Son of Suzhou – well almost…

“Is he calling me a girl?”. That was the thought that ran through my head the first time someone in China call me a “son-in-law” of Suzhou. Laugh if you want but I was having dinner with some government officials in the sports division of the government. If you haven’t had the pleasure of being entertained by Chinese officials, you are blissfully unaware that a great part of the tradition is drinking Chinese white wine, but that’s a topic for another day. It relates to this story because, I was, well, being entertained and hence drinking white wine so the fact that I thought he was calling me a girl, is related to my mental state at that moment, at least partly. I probably wouldn’t have thought he was calling me a girl if not for the spirits but I would not have understood what he meant either way. As the Chinese word for “son-n-law” is similar, at least in my mind, with girl or woman, it was an honest mistake.

After the initial shock and some direction from my, then wife to be, I was quite happy with the handle because it gave me a kind of respect that before that moment had never been offered to me in any setting in China. Before that moment, I was always a “lao wai”, a foreigner. Anyone not Chinese is classified this way. Basically, it means you are not of the “middle kingdom”, China, center of all things in the universe for the natives. (Not that New Yorkers don’t have a similar view of things). So, I was dubbed a “son-in-law of Suzhou” or “Suzhou Son-in-law” depending on how you look at things grammatically speaking.

For those outsides of China, there may not be much significance to this statement but for me and others who have lived here from many years it marks an enormous change. I, mid-west farm boy, was just admitted into the ranks citizens of China. Or at least, tolerated as a kind of honorary member, as I could never be truly Chinese. It’s more than a country you live in, it’s fairly homogeneous culture that happens to live mostly in one spot called China. So, I can never be part of the club so to speak. I am honored at my married title although I am still trying to decipher what benefits or responsibilities the title carries. After six years here, it looks like it may take a lifetime to determine where my benefits and responsibilities lie.

One thing is for sure, it puts a smile on people’s faces and relaxes negotiations immediately, so, I will wear the badge proudly and diligently discharge the duties of this station as well as I understand them to the best of my ability.

If it sounds like I am hedging on my duties, it because of other lessons that have been learned here. Things are rarely what they seem, everything is a negotiation, anger wears the same smile as happiness, and it’s hard to find someone to take responsibility or to lead. This blog will explore these and other topics as they apply to my personal experience.

Until next post, this is InAsia and I am Son of Suzhou.