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Challenges of a cross-cultural relationship

JJ-02Over a year ago, I met Joseph while rock climbing. As much as I would like to say that I fell, he caught me and we fell instantly in love.. that was not the case. Like many Malaysian (or Asian) relationships, it started off at a mamak with some friends.

Fast forward 9 months into the relationship, it is safe to say that being in a cross cultural relationship is enriching and fun, yet it comes with its own set of challenges. I forgot to mention that Joseph is Filipino and I am, of course, as Malaysian as a girl can be. When I was younger, I always had this idea about dating a foreigner. I have always enjoyed getting to know people from different cultures and I thought how much fun it would be if that was a lifetime thing.

Obviously, I was naive. Every relationship has its challenges, and adding cultural differences into the equation is like asking for more work to do! Learning and adjusting to each other’s worldview, lifestyles and beliefs wasn’t as easy as I thought. Food habits was one of the first hurdle I had to learn to accommodate. Not only do Filipinos refer to ‘dinner’ as ‘supper’, their taste in food are at the extreme ends. Something that is bordering diabetic to me is not sweet enough for him; something that is bland to him is too salty for me. Although English is our first language, Joseph had to adjust to my Manglish slangs. Teaching him the difference between lah, meh, mah etc was quite a challenge. There were even times when he had to ask, “Like this cannot.. lah..? ..meh?? ..leh???”.

Despite our differences, I’m ever thankful that we share the most important thing, which is our love for Christ. It is not only about sharing the same faith, it is sharing the same values and principles that are fundamental to both our lives.

I am no expert in relationships, but what I have learnt so far is that: communication is key; and having the support of your family and closest friends is more important than you think. At the end of the day, it is all about choosing to love a person, and making that choice is a daily decision in which you have to let your selfish desires go. And when I’m at the altar, I can finally say, “I choose you!” (pun intended – but probably only Pokemon players can understand).

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Monday Blues

There are days when you just get home from work, and all you want to do is continue working because the tasks never end. And yet you feel tired and a split second later, tell yourself, that work can wait till tomorrow. It feels like an almost vicious cycle…. even if this whole entrepreneurship journey started as a passion because you love your job. It has been a little like that lately… I even notice myself looking a little more grumpy in the mirror with more wrinkles.

Strangely enough, I come alive when it’s time to photograph a family or a couple. Adrenaline kicks in and I am in my ‘zone’… all energetic once again. Perhaps it’s the curse of the artistic entrepreneur – you get excited doing all these creative work, but the daily routine ‘business’ tasks bog you down. I feel stressed and worry about a lot of things. I feel sorry for my staff who sometimes sees a really serious, grouchy and stressed personality at the office! (Love you all, keep being your cheerful selves!).

Guess it’s not easy writing something like this, being authentic to yourself and others. But in order to be true to my soul, I have to be honest about everything. So this is my way of speaking to myself and saying, that maybe, I just need to look up and lighten up a bit.

I must say that coming home to two small smiley (one very drooly) beings makes me really really happy. Their hugs makes the world a lot better again. So tonight, the hubby and I decided to bring them out for a weekday ice-cream treat (ok, only one can truly enjoy that, since the other is too young to eat ice-cream). Simple pleasures in life of just being in the moment.

And since every post is better with photos, here’s a few images that we took from a day out with the kids at the local fire station visit last week.

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Opposites Attract?

He’s introverted, she’s extroverted.
He’s calm and collected, she’s a social butterfly.
He’s meticulous, she’s a little disorganized.

Just like magnets, opposites attract. I know of many couples who are completely different in terms of character (just like my mum and dad) and yet are together. Growing up, I never really understood this strange phenomenon. I suppose it’s natural to like someone who has strengths that can complement your weaknesses.

Alex and I don’t completely subscribe to this idea though. Yes, we’re different, and yet similar. We appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses (‘appreciate’ is subjective at times though) but there are many similarities that bind us together. After 5 years of marriage, boy do I appreciate these similarities! We love being around people, are rather sociable by nature, have similar taste in design (thank God, otherwise we might fight over house ID stuff), love the same God, and share the same values in life. Values like, no matter how tough marriage gets, we will never give up; or loving people trumps anything else in life. Bonus point: We love adventure.

Life to us is an exciting journey. I cannot imagine being married to someone who yawns whenever I talk about my photography business, or to someone who hates traveling. Married life to me means that I am able to journey along life’s path, sharing these experiences together. It’s these experiences that glue us together, stored in our shoe box of memories and help us love each other more.

I am contented.

Similar, yet different.

Photo credit: Jon Low

The Day It Began…

Clearing my house has helped me rediscover gems hidden in boxes and in files. Not only did I find old recipes my mother wrote to me when I was in university, I also found some old letters and cards I gave to Alex when we were dating. I admit, I am a hopeless romantic. On our 1st anniversary together, I created a simple set of handwritten messages for him – 12 pages for the 12 months we were together. I wrote these messages because I wanted him to remember… how we started, why I love him, and how our struggles can bring us closer.

So, though it’s a little embarrassing to be sharing this with everyone, I thought I’d include a short excerpt from this card (taken from my journal).

8th June 2004

I can’t believe it… Alex and I are getting together. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, we both have our doubts and worries and are afraid of taking risks… but… our hearts… tell us to go forward.

Dear Lord, is this the right decision? And is this the right timing? Are we even compatible? There are so many considerations to think about… I don’t know how it all fits into Your plan, but Jesus, I commit myself and Alex into your hands. I am afraid of getting hurt, but if we don’t take risks, we’ll never know. There are so many worries Lord, but I do commit us into Your hands and give it all to You.

Alex and I during our Lake Toba holiday in August 2004

Let your life speak

An excerpt from “Let Your Life Speak” by Parker Palmer

I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about… That insight is hidden in the word vocation itself, which is rooted in the latin word “voice”. Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live – but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.

As I was clearing through some old papers and files from my ever disappearing floor the other day, I came across my old journal writings. This excerpt came from a book I read years ago, when I was in the process of discovering myself and who I am. I remember thinking and asking questions like “Why am I on this earth?” and “What excites me about life?”

Ten years later – I think I have discovered my passion. Passion for people and for making a difference in other people’s lives. That’s why doing what I do now gives me so much satisfaction. But I am not at the end of my journey, I am still discovering myself, day by day. The day I lose excitement about life is the day I lose myself.