- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2003

ANLI, Taiwan — Security guard Huang Chin-tsai did something his father or grandfather never would have dreamed of doing: Travel to a village in faraway Vietnam and pay to marry a woman he didn’t know.

Like most people on this island, the Huang family once never would have considered a non-Chinese for a bride. Foreigners were uncultured, didn’t have the proper bloodlines, couldn’t speak Chinese and didn’t know how to cook the right kind of food, or so was the mind-set.

But social and economic changes prompted Mr. Huang, 44, and thousands of Taiwanese men to do just that. They are finding wives across Asia, and the trend is helping awaken Taiwan’s insular society to other cultures.

About 250,000 foreign brides now live among the 23 million Taiwanese. Most of the women, about 140,000, are from mainland China, but about 43,000 are Vietnamese and 11,000 are Indonesian. The rest have come from Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia and other countries.

About two years ago, Mr. Huang used a matchmaking agency to find a wife. He met Vu Thi Minh, a 30-year-old Vietnamese with a gentle smile, in her village, about a four-hour drive from Ho Chih Minh City.

After a simple wedding, he brought her back to Wanli, a sleepy fishing village near Taiwan’s capital, Taipei.

Like many villages in Taiwan, the collection of comfortable two-story brick houses in Wanli has become a settlement for foreign brides. The women are said to care for their husbands and children in the old ways that are becoming rarer among the island’s women, who have become more career-oriented.

“You don’t want to marry a woman who wants to control you and always complains about the little money you make,” Mr. Huang said. Turning to his wife as she served stewed pig knuckles, he added, “She is content and seldom argues.”

Mrs. Minh, who cracks an occasional joke in earthy Taiwanese slang, can pass for a native of the island.

She voices satisfaction with her husband, who makes $870 a month as a guard at a resort hotel. His salary is below average for Taiwan, but enough to sustain the couple and their 6-month-old daughter.

“Who wants to have a husband with no job?” she asked, recalling a life of hardship in Vietnam.

Until her siblings grew up and went off to work in cities, her family of eight lived in a one-room wooden hut in a dusty village swarming with flies. She fished, grew fruit and did other chores to help make ends meet.

Now she lives in a three-bedroom house with a washing machine and other amenities — the result of her husband’s years of savings.

Social worker Hsu Chun-hui said that despite an initial lack of understanding or affection, most mixed couples are doing well and are happy.

“They take what they want in the marriage of convenience,” said Mr. Hsu, who works for Eden Social Welfare Foundation.

The exceptions generally involve cases in which men from Taiwan lie about their economic well-being or hide poor health, Mr. Hsu said.

To wed a foreign bride, a man usually pays matchmaking agencies about $10,000, which includes a commission, traveling expenses and a small amount for the bride’s parents.

Several years ago, those who looked elsewhere for brides were mostly older men. Today, though, many younger Taiwanese bachelors frustrated with the complications of dating in a modern society are looking abroad for wives.

Luong My Nga, a Vietnamese neighbor of the Huangs, said her husband, a 34-year-old chef, did not marry her because he couldn’t have found a wife in Taiwan.

“He is a handsome man and has a good income,” the 23-year-old woman said, her dark eyes sparkling with pride. But “he worked long hours and had no time for courtship, so he married me.”

Mrs. Nga’s mother-in-law nodded in agreement, holding her year-old grandson in her arms.

Taiwanese society is starting to adjust to the influx of the foreign women. The government offers language classes, job training and counseling and has set up telephone hot lines to address grievances. A Taipei hospital recently printed a Vietnamese-language handbook for pregnant women, although handbooks in other languages have yet to appear.

Officials also are starting to grapple with unhappy marriages that lead to physical and emotional abuse.

Liu Yun-pin, a policeman in eastern Taitung county, said he deals with several abuse complaints a day filed by foreign wives.

“The family disputes are mainly about economic problems,” he said. “Some husbands not only want their wives to do household work, but farm and other labor. Some of the wives escape to work in factories.”

Multiculturalism is being addressed in schools, too, where bilingual textbooks are being provided for the children of mixed couples. “The children must not only learn our culture and language, but those of their mothers,” said Fan Hsun-lu, vice minister for education.

There also have been no complaints from Taiwanese women about diminishing marriage opportunities owing to the influx of the foreign women.

Kuo Pei-chin, a social worker for the Taitung county government, said younger Taiwanese women are better educated and economically independent, and many would rather stay single than marry men they believe are inferior.

“There are a lot of calls for curbing the import of foreign workers, but few people see the foreign brides as a threat — at least not yet,” she said.

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