updated 17 Aug 2013, 09:52
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Tue, Aug 13, 2013
The Straits Times
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Bonding over common interests
by Lea Wee

Twelve days after they met for the first time in October 2010, Dr Cai Yixiong asked Singaporean Joyce Loo to be his girlfriend.

Then, after about a month of dating her, he popped the question.

In January last year, the couple held their wedding ceremony at a hotel here.

Dr Cai, 49, who works as a zoologist at a government agency here that he declines to name, says of their whirlwind courtship: "I just felt very comfortable and relaxed with her."

These were feelings he had not experienced with a woman "in a long time", he adds.

Dr Cai, who was born in Shantou, married an accountant from Beijing in 1987, at age 22, when he was a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences in Beijing. The couple divorced in 1995 and he won custody of their only child, a son who is now 24 and studying sociology at the Santa Monica College in Los Angeles.

In 1997, Dr Cai came to Singapore with his son on a scholarship from the National University of Singapore to pursue a doctorate in zoology. He became a Singapore permanent resident in 2004 and once dated a Singaporean for a few years.

For Ms Loo, 47, the speed at which their relationship progressed did not faze her.

She says: "I guess, at our age, we knew what kind of life partners we were looking for."

She dated three Singaporean men before Dr Cai, but found them to be "not very sincere" about the relationship.

Dr Cai believes it was fate that brought them together. They had signed up for the same 14-day photographic outing to the Daocheng Yading nature reserve in Sichuan in 2010. He was a photography enthusiast and she, an avid traveller, was game for what she saw as an adventurous trip.

She recalls: "Yixiong and I happened to sit next to each other on the plane and we started chatting."

Their conversation continued throughout the trip and they discovered that they shared many common interests and views about life. Says Ms Loo: "We both love nature, travelling and trekking. We also love Chinese historical novels."

They also admire each other for their passions in life.

Dr Cai spent 1997 to 2004 studying freshwater shrimps while pursuing his doctorate. He also loves photography and is now the president of the Nature Photographic Society (Singapore).

Ms Loo, who holds a diploma in business, used to earn $5,000 to $10,000 a month as a stockbroker. She quit her job five years ago to be a ceramic artist and now earns about a quarter of her previous salary.

The couple communicate in Mandarin, a language that Ms Loo, the sixth of seven children, is comfortable with, having grown up in a Mandarin-speaking family.

Dr Cai's nationality has never been a concern, she says. Although she did not know any male friends from China before meeting him, she finds it "silly to judge people by their nationality".

He, too, says he does not hold any stereotypical views of Singaporean women as he finds them "very diverse".

He has not faced any prejudice from Singaporeans, he adds.

"I had a very supportive supervisor during my PhD years who made sure I picked up English fast by making the other Singaporean students speak only English to me," he says. "If you are nice to people, they will also be nice to you."

The families on both sides have been supportive of their relationship and Ms Loo says she gets along with Dr Cai's son. She has also visited his widowed mother and three older siblings in Shantou.

Married life, they say, means less time for their own interests - ceramic art for her and photography for him.

Still, they have no regrets.

"No matter how happy I was as a single, there were lonely moments. It's still better to be able to share my life with someone else," says Ms Loo.

For Dr Cai, his second marriage has so far been more smooth-sailing than his first one. "Maybe it's because I am older and know better how to live with another person.

And it certainly helps that Joyce is a very easygoing person."

The couple have no plans to move to China. In fact, Dr Cai's son, who completed his national service here, has applied for Singapore citizenship.

Says Dr Cai: "We have fully adapted to life here, although I will still make it a point to take my son back to China to visit his grandmother and our relatives."



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