In 2010, Taiwanese teacher Xin-Qian “Elle” Sung had an opportunity to spend a year in the United States, teaching at a school in Detroit, Michigan.
“Before I went to America, my friends told me I’d meet Mr. Right there. I didn’t; I had to come back to Taiwan to meet my American husband,” Elle said several weeks ago.
That American husband is Wade Kaardal of Redwood Falls, son of Thor and Debbie Kaardal.
“I left to come to Asia in Oct. 2011,” Wade said, speaking by phone from his apartment in Tiachung City, the third largest city in Taiwan, a country of 22 million.
Wade found a job in a “cram school”, teaching English to students after their regular school hours.
At the same time, he was taking classes in Chinese; Elle was his teacher.
“Wade was my co-worker and student, so we had a lot of opportunity to interact,” she said.
Elle noted right away that Wade was different than other Americans she had met.
“He’s very old-fashioned, a little more formal than most North Americans. He’d often wear button-up shirts and khakis,” she laughed.
“Most of the other teachers here wear sweatshirts and jeans,” Wade pointed out.
Their preliminary first date was to a concert to hear American jazz.
“I remember talking to her and walking around the park,” Wade said. “Wit out realizing it we had walked around four or five times and not listened to much jazz.”
That went so well, Wade planned their official “first” date.
“We went to three different places, because I had heard if you can do three different things on your first date and it doesn't get boring — including during transportation, which for us was by bus — the two of you will probably be pretty good together.
“The first place was to see a giant fat Buddha sometimes called a Milefo. We then went to eat at a Chicago-style hot dog diner. Finally we ended up at a Japanese style tea house, the kind where you have to take your shoes off and sit on the floor.
“Overall, I remember the two of us talking and chatting the whole night. It was never boring, so I knew I had found someone special.
”I proposed with a pearl ring made by her cousin. I took her back to the same Japanese tea-house to propose.
“There is a small pavilion in the tea house that is built in the middle of a coy pond. I took her onto the pavilion got down on one knee and said in Chinese, ‘Elle I love you. I'll do my best to take care of you. Anything I can give you, I'll give you. Will you marry me?’”
Page 2 of 4 - One “yes” later, they began the planning.
“The thing we had to spend most of our time with was planning what to do when our friends came from abroad to join the wedding. We had to tell them what to do, where to stand, and find a translator for those who wanted to say a few words.
“It didn't always help. My Norwegian uncle wanted to say some things about the Vikings and realized that maybe the Taiwanese aren't too familiar with our proud Viking history.
“A week before the ceremony we had to return to (Elle’s) family farm to make an offering to the family shrine. We give the ancestors some food and an invitation to the wedding.
“I am then supposed to ‘introduce’ myself and see if the ancestors approve of the marriage by dropping two banana-shaped blocks of wood and seeing how they land. The ancestors approved on my first try.”
Choosing the wedding date was a bit of a cultural clash for Wade..
“Our legal wedding, doing the legal portions, was Nov. 11, 2012, because the feng sui master said that was the best day,” Wade said.
It seems in Taiwan, wedding dates are set by feng sui masters who read the couples auras, the stars, the general feel of the times, etc.
However, all the churches and reception halls were already booked for Nov. 11. What to do to keep the universe happy?
“The feng sui master said Nov. 18 would be a good day, too,” Wade said.
When Nov. 18, 2012 arrived, Wade had to brave a series of traditional Taiwanese tests — sort of.
“There used to be tests for the groom on the wedding day,” said Wade. “The husband would have to leave his house, go to the bride’s parents’ house to collect her while the friends did tests.
“Now it’s more of just a game. The friends need to put obstacles in the groom’s way to keep him from getting there. One of them they did for me was to pose for a Gangnam-style dance.”
“Another test was they had all the women kiss post-it notes, then I had to choose which one was Elle’s lip prints.
“After I passed all the challenges I was allowed to see my bride. Much of the ceremony takes part at the bride's parents’ home.
“There is a short ceremony where Elle serveed my family and groomsmen tea and we all give her envelopes of money. After that there is a time where our parent give us gold.
Page 3 of 4 - “Then Elle and I stood in front of her parents saying some words of thanks. We take a break for pictures, then return to our apartment.
“There Elle had to step over a small fire and break a brick. I'm not sure why. We also had to sit on two chairs with a pair of pants with some money in them.”
Following the reception in a Taiwanese hall that hosts nothing but wedding receptions, Wade and Elle were allowed to return home to his apartment.
What language do they speak at home?
“We usually speak English, since that’s our strongest shared language,” said Wade, “although sometimes we speak ‘Chinglish’ – we’ll start a sentence in English and end in Chinese.”
Wade found out that’s common in Taiwan. In fact, it’s on the easy side.
“When we go to Elle’s parents’ house, they’ll be speaking in four languages – Taiwanese, Chinese, English, and Hakka, a sub-category of Chinese.”
Living in a multi-cultural household, what sort of cultural expectations about each other have surprised them?
“I was surprised by how much of a role family plays in peoples’ lives here,” Wade said. “Sometimes if Elle has to make a decision, she will confer with her parents rather than with me.”
“Wade can cook!” Elle said.
“That is very uncommon for women and men of Elle’s generation,” said Wade. “Here, parents took care of everything so their children could study all the time, so a whole generation grew up not knowing how to cook (or do other household chores.)”
How does Wade handle being a Scandinavian in Taiwan?
“Once I was walking through the city, and a child said in Chinese, ‘Oh look, there’s a foreigner!’ I said back to him in Chinese, ‘Oh look, there’s a Taiwanese kid!’
“He looked really startled, as if he was thinking, “Oops! He understood me....” In this country, I don’t think a lot of people understand that a white face can speak Chinese.”
Wade also said many American and Europeans he meets in Taiwan and China tend to avoid each other.
“If I’m walking down the street and see another white face, we’ll usually walk in opposite directions,” Wade said. “It’s like we’re thinking, ‘Go away, you’re messing up my adventure.’”
Today Wade and Elle live on the third floor of a 12-story apartment complex.
Page 4 of 4 - On a typical day, Elle teaches from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., then comes home to grade papers and make lesson plans.
Wade works from around lunchtime until 10 p.m., so he is free to spend his mornings doing household chores like cooking or taking care of their small garden on their balcony.
“Lunch boxes are very common here, with rice, veggies, and meat,” said Elle. “Today Wade cooked a red meat sauce with noodles and made me what is called a ‘husband’s lunchbox’, which is very unusual.”
For the foreseeable future, Wade and Elle plan to continue living in Taichung City.
“I hope to start a business of my own someday, maybe a restaurant,” he said. “My father-in-law owns a shipping business, and I’m about two languages too short (to join him).”
“In Taiwan the cost of living is very low. I can save almost half of what I make as a teacher.”
Does Wade consider himself an expatriate?
“Obviously I miss my family very much,” he said. “It’s tough to miss a lot of things here. But I knew when I met Elle that I’d be here for at least a few years.”
“I think we’d be happy anywhere, if we’re together – even at the North Pole,” Elle said.
What advice does Wade have for couples planning their wedding?
“Your wedding day is going to go fast. You'll order delicious food and eat little of it. You'll invite many people and talk to a few of them. You'll be at your wedding ceremony and reception all day and it'll will be over before you know it.
“And with all that it may seem like it's not worth it.
“However, for me, it wasn't until my family fand riends were gathered together to see me and my wife together that I felt good and truly married.”
(The couple will celebrate a reception for their Redwood Falls friends and relatives at Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel on Feb. 9, 2013.)