Before online dating there was the mail-order bride. I am not talking about the Caucasian male ordering up his "perfect Oriental" woman, but the lonely Asian male working six days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day in a factory, a restaurant, any job requiring manual labor that leaves no time for socializing, in the outside world. Most of these men are not fluent in English and don't venture outside their communities.
Love and Lucre
When I was a teen up in Canada, I would go to this small town to visit my friends and my first boyfriend Frank (names have been changed to protect the unsuspecting). Frank came to Canada with his brother, and both were sponsored by their sister Wei. Wei was a mail-order bride. Wei was matched with Harry, who had some social skills and a small business, but no way of meeting a Chinese woman in a small town of 3,500. Of this town, I would estimate it at 99.5% white. He could've tried to meet a local, but he was traditional and desired a woman who understood his heritage. Wei arrived and soon after the marriage, her two brothers landed in Canada. Bill and I dated for just the summer -- it was one of those seasonal romances that lasted as long as the attention span of a 16-year-old. Soon after going back to school in the fall, I had moved on.
Fast forward a decade, I was living in Los Angeles, and Bill had a small family, he had married a local girl, a non-Asian. I would hear news occasionally about him from my mother who kept in contact with Wei. A few more years pass on, and I heard he divorced his wife. About five years ago, he had ordered a bride from China. She arrived, married him and then promptly left him and flew back to China. What happened between them I can only speculate, since this is all coming from my mother who heard it from another friend, and somehow the facts got fuzzier with the telling. His most recent profile pic on Facebook is his high school yearbook photo; my sister says he's going back to his happy place.
Soon after WWII in 1947, the exclusion ban on immigration from China was lifted and families were allowed to immigrant to Canada, which brought fathers back together with their wives and children. The men who didn't have wives could then order them from China. One of my best friends was the progeny of such a match. His father sent a photo of himself to a matchmaker in China and soon his bride was on a steamer headed for Canada. As she alighted from the ship she looked around for her future husband, she spied a man who looked like him and thought that this was the father of her future husband. When he walked up to her and introduced himself as her husband she fell down onto her knees and wept. He had sent a photo that was over two decades old to her. He promptly married her and put her to work in his restaurant. Three children and 12 years later, she packed up her suitcase and walked out the front door, not saying one word to her crying children. She had met a young Chinese engineer at the restaurant and left with him. To this day, my friend still remembers the color of the suitcase and the way her hair was pinned back. He remembers her never turning back to say goodbye.
Side by Side
During college I worked at a theatre that only showed fine art foreign films. Needless to say, we never filled the 600 seat theatre. I was in charge of dispensing cappuccinos and making sure the carrot cake wasn't overrun by local fauna. At the end of the night, my job was to shut down the machines and clean the theatre with the help of the nightly cleaning crew. The crew was a mixed couple -- he was white, she was Korean. She was a mail-order bride that chose this man to be married to. I would watch them to see if the relationship was unevenly matched in his favor. What I saw was an equal partnership. She would poke fun at him, he would laugh and hug her when he thought no one was watching. Sometimes she would have their son, Major, there, sleeping in his stroller. My cynical heart would watch them and try to see the cracks, but there were none. They were true partners in work and in love.
Love is a roll of the dice, whether you have all the control or none. You could find your partner online or just by walking by them one day when a moment of recognition sparks. And if love did come in the mail, the United States Postal Service would be in the black.
Image: Ophelia Chong XO As Close As She Gets
Artist, designer and teacher Ophelia Chong explores her adopted city of Los Angeles with an eye and ear for the small moments that tests the duality of being an Asian American. Join her on her journey every Thursday on KCET's SoCal blog