals, only snacking here and there throughout the whole day. My cousin G didn’t mind this at all since his mother always cooked. G had his meal with his parents while his wife X was either coming home late or finding some excuses to go talk with neighbors. My uncle and aunt considered this as a serious breach of long-held tradition. Also X didn’t cook and had no intention of cooking for the family as a good daughter-in-law should have done. My parents discussed this piece of information and attributed X’s habit and her non-filial attitude to his ethnic background. She’s just not as civilized as us, which was the reason she couldn’t get herself married until she’s 35 when my unfortunate cousin came calling. My parents concluded.

My uncle and aunt wanted to exert their authority and train their daughter-in-law into a “civilized” being. At this time, both my uncle and aunt had retired. They could have an early dinner themselves without having any food left for G, which they thought could force X to cook for G. They devised this plan. One day, when G came back home and found no food on the table. G asked his wife X to cook something. X just came back from work and was having a cookie. She offered him some. G declined and insisted on some cooked food. “Why don’t you go out to the corner restaurant to get a bowl of noodle?” X said. G agreed and went out. This went on for three days and eventually my cousin G threw a tantrum. X treated him as if he’s an incorrigible teenager and brushed him aside. She stepped out to go talk with the neighbors–it’s part of her indispensable entertainment that she talked with neighbors.

My cousin G and his wife X end up having a better relationship than my own parents, or my uncle and aunt. G’s macho outbursts usually have no effect on X, probably because of the cultural difference between the two. I always wanted to tell my parents that I like X, but I never dared.