By: Emma Kwee
Our family of mixed couples is growing bigger and bigger. The Latitudes Cross-Cultural Couples series is a testament to the intermingling of cultures that makes this world a more interesting and colorful place. Are you a mixed couple and would you like to be featured on Latitudes? Do you have an extraordinary tale of love that surpasses cultural boundaries and geographical borders? Then e-mail us at email@example.com! This week we would like you to meet Aity from Indonesia and Stefan from Germany. They currently live in a small town in south Germany, with their two little boys, Dennis and Leandro.
Please introduce yourselves, what are your names, where are you from and where do you live?
Aity: My name is Aity. I am 34 years old, I was born and grew up in the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta.
Stefan: I am Stefan. I was born in Berlin 47 years ago but I grew up in South Germany. Now we are the proud parents of Dennis (6 years) and Leandro (2 years). At the moment we are living in a small town northwest of Munich with another 10,000 people, in Bavaria.
How did you meet and where?
Aity: We met in Sri Lanka in May 2003. I worked there for a year in an Ayurvedic resort (a system of traditional, alternative medicine native to India) and he was there for 3 weeks as a guest.
We saw each other in a little souvenir shop in the hotel and involved in a conversation that lasted for 3 hours.”
It was just amazing how we could really talk from the beginning and share stories.
Stefan: I was in Sri Lanka for the first time, I travelled there with a friend, he had the idea to do an Ayurvedic treatment. When I met Aity for the first time in the little souvenir shop, I wore a towel around my head, because of a special treatment called Shirodara. I was looking around inside the shop for a sarong, I told Aity that I already had some sarong from Indonesia and she told me that she was from Indonesia. I was a little bit astonished because she did not look Indonesian at all. Then we started a long conversation, for me it was a feeling as if we had know each other already for a very long time.
How did your relationship evolve?
Aity: It was an unforgettable experience. After his 3-week-holiday he continued travelling in Sri Lanka for another week. We kept our conversations going through SMS and E-mails. Oh yes, we were really really grateful for this kind of technology. But after that he had to go home to Germany and continue his life. Meanwhile I had to finish my contract which would end in 2 months. During this time our SMS activity seemed to reach its highest level.
Stefan: True, I sent about 1500 SMS a month at that time. When we left each other we were not really thinking about continuing our relationship, because everything looked a bit complicated, I am from Germany, she is from Jakarta – a really long distance. I must admit I could not enjoy the week sightseeing in Sri Lanka – I missed her sooo much and it was clear for me that we should continue our relationship.
Aity: Sometime in June 2003 he proposed to join him travelling around Asia for 6 months, remembering I got free time after my job ended in Sri Lanka. He had gotten a special contract that allowed him to take a-6-month-holiday from his workplace. He dreamed about this travel for a long time already and he thought it was the right time. As for me, I was practically jobless and the time was there to be used! I thought such an opportunity will never knock on my door twice. So I grabbed it. Besides, It is a great opportunity to get to know each other more. We knew we just fit together, but there are many couples that only met one weekend or so, and most of them only showed the best to their partner. Who can do that 6 months long, 24/7? So in this way, we would know if we were meant to be together.
Stefan: After I came back to Germany I asked my company for a Sabbatical. The company I am working for is pretty big, 40.000 people all around the world and I was the first one who got permission for a 6 month Sabbatical! I asked Aity, if she wanted to travel with me to get to know each other better. I already had the feeling from the beginning that we really fit together. She was very excited about my proposal and we started to plan our trip.
Aity: In July 2003 I flew back to Jakarta, did some preparations and in November 2003 I flew to Bangkok from Jakarta and from there we started our journey, the first destination: Kathmandu, Nepal. After that we continued our journey to India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia and ended with Indonesia. It was an unforgettable journey.
Stefan: I flew from Munich to Bangkok where we met each other again on the airport after more than 3 months – it was really wonderful.
