If you’re just tuning in to the International Couples Series, welcome! The International Couples Series, is a series of interviews featuring international couples who met while living abroad or traveling. This is definitely a special kind of relationship, made of two people who are from two completely different cultures, countries and may even speak different languages! For this interview, I’m excited to introduce y’all to Jesse and Liane!
Jesse and I are ex-coworkers, who used to work for a restaurant in our home state, Virginia. I was hired to be a Cheese Bartender one summer, and Jesse was the person that trained me during morning shifts. I remember talking to him about moving abroad, teaching English and doing something different with our lives. He told me he joined an organization and would be moving to Thailand at the end of the summer. We kept in touch through Facebook and caught up with each other every once in a while about living abroad and what our future plans were.
Each interview for the International Couples Series is so different and so inspiring! Here is Liane and Jesse’s story! (:
The International Couple
The Quirky Pineapple: Tell me your love story! (: Where did you both meet, who made the first move and how did your relationship come about?
JESSE: We both worked in the same school! At first we were just friends, benign, until feelings grew without restraint to a point where I couldn’t do work in the office when she was around. She would bounce around the office playfully, mischievous and woefully unaware of what was going on. Even when I began snapchatting with her, she was none the wiser.
Actually, I was unaware too. I was just drawn to her and kept trying to get closer to her. At first it was difficult. She was skittish and I always felt that she was trying to run away from me. At some point it clicked and I realized I needed to make a move, otherwise I would be in for a world of TORMENT since there was really nothing else to do in that office except stare at her. I started plotting for ways to get her alone; I used guitar lessons (I can’t teach guitar) traded for lessons in her native language, which was hard to take seriously given the TORMENT, and also “Adventure Time” marathons as means to that end. The plotting paid off. Resistance was futile. She didn’t stand a chance. Game over.
LIANE: We both worked in the same school (SiamTech). We started as co-workers and became friends. But then days, weeks, months went by we started to talk more and hangout more with friends. At first I thought Jesse was a very serious type of person who wastes time reading and studying Chinese. I got interested in studying how to read and write Thai characters. One day Jesse approached me and lent me his Thai book. I was so happy about it because the book was a big help! He also gave me Thai audio lessons, that was the time I found out he used to study Thai and other languages. After that we started talking more about Thai and Chinese. Since he’s studying Chinese, I tried to learn Chinese as well, thought it was fun and new to me. He also noticed that I like taking pictures. When I came back from vacation, he lent me his photography book as a birthday present but unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me. He was so nice that he always offered his camera to me so I could practice, but I was too scared because I know that I’m clumsy and I don’t want to break his camera.
One day Jesse asked me what makes me study other languages and I answered him “just for fun”. I’m really bad at languages even my own native language but I find it interesting and fun to learn. Somehow Jesse is feeding my curiosity, he knows a lot of things, and I was like “How did you know that?” I think that’s how our closeness started. I thought he’s really funny but sometimes mean, he has great and dark sense of humor. He challenged me to learn Chinese and told me if I would learn the basic words, I’ll get a prize from him.
He told me that he’ll make a test and I have a couple of weeks to study. The prize was a free guitar lesson from him and I was like “YAYAYAY”. While I was preparing myself for the test he dared me to quit smoking, yeah I used to be a smoker, I told him it wasn’t easy, but he wanted me to try and I’ll get more prizes if I would, I was like “why not!” I like prizes. So the deadline for Chinese came, I wasn’t ready, and I didn’t pass the test, but he still insisted to give a guitar lesson for my effort. Actually I was surprised that he knows how to play guitar, he never shows us.
One night we went out with friends, and I drew him a smiley face on his hand, and one day he was asking for that smile back. That’s where our drawing tattoo sesh and “Adventure Time” started. After that, we had this mutual feelings growing, and by the way, I quit smoking (It was a miracle!!). He helped me a lot to get through it and I’m gonna thank him forever for that! We kept hanging out watching movies and shows together, share story, etc. It wasn’t easy for me to express verbally/written my feelings, story and everything. I started to have a *“nose bleed”* but he was so determined to know what was going on in my head and my opinions and everything. I asked him why he should know everything?! And he told me “communication, dude! It’s important”, I was scared hahahaha.
That’s where I started to learn how to communicate and express what I really feel in a relationship, and it works. It makes our relationship easy to handle and happy. Jesse always pushes me to things I like to do, I have so many dreams and things that I wanted to do but I gave up because I got content and comfortable. But he believes in me, he never judges my mistakes but instead he corrects me (but sometimes if he’s being mean he laughs at me). He told me to never stop dreaming and learning. So based on my story I think he made the first move!
