Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: He’s American, she’s Chinese — and their common language is love

VIDEO: Communicating by app – a husband and wife's story

A Pierce County couple courted using translation software, and they still use it to understand each other.
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A Pierce County couple courted using translation software, and they still use it to understand each other.

About a month after he began video chatting with Jian Ming Chen, Stan Wolfe was telling a group of his longshoremen buddies at the Port of Tacoma about this woman he met in China. He called her “Jenny.”

“In the beginning, I thought I was going to gain a pen pal,” Wolfe said. “By our second call, I knew she was special. As the calls went on and on, one guy at work summed it up.

“He said, ‘Wolfe’s in love again!’ He was right. It just clicked, and I wanted to spend my life with her.”

All love seems to come with complications. This one?

Wolfe didn’t speak a word of Chinese. Jenny didn’t speak English. And while Wolfe lived in the Mount Rainier foothills town of Ashford, Jenny was in Beijing.

She had been divorced more than 20 years. He had been married for 34, but was a widower for the past two.

“I didn’t expect this,” Wolfe said.

Neither did Jenny.

“My sister said she was going to introduce me to a serious and responsible man,” she said. “My first impression seeing him was that he had kind eyes.”

I don’t expect everyone to understand. We video-dated, we talked on the phone, met one another, fell in love and got married.

Stan Wolfe

The romance started last year after Wolfe began seeing a masseuse to treat his work-related back pain.

Eventually, he met a Tacoma masseuse named Lisa and liked his weekly treatment.

“She cracked my back, then used hot rocks,” Wolfe said. “I loved it. Then one day she asked me, ‘Are you one?’ and I realized she meant, was I single? I said yes. She asked ‘Would you like to meet someone?’

“I said, ‘Sure.’ ”

A shoebox full of photographs appeared showing Jian Ming Chen, who is Lisa’s sister. At that point, no one had yet called her “Jenny.”

Lisa told Wolfe that her sister was a Chinese artist in watercolor and oils. She set up a video chat.

“It was like Skype, but it was Chinese software called ‘QQ,’ and it would translate what I said for her, and what she said to me,” Wolfe explained.

There was a lot to translate. Jenny has a large family in China, including two adult daughters. Wolfe has four grown children here in the states. Just getting the names right was close to impossible on the video calls.

After more than a month, however, Wolfe and Jenny knew what they wanted.

“I didn’t really propose. I think we both just kind of came to the same conclusion,” Wolfe said. “I didn’t consider that fast. I proposed to my first wife, Linda, two days after we met. When it’s right, you feel it.”

You don’t need perfect communication to be happy.

Jenny Wolfe

Next, he flew to China with all manner of paperwork. The Chinese wanted evidence that he and Jenny had been in contact, documents proving Wolfe was single, and evidence of his employment and salary.

Before leaving, a few of his co-workers at the port had a question for him.

“They wondered whether Jenny was a mail-order bride,” Wolfe said. “I wasn’t offended by the question, and I don’t expect everyone to understand. We video-dated, we talked on the phone, met one another, fell in love and got married.”

Was the courtship too quick?

“Love doesn’t rely on time,” Jenny said. “You don’t need perfect communication to be happy. In China, our language is very precise, and in my first marriage we shared a common language.

“But there was no happiness.”

On June 16, 2014, Wolfe and Jenny were married.

Life together is one grand adventure. Wolfe, 60, and Jenny, 58, have had to deal with cultural issues large and small. She is a Buddhist; he’s a Protestant Christian. She’s neat and orderly; he, not so much.

“Chinese wash their clothes every day,” Jenny said. “Americans wash theirs once a week.”

Jenny is taking two-hour English classes at the Tacoma Community House four days a week. They’ll rely on QQ software until the lessons make communication easier.

“When we’re somewhere where there’s no Wi-Fi and we can’t use our telephones, we use signs — it’s like playing charades,” Wolfe said. “We can usually figure it out.”

Jenny continues to paint; she is the artist in the family. But on her cell phone is one piece of art that her new husband produced, and she shows it with pride.

It’s a heart with a stick arrow through it and the message “Stan loves Jenny.”

It seems to translate well in English and Chinese.

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638

larry.larue@thenewstribune.com

@LarryLaRue

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