Aity: There were some ups and down, of course. The situations were not always perfect but we just knew that we are made for each other somehow. We decided to get a German visum for me, so I could see how Germany looks like and get to know it a bit. It was around February 2004 we landed in Bangkok, prepared our papers, went to the German Embassy, and asked one of the officer about the possibility for me to study in Germany. He sort of overreacted. He thought I would try staying in Germany illegally. In short, the application was denied and we were really disappointed.
Stefan: We were really shocked with the reaction. We had no idea what to do next to continue our relationship.
We took a taxi and on the way back to our guesthouse I had the idea to ask her ‘Well… when it is like this… what do you think if we get married?’ and she answered ‘Yeah… why not?’
And the taxi went further until we made a stop at Burger King near Khao San Rd. There, between Burgers and fries as our lunch, I proposed to her once again. I know it wasn’t romantic at all but I knew it was right.
Aity: The problem headed towards us now was: I came from a relatively strict moslem family. I knew very well that my family would like me to have a moslem man as a husband. But I don’t like to push someone to embrace another religion just because of marriage. But Stefan could understand my position. Marrying him could mean losing my family. These thoughts haunted us along the journey to our marriage.
Stefan: Like Aity already said, the problem with the religion. I do not really need a religion to believe in God, in my opinion everybody can choose his own way, but should not be forced to change his way. I really wanted to be together with her, but didn’t want to change my religion and it was a very big relief for me when we decided that everybody keeps their own religion. For me it adds color to a family, if the members have different religions, it broadens our mind and we can learn a lot from each other. Not the religion or beliefs of the people are important, the heart is important.
Aity: In the end I decided to get married in Singapore without the permission of my parents. Singapore was our choice because it is one of the places where couples with different religions are allowed to get married and it was on our travel route.
Of course there are other countries, but most of them need a lot of requirements. The marriage took place on April 2004. It was sad on one side, but on the other side (call me selfish J) I got to go on with my life. I am the one who got married and build a family. If my parents later wanted to be involved in my little family it would be great, but when they don’t, then let it be.
Stefan: I liked the idea of getting married in Singapore. This country is located in Asia but somehow seems almost European in cleanliness and modernity.
Aity: And it has a Chinese touch, just like me :p
Stefan: We had to stay 15 days in Singapore until we could register our marriage. After the registration we had to wait 3 more weeks, during this time we travelled to Thailand and bought all the things we needed for our marriage. Our marriage was a wonderful day, my sister and brother flew from Germany to Singapore to be our witnesses, so we were only 4 people and it was a very relaxing celebration in a great surrounding.
Aity: Some months after our marriage when I was already settled in Germany, I called my mom and told her the news. Her reaction really surprised me. She said ‘It is your life. When you are happy, I will be happy too’. My father didn’t give a similar answer. He still wishes my husband will be converted one day. So practically I don’t really talk a lot with him about the marriage and he never gave 100% of his blessings until now. But luckily I got other parents too now, my parents-in-law. They are more ‘parenting’ than my own parents.
Stefan: I was very happy that Aitys mom accepted our marriage and my parents were very happy with her as their daughter-in -law.
What does it mean to your relationship to be of two different cultures?
Stefan: Hmmm…. to be honest, we don’t see a lot of problems with culture between us. We both are really open minded and I am somehow pretty Asian! I do a lot of meditation and am regularly involved in an NGO foundation based in India.
So we just meet in the middle. She cooks an international menu at home, just name it: German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Indian, Korean, etc. Our first child is really proud to say his favorite dishes are spaghetti and sushi.
Aity: When it comes to cultural problem it is often related to the question how to raise our children. I grew up in Indonesia with a Chinese touch, which means parents and elderly have to be obeyed without any discussion. Stefan is more relaxed than me somehow in this matter.
Has it ever caused any problems or miscommunication?
Stefan: We have a great communication, both in quantity and quality. We both love to show and share our feelings, our thoughts and everything. We find this really important, no matter from which culture you are. Until now we had no problems or miscommunication between us… some differences, but never a problem.
How did your surroundings react to your mixed relationship?
