Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
Real Intercultural Family in Thailand: Portuguese, Cantonese, Thai and Japanese
Welcome Simone and Ewan!
Ewan: I was born in Los Angeles, CA to Chinese parents and we moved to Hong Kong when I was three. We came back to the U.S. when I was a freshman in high school. I went to high school and college in the U.S. then went to Japan after college. I was always interested in Japanese culture growing up in Hong Kong–all the cartoons on TV were Japanese and being a guy I like gadgets. In that time, the 70s and 80s, all the gadgets came from Japan, like the walkman.
Where do you currently live?
Which countries have you lived in since you’ve been together?
How did you meet?
Ewan: But it was only four years later that we saw each other again. We became friends first–hanging out and having fun every weekend with other friends. It took a while for our relationship to develop.
Ages of children and where were they born?
What passports do your kids hold?
What about a Thai passport since they were born in Thailand?
What languages do you speak together?
What languages do you speak to your children in?
Ewan: I speak Cantonese.
Simone: When we had our first child, we decided to speak to them in the minority language. I would speak in Portuguese and him Cantonese. He debated whether he should speak English or Cantonese. We also read some books in Japanese and English. It is hard to find Portuguese books here so I buy Japanese books and read them first in Japanese then translate them to Portuguese. My husband does the same with English. He reads English books to them then translates them into Cantonese.
What language do your children communicate in?
Grandparents also play a big role in language. When they are here visiting, my husband’s parents stay for three months and speak in Cantonese to them. My parents visit once a year and speak Japanese to the kids. The kids understand a lot, more than they can speak.
Do you have any concerns about your kids’ language acquisition?
Simone: They grew up around four languages so we noticed they started talking late. In the early days, they confused all the languages. Around the age of three, they started shifting and could address each person in the language in which they spoke. And now, in kindergarten, their Thai friends speak a lot more words. If a Thai kid, for example, knows 1000 words in Thai, my kids know 1000 words in different languages. Even Portuguese books for their age are too advanced for them so when I read to them in Portuguese, I cannot read straight from the book because they won’t understand some of the vocabulary. Most of the times, I have to simplify the sentence and the grammar.
What religion is your family?
Simone: My husband’s mother is Christian and his father is Buddhist. My husband doesn’t really have a religion but is more Buddhist than Christian. My parents were not religious but I went to Catholic and Protestant schools so I grew up in a Christian, although largely Catholic, environment. We live in a Buddhist country but my kids here will go to Catholic elementary. I’m not so strict about being Catholic but I’m a little Catholic so plan to teach them about what I know. I think kids should be free to respect any religion they want.
What have been your major challenges as an intercultural family?
Ewan: In monocultural families, your cultural upbringing is even stronger in terms of bringing up your kids with your cultural values. In a multicultural family plus if you live in another country, these cultural values don’t get reinforced. Some of these values define what your identity is. If you lose them, then what is the identity of your future generation? Our kids are a little of everything–they are not strongly any culture.
My parents are Chinese, born in Hong Kong and liberal–they didn’t enforce strict Chinese values. But we celebrated Chinese New Year as a kid. When you meet your elders, you show a lot of respect. Younger people give older people tea on Chinese New Year and older people give red envelopes. These are little things you know you have to do when you are brought up in that culture. We don’t live near our parents and these are things you get from your grandparents–they can give a deeper dimension to things I can’t give my kids. Since I’m more aware of these little cultural values I know of Chinese tradition, I try to reinforce this and try to take them to Hong Kong since we’re not so far away.
What are some of your cultural differences?
I had some problems with my mother-in-law when I got pregnant and had our first child. In that time, we were living with her. From the moment I woke up, she would hand me a list of baby names she wanted, even though I already had a name. When I mentioned I wanted to breastfeed, she didn’t want me to. In her day in China, breastfeeding was not recommended because women didn’t have adequate nutrition. She also insisted on feeding my baby water and bananas and other foods from an early age. I was opposed to anything but breast milk for the first six months. And she bought us everything. Some friends thought that was great as we didn’t have to spend any money but when it’s your first child you are excited and want to buy clothes and baby things. Here, in Thailand, we don’t decorate the baby’s room like you do in the U.S. so clothes and baby things was all I could buy. She didn’t let me do that and I bought my baby his first clothes when he was one year old.
Finally, we had a big fight when he was six months old. I exploded and told her I needed my own space and needed to decide my own things. She started to cry and I understood she was trying to help. She felt she was doing everything right. It was her first grandchild and Chinese praise baby boys. She felt a lot of responsibility and did the same things her mother-in-law had done with her. Now we understand each other better. I got to understand that she loves the kids-that’s the most important. I want them to learn Chinese culture from her.
Ewan: I’m amazed at my wife. She is still more Brazilian than Japanese but all these years in Asia conditioned her more to Asian values. She’s become more Asian than she used to be. She is more sensitive to Chinese culture and respecting elders than she used to be.
Food is our biggest difference. She’s more of a bread person despite her years in Asia. She likes her spaghettis and pizza. I always prefer Chinese. We do some compromise. She’ll make a stir-fry and while it’s not exactly a Chinese stir-fry, it’s a compromise. Japanese food is our common ground–we go out to a lot of Japanese.
Going back to something you said before, why don’t you decorate the baby’s room in Thailand?
Until what age?
What have been your greatest joys as an intercultural family?
Ewan: Society is changing and intercultural families are becoming a dime a dozen. You see them all over the world. People not from intercultural families are not used to this but our kids are ready for this changing world. They might have less prejudices and be more open to new cultures. That’s a good thing. Now that my kids are five and six, my older son has good Thai pronunciation and is teaching me Thai. They’re old enough to give me feedback and teach me.
Anything else you would like to add?
One day in Japan we were with both sets of parents. We have four languages spoken when we are all together: English, Cantonese, Portuguese and Japanese. When the waitress came over she asked confused, “What are you guys?”
“We’re a family,” I answered.
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