Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Published at asiancemagazine.com

Why are couples with a Caucasian male and an Asian female relatively common? There has been much discussion of this in asiancemagazine.com, which is “connecting Asian American women to the world.” I will approach this issue cautiously, telling you why one Caucasian male, “Doug,” loves one Chinese American female, “Ting,” Tina Su Cooper, my wife. It is one side of one story, but I think it has some broader validity.

Let’s rule out obsession. None of my other near-loves was of Asian extraction. I found Nancy Kwan lovely, but so were Debbie Reynolds, Audrey Hepburn, and Grace Kelly, rather different types. My girlfriends ranged from the buxom to the slender, slender prevailing. Some were Christian, as I was, some Jewish. No strong patterns emerge, though my first wife was slender, dark-haired, quiet, Christian, more rational than emotional, much like Tina though Caucasian.

I met Tina Han Su (born Su Ting-ting, Kunming, China, 1944) in Chinese class at Cornell. She entered mid-year, having learned some Mandarin at home. Her parents were Professor and Mrs. G.J. Su, and they were among only a few Chinese families in Rochester, NY. Professor Su taught chemical engineering. Mrs. Su, a headstrong Chinese daughter from the merchant Qiao family [Google “Qiao Family Compound”] was a trained chemist who stayed at home for her family of five. They prized education and achievement, values my own family held as well. Tina and I share many values.

At first sight, I found Tina beautiful, the essence of femininity. A portrait photograph taken when she was 23, shows loveliness, serenity, warmth. Many people have commented to me on her beauty. I plead guilty to superficiality, It is easier to fall in love with a beautiful girl than a homely one. She had a slender but definitely feminine figure that she did not show off. Her modesty was appealing. Her middle name, “Han,” is Mandarin Chinese for “reserved.” She dressed carefully, neatly, and appropriately. She was “pretty to walk with, witty to talk with.” I was proud to be seen with her, proud of her as a person.

True to the Chinese American stereotype, as recently portrayed in Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom, Tina and her siblings were sent to study music after school. Tina graduated from twelve years of piano at Rochester’s eminent Eastman School of Music. She had a debut recital with the Rochester Civic Orchestra. She loved to play piano, and she played exceptionally well. What does such an accomplishment do for a person? Did it contribute to her sense of self-worth, her serenity? Much as my modest success in high school football gave me a feeling of masculine achievement that was valuable to me apart from my academic success, so her piano mastery supported her self-confidence, as an addition to her academic honors. When the sororities at Cornell interviewed candidates for membership, all those who had met her invited Tina to join. She was clearly among life’s winners.

Compared with others I dated, I found Tina to be kind, considerate, thoughtful in the extreme. This concern for the welfare of others went far beyond allowing them to “save face.” Her concern to do what was right might have been Christian or Confucian. Whatever, it was admirable,.

Valedictorian of her high school class, Tina was clearly smart and studious. Valedictorian of my high school class, I was clearly smart and studious It was a match.

We respected each other, were proud of each other.

There is or was a stereotype of Asian “inscrutability.” One man’s inscrutability is another man’s quietness. Talkative people are interesting, until they become boring or pushy. A quiet person thinks before she speaks, listens before she talks. Nice. My quiet person laughs readily, smiles easily, almost never cries. Sometimes I would like to be more certain of what she is thinking, though.

My dearest Ting often deferred to the wants of others, even on small things. Her ex-husband told me she always let others have the best of their food. Her motto could have been, “After you.“ In response sometimes, I would joke, “We can’t all go last.” In our memoir, Ting and I, the following vignette describes an incident from roughly twenty years ago:

“Tina has consistently put the interests of others ahead of her own. Whenever I see my Automobile Association of America roadside assistance card in my wallet, I am reminded of this. Sometime during the Ledgewood Commons phase (1986– 93) of our marriage, she did someone a favor by editing a manuscript, for which that person insisted on paying her at least a nominal sum.

“When Tina received that payment—her first “paycheck” during our marriage—she insisted on treating me to an AAA renewal, something I was considering discontinuing. I was touched and accepted with gratitude.”


Tina Su Cooper is now 67, quadriplegic, ventilator-dependent, still the love of my life.

An example of Tina’s considerateness occurred this afternoon. She had been out in the kitchen with me, in her wheelchair, for almost an hour. I had been reading to her, and we had been discussing it. “Do you want to take a rest?” she asked me, meaning: did I want to take a nap? I replied that perhaps she herself would like to go to her bed. She agreed. Later, when I asked her whether her question to me was a gentle hint that we should wheel her back to her bed, she said it was not. Rather, feeling tired herself, she feared I might also be fatigued. So typical of Tina.

Tina and I have been married 27 years, basking in the glow of our mutual love, despite the shadows of her increasing disability due to multiple sclerosis. She has weathered a traditional Chinese marriage, a difficult divorce, breast cancer, paraplegia, quadriplegia, and a near-fatal systemic infection. She has survived, prevailed. The Chinese workers in the U.S. in the nineteenth century were often called “Coolies,“ a currently derogatory term that comes from the Mandarin ku li, for “bitter strength,” strength they demonstrated in enduring hardships both here and abroad. Tina’s strength is not bitter, but she is made of tough stuff. She is, surprisingly, happy. She helps make us happy.

Douglas Winslow Cooper loves Tina Su Cooper. Tina loves Doug, “with all my heart.” Draw what conclusions you will.


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