Aity: It is funny that we live in a small town, with pretty international surroundings. There are German-Thailand couples, German-Nicaragua, German-Moldavia, etc … so, it is okay. A lot of Asian people here think I come from Thailand or China. They try to talk to me in their language, which of course I don’t understand. My other relatives are married with Japanese, Americans and German, so mixed culture is not really something strange.
Stefan: I never had problems with my family or friends, Aity and I are always invited. Of course there are always people who look very unfriendly when they see us together, but you never know if this is really because of us, or because they are very unhappy. I remember one situation years ago.
Aity and I where shopping and I heard an old woman loudly talking to her son, “Look at them, I am sure he ordered that women from a catalog”!
That hurt a bit, but it was the only situation like this in almost 10 years.
What are the biggest challenges you had to overcome?
Aity: Beside my decision to get married without my parents permission? I think it was the time I gave birth to my first child. I was only a year in Germany and spoke good standard German. Stefan just speaks standard German with me, no dialect.
Suddenly in the hospital I had to face a nurse with an east German dialect! I was overwhelmed with the whole situation, I got the baby blues, and somehow I had difficulties to understand Germany in any dialect. It took me some months to stand up for myself and do things alone again. Thank God I’ve got a wonderfully understanding and supporting husband.
Stefan: When we started our relationship together in Germany, I was aware that there was a lot of prejudice regarding mixed couples – especially with Asian woman – in the minds of many German people. There are reports about sex tourism in Thailand and the aforementioned catalogs where men order women from Asia in an easy way. It took a bit of time for me to learn to live with this prejudice around us – today it is no problem anymore.
What are the best things that this relationship brings you?
Aity: It is a difficult question. First, I grew up in a big city with shopping malls, cinemas…. I never ‘touched’ a real culture. Being a Chinese Indonesian and a moslem one at that, makes it even more difficult to put myself in one culture. Let’s say, I am Chinese but I don’t speak the language even though my parents do. So Chinese look at me only with only half an eye. Being a moslem makes it even worse in the Chinese community (the large majority of Chinese Indonesians are Christian red.). From another side, it is quite funny to say I am a moslem, while from my appearance I look completely different. So, which culture should I absorb?
But Stefan made me realize I am just who I am. I don’t have to identify with a certain culture, just admit I do have an Asian background. And it is good to know I learned all sides of where I come from.
One more thing is, he loves nature and I had that in me as well somehow. Although I grew up between skyscrapers and traffic jams, I never missed those things. I enjoy being in the nature, especially in the mountains. We love trekking, with our children as well. And living here in South Germany give us the possibility to do that.
Stefan: The best thing is that I found a woman who fits me very well, we trust and love each other and we both can be the persons we are, without hiding our feeling or playing games. I had loved Asia already for many years, the culture, the people, the nature and of course the philosophy. But it was never in my mind to have a relationship with a woman from Asia – until I met Aity.
What language do you speak with one another?
Aity: In the beginning we only spoke English with each other. A week after I came to Germany I went to a language school and since then Stefan and I speak German. I used to bring an electronic dictionary with me everywhere. Now we just speak German, also to our children.
Are religious differences an issue between you and your partner? How did you solve these?
Aity: No, never. I am not really a practicing moslem, to be honest, even though I graduated from a moslem school. Stefan is Christian and so are our children. But when I was a real practicing moslem, he would also let me do the praying, fasting, etc.
What are your future plans?
Stefan: At the moment our future plans are travelling with our children. We love to show our children many cultures and we love to learn about cultures ourselves. There are many places in this world to be visited that is why we are never fixated on one place. Moreover, we don’t plan anything at all. We just go with the flow, living in the here and now.
Do you have any tips for other mixed couples?
Aity and Stefan: Be honest to yourself, your partner, and your life…. it doesn’t matter from which culture you are. It is important to be yourself, just the way you are.
Latitudes: In the Mix In this series we talked to people with a mixed Asian background. Have these colorful roots entangled them? Confused them? In what way has their heritage formed their identity, how do they look at the world & how does the world looks at them? In the next weeks we will re-publish this series, because the articles and interviews were very well read at Latitudes.nu. And because it's so nice to see all these couples again.