He also happens to follow my blog Speaking of China ― and it’s fascinating what he used to think about China before he met my husband and started reading my blog.
Here’s what he wrote to Jun:
…as a U.S. Marine raised in the Cold War era, I have always considered China and Russia the enemy. I have to admit that after working with you on this case and reading some posts on Jocelyn’s blog, I actually realize that just as in the United States there are everyday people in China.
Whether foreign relations will improve from where they are today is anyone’s guess. However, the pictures taken in the hospital on Jocelyn’s blog allow me to place a human element to my version of China.
Yes ― to him, China was the enemy.
China an enemy? It just sounds wrong to me. When you’ve lived in China for as long as I have – when you’re married to China, with family here – it’s impossible to think of this country as the enemy.
This is the country that fostered my career as a writer. The country that taught me how to love and gave me an incredible husband. The country I plan to call home for the rest of my life.
China has given me so much, and continues to give more than I ever imagined. How could I feel anything but affection for this place?
Here’s the thing, though. It wasn’t always this way. My current self would never accept “China is the enemy” but my past self was another story.
There were moments in my past when I actually viewed China through skeptical eyes. And yes, there were even times when I thought of China as an opponent.
US-China relations hit a low when I first entered China in August 1999. That was just months after the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, sparking widespread demonstrations across the country.
I was so anxious at the time ― but mostly, for reasons that had nothing to do with the political situation.
After all, I was a total teach in China newbie. I knew only the basics of Chinese history and culture, and my language skills were limited to laughable “phrasebook Mandarin Chinese”. I had never taught anything in my life, yet I had committed myself to a year of training college students in English.
But when I saw the news reports of those demonstrations – which included protesters hurling rocks at US Embassies and Consulates – my worries suddenly went beyond the usual troubles of teaching English in a truly foreign country.
I wondered, would being an American in China suddenly turn me into a target? Should I start telling everyone I’m a Canadian? What in the heck did I get myself into?
But after arriving in Zhengzhou, China, it was nothing like I had imagined.
Students welcomed me with giant bouquets of flowers and invitations to dinners out.
Teachers helped me arrange lessons in Tai Chi and Mandarin, with one woman even buying me the conversational Chinese book that kickstarted my language studies.
I easily fell into close friendships and later began dating a local man, my first truly adult relationship.
The love and appreciation that surrounded me made it impossible to imagine US-China tensions. If anything, in my little world in Zhengzhou, US-China relations were at an all-time high.
I’ll never forget that one final exam I delivered to my students in a classroom with a bulletin board about the NATO bombing in Belgrade.
The bulletin board stridently denounced the actions of Americans as barbaric and criminal, urging patriotic students to demonstrate against this gross violation of China’s sovereign rights.
What a contrast to the students at those desks! They put on their warmest smiles afterwards and insisted we all take a class photo together. It was as if the final exam was merely an excuse for us to hang out one last time.
This was not a world where people chucked rocks at me because of my government. This was not a country where people outwardly hated me for my citizenship. From this side of the Pacific, China looked more like a friend than a foe.
Over the years, I’ve dated several Chinese men – and ultimately, I married one. Jun Yu is the love of my life, the husband who truly completes me in every way that matters. Who would have thought I’d find him half a world away from my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio?
Now that I’m intimately connected to this country, which is home to family too, it’s unthinkable to view China in the black-and-white terms people use in politics and the news. It just doesn’t fit my more nuanced perspective of this place.
There’s so much we miss about a country if we only picture it through the eyes of the media.
Ron Coulter, my husband’s lawyer, reminded me of the value that comes from writing about what it’s like to live with – and even sleep with – the so-called “enemy” country.
When we share stories of our daily lives across unlikely borders, we offer a chance to go beyond the headlines. To understand that there’s more to these countries than what the reporters say. To connect with the people and realize that, despite the cultural and linguistic differences, we have a lot in common.
Maybe we really can change the world, one blog post (about a so-called “enemy” country) at a time.
All I know is, there’s one US Marine-turned-lawyer who will never see China the same again.