Peiru & Jan
Some of you already know, for others it might be a big surprise: Recently my girlfriend Peiru and I got married. However, it is "surprising" only in regard of it happening "out of a sudden", without pre-warning, festivities, invitations to parties, banquettes, stag nights, etc. It is not surprising that Peiru and me made that step since it is the only reasonable decision, the logic consequence, the inevitable course of things, which I want to explain briefly (ahem...) in the following.
In early 2012 I was waiting for the ICE (German high speed train) to Cologne at the main station of Brussels in Belgium after a business trip to a scientific project group meeting at the European Commission. It turned out that the train was cancelled at short notice without replacement due to a technical malfunction. Instead, the waiting passengers were informed by platform announcement that they should take a local train to Leuven, then another train to Liège, from there busses to Aachen (at the German-Belgian border) and then proceed on their own business to their German destination. The official languages in Belgium are French and Flemish while the majority of passengers was German. Therefore, the announcement was made in those three languages, which took quite a while. I spotted a puzzled Asian lady in the crowd and assumed that she couldn't understand any of these languages so that she needed some help. Moreover, she carried a bag with the logo of Münster University (where I lived and studied before)! Being quite shy usually (yes, really!) I took all my courage and approached her. Identifying her as Chinese by face and fashion I said the only Chinese sentence I knew at that time: "Ni shi zhong guo ren ma?", which means "Are you Chinese?". She looked very surprised and replied "Yes!" (which she later had to correct since she is Taiwanese and doesn't see herself as Chinese, which Chinese people don't agree to, but that is a different topic...). She was extremely happy about my offer to help her with the coming odyssey to Cologne at least (she was on the way to Münster). It took us 5 hours instead of the scheduled 2, but it was extraordinarily interesting and diverting time - so far the luckiest case of train cancellation in my personal railway history. Soon it was obvious that we wouldn't easily run out of topics to talk about. She was attending a German course for one semester at my former University, was English teacher in Taiwan and currently made use of the last weeks before returning to Taiwan for trips through Europe. The by far "biggest" topic was our shared interest in Buddhism! Immediately we felt "understood" when philosophising on Buddha's teaching and its influence on daily life conduct, our mental and physical health, our approach to deal with daily life situations and to solve problems. Ever since, both of us being "applied Buddhists" connected us more than anything else. Of course we stayed connected after this train ride and met once more in Cologne (including climbing the Cathedral tower and visiting the chocolate museum), but after she went back to Taiwan our communication was limited to Skype and other online ways.
In summer 2013 I quit my job and came to Asia again - first to South Korea where I stayed in a Buddhist temple and unsuccessfully looked for a job as Postdoctoral fellow at a University. During that time (in September 2013) I visited Taiwan for a week, just to find out that it is a modern and friendly country with a high standard of life, in which everything necessary for a good life is available, and in which I felt even more welcome than in Korea: a Professor of a renowned University in Taichung expressed his interest in a collaboration, AND: Peiru had her own apartment with a vacant room for me, in case I would choose to move to Taiwan for longer periods. All this sounded very good, so I decided without further ado to pull up stakes in Korea and try my luck in Taiwan.
That's how another period of "community life" (like in my days as University student) started, with three housemates one of which was Peiru. Immediately I left my mark on the apartment by constructing furniture, dividing living- from storage-space, insisting on my standard of cleanliness and creating a homey and cosy atmosphere. Furthermore, I occupied the kitchen and produced meals daily, which the other housemates did rather seldomly since Taiwanese people are used to eat out. All this obviously impressed Peiru sustainably, as she intimated to me: my qualities as houseman clearly are one reason for her to consider a serious partnership with me, the more so as it seems to be quite difficult to find such properties among Taiwanese men. I was mostly impressed by Peirus imperturbably balanced mind and her extraordinarily harmonic and peaceful attitude towards daily life issues. We live together for more than a year now and didn't "argue" a single time [I define "argue" as emotional, unfair, irrational, loud quarrel after which one feels bad and regrets]. Instead, we invest a lot of time in good communication that allowed us, in my opinion, to get to know each other deeply. During the shared time it quickly became obvious that there is the potential to be more than just "good friends". Our approaches of life show many similarities, same as our expectations on the future, our ideas of a "happy life", our ideals of love (if interested, read details here). By the way, we communicate in English, because neither my Chinese nor her German are sufficient for a useful conversation. Both of us speaking a foreign language we sometimes need a few more words to make the other understand clearly what we want to express. I see a big advantage in that compared to couples with no language barrier: Before overhastily labeling the statements of the other as "got it" or even interpreting something negative into it, we better ask a second time if we really understood each other correctly. This solves many misunderstandings before they can have any impact.
After all, we became a couple. And since we already had lived together, had shared a lot of time and knew each other well in all kinds of daily life circumstances (and not only had a "sunshine relationship") it didn't take long time to come up with thoughts of marriage. Nothing stood against it, but it had a lot to commend it. When it happened that I would visit Germany we went the whole hog and started organizing the documents that are required for an international marriage, so that I could complete them in Germany. And I can tell, this procedure puts the decision to marry to the first test. At first, it is a long way to get a "marriage certificate" (a document that proves that two people are legally able to marry each other) that requires several certificates and verifications. Then, each document requires translation and legalisation for using them in another country. Usually there are so called "apostilles", a procedure that Germany and most of its diplomatic partner countries (actually, nearly all countries on Earth) agreed upon to simplify official processes. But since Taiwan is not officially accepted as an independent country by Germany (out of respect for (or fear of) mainland China), this procedure doesn't apply for Taiwan, so that everything needs to be translated, verified, attested and legalised twice and triple. This takes time, not to mention the costs (which actually didn't play a big role in view of the importance of their purpose). Once started researching on when and where to do what in which order, the process was brought on its way and we found that by this the decision was already made. Peiru was a little disappointed because for years she dreamed of a romantic proposal showing the sincerity and clear will of her husband-to-be. I caught up on that before I left for my visit to Germany in September.
