Lucia is Taiwanese-Canadian, and has lived & travelled extensively in East Asia and East Africa. With a love for writing and traveling, she documents her life stories on her blog, along with her thoughts on family and cultural diversity. She is also an author, with fiction as her main genre, and while her personal favourite is historical fiction, she loves to explore different themes in work. She has published two novels under L.L. Kombe, Freeing Shadows being her first historical fiction, and Take Me to the Deepest Blue, a modern day mermaid story. Her newfound passion is writing and illustrating her own children’s books! You can follow her on Instagram here.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
KrASIA (Kr): Can you give us context around your background, your husband’s background, and how you fell in love with your husband in Africa?
Lucia Lee-Kombe (LK): I was born in Taiwan and my family immigrated to Canada’s East Coast when I was eight years old. So basically I was raised in Canada.
I guess I’ve always wanted to travel – either back to Asia or to explore the other side of the world. My goal had been to work in Japan, which I did achieve. Back then I was also reading up a lot about post conflict or post war regions in Africa, notably Kenya and Rwanda and Tanzania. So I decided to go on a volunteer trip and that’s how I met Sam, my then-party guide and now-husband.
Have you heard of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa? He was born and raised at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania in a family of farmers. I think what really inspired him to go into the tourism industry was when he met some English-speaking volunteers in school and thought they were so cool. He wanted to but couldn’t communicate well with them. So that prompted him to study English. And once he got it, that opened up so many doors. He decided to combine it with his passion for wildlife and meeting new people. It was the perfect job for him.
My first impression was that Sam was super friendly, very kind and knowledgeable. Out of all the safari guys – since we were in a big group – he was the most responsible and responsive guide. The volunteer trip lasted just two weeks so we didn’t have much time to really get to know each other but we did that via text and email.
Kr: Were you worried about the culture clashes of two different worlds? What did your family and friends think?
LK: Of course, I understood that he was from a different culture but it didn’t occur to me how big of a deal that would be. In the beginning, I just decided that I really liked this guy and wanted to make it work. My family and friends were more level headed. They would jump in and ask, how well do you know him through a long distance relationship? They also brought out the whole cultural conflict. But what mattered to me was that I trusted him, and I trusted my instincts.
There were definitely some cultural differences. For example, we stopped by Hong Kong enroute to Taiwan for our wedding and he was struck by how fast everything moved there. It was his first time out of Africa, which explains the major culture shock. He was like, do they pay people to walk this fast? He was impressed by how efficient everything was.
Kr: Given the cultural differences and how you’ve tackled them, what advice would you give to newly-wed interracial couples?
LK: Be very open in your communication, including what you’re not comfortable with in each other’s culture. I think as long as you’re open and honest about it from the beginning, it becomes less awkward.
One of the things that I had to overcome was that in Tanzania, or perhaps in all of Africa, they have this culture of “pole pole” (meaning ‘slowly’ in Swahili). It’s like a whole “hakuna matata” mindset. I didn’t really enjoy that, having worked in Japan where everything was to the second. Sometimes, Sam would say, “I’ll be gone for a while.” And I’m thinking maybe an hour, but it becomes four hours, and I start worrying about him.
I had to bring it up to him and explain why that’s not okay for me – because where I came from, punctuality was important. He also tried to adjust. Eventually, we met in the middle.
Another thing is to stay positive. For sure, there will be people who look at your relationship in a negative light. People tell me, “You’re with a black guy, oh he must be so special for you to want to be with him.”
And I try to turn the conversation around after that, “Yes, because he’s such a kind individual. The kindest person I’ve ever met.” So I wouldn’t directly refute them for just that, but rather change the style of conversation.
Kr: I saw you added #blasiancommunity in your post. Can you explain what that is and what you’ve learned being in that community?
LK: Two months ago, I posted a short version of my story in Chinese in this immigrant group. Someone told me I should join the “Taiwanese mums of blasian babies” group. There were only 5 of us at first, but we’ve invited more people of such background and now we have 43.
It’s great because we come together and discuss some common questions. One of the deeper topics we’ve talked about would be racism. For instance, how do you respond to people asking, “Are these your kids?” or “Are you their nanny?” Apparently, most of us have been asked a similar question. Different people have different takes. For me, I always say “No, they’re mine.” I get that a lot but it’s good. We have a support system now. We encourage each other. We even recommend books, music, and shows within the group.
Kr: Now that you have kids of your own, how will you incorporate heritage and culture into their education?
LK: I introduce songs from Canadian artists, but also those from Taiwan. Sam and I both want our kids to be able to speak our mother tongue. For me, it’s Mandarin and for him, it’s Swahili. It was easy in Tanzania, my daughter Emma picked it up just like that. I also try to speak Mandarin to her. When the pandemic clears and we can travel again, we’ll definitely go to Tanzania. We could go on safaris – to show her all the beautiful things that Tanzania has, from the people to the wildlife to the scenery. There’s just so much that she needs to know and to remember.
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