The Day I Almost Became the First Wife


To the Chinese, they say, there are only two countries in the world: China, and America. This bothers the Norwegians to no end, but we have little pity for them.

This hypothesis was borne out the other day when Jared was getting a shoe fixed in a small shop near our apartment. While he was in there, watching the shop owner carefully stitch up his shoe with strong thread, another Chinese man came in and began talking.

“You so strong! You so handsome! You must be an American,” he said.

Jared replied, “Thank you! I am an American.”

“You’re so good-looking,” he intoned again.

“Uh, thanks.” Jared said. “You are a teacher (he asked in Chinese)?”

“Yes,” he replied in English, “I am professor.” But his English wasn’t quite good enough to specify what it was he professed. So he returned to his favorite subject–the attractiveness of my husband.

“You are so good-looking, you can take care of two wifes,” he matter-of-factly stated.

Jared was a little shocked, but managed to croak out, “Uh, thank you, but I’m happy with the one I have.”

“No,” the man insisted, “you can take care of a second lover, one with nice legs, because you’re so handsome.” (No, this was not a comment on the state of my legs–I wasn’t there, and as far as I know the man had no idea if Jared was even married or had a wife!)

Jared was nonplussed by that, and could think of nothing more to say than, “Um, have a nice day!” as he ran away with his newly-fixed shoes. Chinese may admire America more now, but apparently traditional China isn’t dead yet!

All of this seemed particularly reminiscent to us as we’re reading Pearl Buck’s famous book The Good Earth, which tells the story of a Chinese farmer, Wang Lung, in traditional China. He begins poor. But then he gets a wife who up till then had been a slave in a Great House, and who now works beside him in the fields, bears him lots of sons, and makes him rich through her diligence (and talents at acquiring jewels). He then does what every self-respecting wealthy traditional Chinese man would do, and buys himself a second wife, appropriately named Lotus, for she was the human form of the flower: dainty, sweet smelling, useless in the fields, but my, what a sight to behold. Anyway, in the story, once he gets his Lotus, as you can imagine, the First Wife (O-lan) wasn’t very pleased, and his household became a very unhappy place. Wang Lung then forgets about his First Wife and enjoys his flower. Only when O-lan begins to die does he notice her again, but by then it is too late.

So I’m thankful Jared had the moral fortitude to run away from his hypothetical second wife with beautiful legs. He told me he didn’t need another flower–he already had his Rose.

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11 thoughts on “The Day I Almost Became the First Wife

  1. Pingback: 2015: Year in Review | Milk and Pickles

  2. I would have done the same thing as your husband, no doubt, but I wonder if he has thought afterward and too late about what he *might* have said, such as, “How many wives you do have?” or “I love my wife and that wouldn’t be kind to her.” But maybe further discussion of the principles involved would have been beyond their combined language skills anyway. I like your story very much, and I can imagine how a good American man would be completely flustered by the forthright discussion of women as chattel. In our culture, it’s usually only *serial* polygamy that is considered o.k.

  3. RC

    What an insightful post into Chinese culture. 🙂 I must admit that, perish the thought that Jared would acquire another wife, I was amused by this post. 🙂

    1. It’s pretty amusing to think of someone actually giving that kind of advice, isn’t it? I can’t think of ANYONE in the US who would say something like that. Jared came home and told me and I was like, “He told you WHAT?!”

  4. Caleb Nelson

    Awww. . . so sweet! I’m afraid your brothers would have to get together and teach Jared a lesson if he took a second wife. And then he would have to divorce her, and one of us would have to do the square thing and contract a Levirate marriage, because it wouldn’t be fair to the poor woman to leave her out in the cold. But all this unpleasantness can be avoided just by him doing the decent thing.

    Also, that crack about the Norwegians was pretty good. Did you come up with it yourself? If so, I must say that China has sharpened your tongue.

    1. Well, Caleb, it’s nice to know what you REALLY think of in your spare time. And all these hypotheticals are kinda making my head swim.

      And no, the crack about the Norwegians was all Jared. He has a Norwegian classmate who’s always venting about how Norway is overlooked and underappreciated. He must not have read much about Sven and Olaf when he was a kid (or been part of a Norwegian firing squad).

  5. Jacki

    A very literal fleeing of the “appearance of evil” China is certainly giving you both a lot of experience in the practical application of the faith!

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