A wedding in Taiwan usually goes along with a fairly corny ceremony in a rented hall, with borrowed western style dresses, a buffet with a plethora of different dishes, and posing for vast numbers of photos - and actually not much more than that. I played with my band at Taiwanese weddings and made daunting experiences. Apart from all the show, forced happiness and excessive binge there is no room for a really beautiful and memorable wedding party next to the actual stress that such a festivity is for the couple in fact. The majority of visitors is only interested in the buffet, leaves a red envelope with a lot of money (according to the local customs) and goes back home as soon as the buffet is finished, sometimes even without giving their blessings to the couple in person. Luckily, Peiru and me agreed upon not wanting this kind of wedding. It wouldn't match with our idea of love and partnership, and so also marriage and matrimony. For us, the marriage is, first of all, a personal promise between two lovers: to be "here" for one another (what it means: click here), to cherish and never to forget the values of being together (trust, honesty, respect, sincerity, faithfulness), and to think of "us" rather than "you and me" in all future situations that call for important decisions.
Another element of Taiwanese marriage ceremonies is the indispensible wedding photo shooting. Some couples spend thousands of Euros for it. Everywhere in Taiwan there are studios that offer photo shootings in varying extents, with different wardrobes, all kinds of settings and sceneries, and with selectable levels of digital processing (from "just removing the pimples" to "changing teeth colour" and "optimizing body shape"). Even though in the beginning I was against spending so much money on that, Peiru finally persuaded me that we won't regret having some professional pretty pictures as a memory (and she is right, of course). Some of them you can see here. We chose an offer with three different dresses and "simple" post-editing (we wanted to appear "as natural as possible" and not like totally different people). We chose 20 photos and got them as a photo book and also as digital files, and one photo printed in large and framed to hang on the wall. Next to a "classical" western wedding dress and a more traditional Chinese set we chose a wonderful red dress for Peiru that matches with a white suit for me. Spanish flair, isn't it?
Our "wedding day" was then rather unspectacular: In the local registry office we presented our documents and signed the marriage certificate. Anyhow, we got a wedding gift from the office: a set of five porcelain bowls with Chinese wedding symbols. Peiru's parents came to the office and took us to our home where we invited them for afternoon cake and dinner. I prepared a cake and a German three course menu for dinner. But first we all shed tears when I gave a short wedding speech in Chinese that I had prepared with my language exchange partners and had practiced. In this speech I explained that we have only a simple celebration because also our love is simple and direct and ground standing, without show, and that I am willing to keep the promise that the wedding means to us (see above). My parents were present virtually via Skype so that we could share this happy incident with them, and at least our parents could see and get to know each other on screen. The mini party was "crashed" by her four siblings suddenly showing up, bringing their partners and children, so that after all our apartment was filled with a lot of life and joy. A few weeks later Peiru's father invited the whole family for a banquet to a restaurant where we celebrated the marriage of his last daughter (she is the second of five children, but the last that got married). In January we will travel to Germany for a few weeks and will celebrate one more time with my family.
Has anything changed since then? Actually, no! Our love still grows every day. We keep our partnership as dynamic as the vitality of daily life requires since nothing is more harmful for a partnership then the attachment to certain expectations on or conditions and ideas of love. Trying to press something dynamic into a fixed form can never turn out well. Therefore, we want to focus on the essence: Above all is the will to create harmony in daily life by sharing our way of life, and to fill it with love and beauty. As long as we never forget that there will be no strife, no argue, no pain, no disharmony. "I am here for you." means to give this moment (and there is nothing else that we really have) to the partner with a free mindset and with mindfulness. "I know that you are here for me." means to always keep in mind that the partner will never intend to hurt me, and if I feel so, anyway, I have to assume a misunderstanding at the first place. "I know you are suffering." means to understand at all times that the partner can never be completely free from all "mind poisons" (ignorance, attachment, resistance), and to try not to judge him/her according to his/her outer shells (behaviour patterns, emotions, thoughts, habits, etc.) but to see the "Buddha Nature". "I know that I am suffering and I need your help." means to admit one's own fallibility and insufficiency, to be open for all forms of feedback, and to practice the ability to receive and deal with criticism. These four Mantras are laden with Buddha's philosophy and psychology and can maybe only be understood and accepted in front of that background (for example what "suffering", "mindfulness" or "free from mind poisons" mean). After a lot of conversation and even more practical application, Peiru and me are convinced that we understand the deep meaning of those Mantras and their consequences for daily life, so that we take the necessary steps to put them into practice and never to forget them. Therefore, we are adamantly confident that a happy future is awaiting us.
A future in which we help each other to overcome obstacles.
A future in which we give each other warmth.
A future in which we will never get tired of talking to each other and laughing together.
A future in which we enrich our daily life with big and small gestures.
A future in which we treat each other at eye level with respect and humility, in which sometimes one and sometimes the other is the boss.
A future full of inspirations and visions that worth to follow.
I will not be able to meet most of you in person in the near future. Please also forgive me that there is no wedding party. I hope with these photos and the many words that still tell so little of what actually is I could give you a chance to share our joy and happiness. You are all witnesses of my promise: to love this woman, Peiru Chen, for the rest of our days and beyond, to let our partnership flourish and prosper, and to appreciate the happiness of our being together at all moments.