This ‘China-Ladakh’ Marriage Broke All Bollywood Stereotypes & How
Growing up in Ladakh, and studying in a Tibetan School, offered a limited perspective on China and its people for me. As a child, a one-sided image of China was painted before me, which did not encapsulate our shared history and heritage over the centuries.
It was the experience of learning a new language that provided me with a re-framing tool that helped me develop my worldview, and shaped my personal identity. In retrospect, I realise that learning the Chinese language tremendously inspired me to step out of my comfort zone, accept, and overcome challenges, and learn from my experiences.
How I Met My Husband, A Chinese Tourist in Ladakh
After completing my graduation from Delhi University, I developed a passion for learning foreign languages. Initially, I found it difficult to choose between Mandarin and Russian, but thanks to my friends abroad, I got to know about a Chinese Government Scholarship for a Mandarin language program. I spent two years thereafter in China, in an effort to learn more about the complex nature of the language, to strengthen my Chinese communication skills. I returned to India after two years of dedicated study and practice.
This was the first time I met my husband, Mo Xizhi. It was a brief interaction, but we exchanged email IDs.
After a year, he got in touch to acquire more information about the holy month of Buddha Purnima or the ‘month of merits’ and the Saga Dawa festival. He came to Ladakh for the festival and we met over lunch. “I am a vegetarian,” he apprised, before ordering food. It was particularly amusing to me only because of the stereotype of all Chinese folks being meat-eaters.
What Drew Me To My ‘Foreigner’ Husband
I was delighted to learn about his passion for travelling, photography, and his love for India. By then, Mo Xizhi had already traveled a lot, and photographs taken by him had been published by many renowned Chinese and international magazines like the National Geographic.
But what moved me was his composure and stable character. The views he held were firm, and inspiring enough to influence my personal beliefs. He spoke about the importance of having ‘deep roots’. I couldn’t agree more on the existence of a special vibe about experiences that changes the way we view things in life. I am excited to see where our journey takes us, as we are soon going to unfold it in the form of a book.
The Barriers We Create Between Each Other
Being raised in a family that held strong Ladakhi traditional values intertwined with the societal norms, I had to carefully consider the idea of getting married to a non-Ladakhi. I was well aware of the fact that it would not be received well across people.
Any relationship between a woman and a man outside of her religion, race, and in our case, nationality, was deemed abnormal. Because of this systemic view, I was encouraged to consider a Ladakhi man for marriage, despite my own preferences.
I had also precisely known about my mother’s concerns before speaking to her about the marriage. They revolved around: “What will people say?” I gathered the confidence to tell my parents about my decision, and Mo Xizhi. Initially, my mother found it difficult to comprehend but I couldn’t blame her for her conventional viewpoint. In a perplexed but protective manner, she put forth a series of questions starting with: “Didn't you meet any Ladakhi man?”
My parents’ only image or perception of China was that created by the news or local history of Tibet. However, my father accepted my decision and considered our engagement ceremony (nyenchang).
Celebrating Cultures and Embracing Diversity
I am fortunate to have had firm support from both sides of the families, who demonstrated open-mindedness in fostering a wholesome relationship regardless of race and identity. What struck me the most was their willingness to make a lifetime commitment to accept, appreciate and celebrate the cultures beyond boundaries, as they embraced the differences.
My parents had also accepted that they can’t possibly find a better groom for their daughter than Mo Xizhi.
More Cultural Syncretism
Mo Xizhi concurred with my decision to have a traditional Ladakh-style wedding, despite other Chinese practices and norms. He understood how crucial it was for a Ladakhi bride to be formally “sent off” from her home with the blessing of her lamas, parents and relatives. After three years of dating, we darted into married life.
On the wedding day, we had an amazing reception with more than a thousand guests from my side of the family. There were only thirty-two guests from Shanghai. They were told that the wedding will be held in Leh-Ladakh, India. All of them were very excited to attend the wedding. In fact, some of them had even watched a few Indian movies to familiarise themselves with Indian culture! Mo Xizhi’s parents imagined me to be a typical, colourful Indian girl wearing bangles and sparkling sarees — another perception created by stereotypical portrayals in Bollywood films. I remember having a hearty laugh when he first told me about it. I am quite sure I have surprised them all!
No Bollywood-Style Wedding!
Ladakh in particular and India in general was very different from what they perceived it to be. They were surprised to see Ladakhis showing a strong resemblance to the Mongols.
They were expecting the wedding to be in ‘Bollywood style’. But they found the Ladakhi wedding and traditions to be quite similar to that of their own.
For instance, we have a predetermined auspicious time when the bride is supposed to leave home; the groom’s side has to perform certain challenges to gain entrance to the bride’s room. Moreover, the wedding dress material called Koshen silk brocade is also abundantly used in China.
After the wedding, I moved to Shanghai. There, his family wanted to have a Chinese style-wedding banquet, and all the people that I met were surprised by the fact that I was an Indian. Stereotyping had made them think I would have a darker complexion, and big eyes lined with kohl!
All of Mo’s Chinese friends told me, “Pal, Mo Xizhi has an Indian soul but a Chinese body.”
(Nawang Palkit has been raised in Ladakh and graduated from Delhi University. She has worked in media for two years. In October 2018, she married a man from Shanghai, China, and moved to Shanghai. She has travelled to more than 20 countries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a personal blog. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.