We had been dating for three months when he found a job offer in China online. He needs to learn Chinese and living in China would be a big help for him to learn faster, it took almost 3 months to process his papers. For some reasons he had to give up his place so he moved in to my place. In three weeks we bonded well and learned more about each other. It was so hard for both of us. We talked and he told me that he loves me and he wants to continue what we’ve started. I love him and I’m very happy with him so we decided to continue it and not let the distance stop us. He gets to visit me every 2 months, we communicate every day, through WeChat.
Being far away from each other is not easy but it made our relationship stronger. I tried to visit him but my Visa was denied, after 5 months I got a job offer in Wuxi where Jesse is working, but unfortunately my visa got denied again. It was so frustrating but we didn’t give up. He keeps coming to Bangkok to visit me and I appreciate all the effort, I feel so lucky. Even we’re not living in the same country (at the moment) we keep growing together, we still get to watch movies and shows together ( 5,4,3,2,1 play is the solution for that). So distance doesn’t matter, they said if there’s a will there’s a way. We’ll always find ways to keep our relationship to grow and be happy.
TQP: Where are you living now? If it’s not both of your home countries, why there? What do you like about it?
JESSE: I’m currently living in small city outside of Shanghai, China. I chose to live in China because one of my goals is to become fluent in Mandarin. Unfortunately, the decision was made before Liane and I were serious and since then it has become an obstacle for our relationship. We’ve been able to overcome that obstacle by me visiting her every few months, skype dates and watching shows together online (we will usually synchronize the shows we watch via skype so it’s like we are watching it together).
LIANE: I’m currently living in Bangkok because of my job and everything is cheap here. I like Thailand life is easy here (but I don’t want to be far away from Jesse ? ) Jesse is in Wuxi, China because he needs to learn Chinese and he got a good job offer. Every time he got a long day off, he visits me. Last year he visited every two months. The longest was 2 weeks and the shortest was 5 days.
TQP: What languages do you both speak? Which is the common language that you communicate in?
JESSE: We both speak hybrid of English, Thai and slang from Tagalog. I really only know curse words in her language though, which is ..typical?
LIANE: We both use English to communicate and sometimes we use words in “Thai, Chinese and Filipino”. Such as:
Thai= (Chai-yes / leaw- already / mai- question form)
Chinese = (对- yes ， 哈哈哈- hahaha， 我爱你)
Filipino = (kilig, mahal kita, tae and “shurva/churva a Filipino gay lingo）
E.g. ( Did you eat mai? … I ate leaw)
TQP: What are your nationalities? What are your ethnic backgrounds?
JESSE: I am from an ancient race of fish/frog people who every 6,000 years rise from the abyss to reclaim the earth. She’s Filipino.
LIANE: I’m Filipino. The Philippines are made of different islands and I grew up in Bacolod city (Negros Occidental Island). I have a very big and happy family. My father has 12 siblings and my mom has 8 siblings. We are all very close. My dad was a chef specialty in Japanese / Bacolodnon cuisine and my mom was a nutritionist and she loves baking cakes and pastries. I have 4 brothers, I’m second to the youngest. They are sweet and funny but they were very protective, so I needed to prove myself that I could stand on my own, but I’m pretty sure without them I couldn’t be what I am now.
TQP: What is the most frustrating thing or has been the most frustrating thing about being in an international, intercultural and interlanguage relationship?
JESSE: So far we’ve ran into a lot of trouble when it comes to her visiting me. Currently the relationship with China and the Philippines isn’t that great and the Chinese have a visa policy of ‘no Filipinos allowed.’ And it’s sad. Not just because I don’t get to see my girlfriend as much but also because she’s such a positive influence on every person and place she comes in contact with. It’s an infectious optimism of some sort and I think everyone can benefit from it.
LIANE: The “not so frustrating” thing is when I was trying to explain and to translate words from my language and I couldn’t nor Google couldn’t translate it either. Then we figured out that there’s no specific words for those expressions, just like “ kilig and gigil”
TQP: What was or is one thing about your partner’s culture that was the hardest to get used to?
JESSE: I visited her hometown, met with her friends and family, and the whole experience reminded me of back being back home in the US being with my mom’s side of the family who are of similar faith. I felt more at home there than in the countries I’ve been living in for the past 3 years. I suppose them not speaking English makes me feel alienated. That’s it and it’s probably selfish to expect them all to change their behaviors while I’m around. Meh.
TQP: What is the one thing about your partner’s culture that you love the most?
JESSE: It’s a toss-up between their food and their sense of community/family. The food is different and you can taste the influences of several countries mixed with native ingredients. There is a dip they would have on the table consisting of sugar-cane vinegar, soy sauce, tiny little peppers, and clamencias (I can never remember how to spell it but basically and it’s a really tiny lime). I loved it but customs wouldn’t allow me to bring back sugar cane vinegar.
LIANE: *Liane hasn’t visited the United States (yet!)* Movies? Pop-stars? English?! hehehehe
TQP: What have you adopted from your partner’s culture that you would try (or want) to incorporate into your own?
JESSE: That second point mentioned above. When I visited her family I thought it was strange that they lived in houses next to each other, connected by fences, hallways and walls… pneumatic tubes, taking up about two streets in the neighborhood. In their culture people who are not related by blood are called uncle, aunt, grandpa, grandma, brother and sister. From what I saw, the family for them isn’t bound by blood. Being from a nuclear family, whose relatives are spread throughout the East Coast of the United States, this was a shock. In the future I would like to develop extended families like this. I think drawing lines and making a rigid family identity is arbitrary and I’m sure it negatively affects the way we think of people.
TQP: Where do you both plan on living in the future?
JESSE: Initially back to the USA. This might be just a transitional phase until we are ready to live in another country (South America would be cool), who really knows!? There are several reasons for this, some I might not be able to talk about here. But, mainly, I think there are opportunities there for both of us that could really help us. I am excited about seeing her experience winter and snow. I think she’s only seen snow in the movies so far. And don’t worry, I’ll record it.
LIANE: Anywhere as long we’re together. But Jesse wants in America.
TQP: Do you have any suggestions or advice for people who find themselves in an international, intercultural, interlanguage relationship?
JESSE: Be sensitive to each other’s upbringings. They will be different and you both will see the world differently, at least at first. Don’t be obstinate or try to supplant your others’ culture for your own. Instead embrace it! Hybridize! Amalgamate! ANNIHILATE.
LIANE: Language and culture are never communication barriers. Keep communicating and keep the love going.
TQP: Extra Question! What has been the craziest adventure you’ve embarked on together, or are planning together?
JESSE: The time when Liane and I visited a small Island named Siquijor, pronounced ‘sicky-whore.’ It’s a very small island off of her home island. It was during their rainy season and a recent storm had just capsized a ship from Cebu killing several people. When we arrived at the pier, departing from Dumaguette to Siquijor, one of the ships was from Cebu. I thought that was an ominous sign. We first arrived and rickshaw drivers were trying to take our money, as usual.
LIANE: Both of us were so excited but then when we start touring the island the clouds instantly became dark and we were like running away from it… before that we were hungry, so we had a siquijor’s adobo.
JESSE: It was terrible adobo btw.
LIANE: And I remember that there was a man offered us a tour and he followed and waited for us then we were so hesitant to talk to him, but after we ate I talked to him and told him that we’re gonna rent a motorcyle instead and he insisted that he knows where we can get it but Kuya Ric (someone we both worked with at Siam Tech) gave us his friend’s number and so we rented from Ric’s friend, and not from the man.
JESSE: We were lucky we knew someone on the island. In order to make it back to our hotel on the main Island, we only had about 4-5 hours’ worth of time to explore the Siquijor.. which isn’t a lot of time at all. We started racing to see some sights, and there were rain clouds and a few drops would fall having us question whether we should go further or turn around. I drove as fast as I felt comfortably driving on a scooter. We stopped in a little village about halfway around the island to take pictures and use the restrooms, which was a harrowing experience we don’t need to go into.
LIANE: Yeah we returned the motorcycle and the guy told us to hurry up for the boat, so he drove us there, we were running but then we saw the boat pia leaw (pia/bai means to go or in this context it left // laew is used in many ways, but here it means “already”)…we could have jumped and hold into the anchor chain hahahah
JESSE: It’s also worth mentioning that my butt was completely numb from all the riding. 😉
LIANE: Then after that the guy suggested a place where we can stay and offered us to pick us up early in the morning but then! there was a storm!! I remember we needed to buy new ticket At the last minute I ran to exchange my ticket and Jesse were on the boat leaw waiting.
JESSE: I was terrified that she wasn’t going to make it. Her legs are so small so the run to the pier was like 20 miles in duwende (short people’s) distance. I started preparing my things just in case I had to jump overboard and swim back to Liane.
LIANE: The boat wasn’t allowed to travel leaw so there was one boat available and tons of passengers because the passenger from the other boat transferred leaw. We all wanted to leave the island because the weather was bad leaw
Thank you so much, Jesse and Liane, for sharing your love story! Although they’ve run into problems with visas and living in different countries, it’s inspiring to see how they are both overcoming these obstacles to continue to work out their relationship. This definitely goes to show that distance (and maybe some visa laws) shouldn’t deter people in an international relationship, because if it’s worth it, there is always a way to make it work. Check back next month for more interviews in the International Couples Series! I’ve got more inspiring interviews from other international couples who have worked through obstacles, which in turn has made their relationship even stronger!