“Even though our cultures and backgrounds were different, it was just like our hearts and thoughts were the same. … It was just in our hearts, I guess.”
— Owen Jenrich, a Craig resident, on how he met his wife, Mei, in China
It’s hard to imagine Owen Jenrich anywhere but in the blue collar American West.
His Carhartt cap, Western shirt and quiet smile suit him well, as does Craig, his home for 18 years.
At first glance, the self-professed “small-town boy” doesn’t seem the type for far-flung travels and adventures in foreign lands.
But there was a time Owen had an adventure abroad, far from his familiar home.
It began with a chance encounter on the Internet that gradually brought him together with a woman half the world away.
What follows is the story about a love that bloomed over long distances and blossomed into marriage.
It’s how Owen met Mei.
Love in the digital age
It’s safe to say the chance meeting would have never happened if Owen hadn’t gone on vacation.
In 2007, he was looking to take a getaway to somewhere, but he wasn’t quite sure where.
He kicked around the idea of going to Europe, he said, but then, the thought struck him.
“So I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to see the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square and some Buddhist temples,’” he said.
While he was researching the trip, he had a chance meeting online with Mei (pronounced “may”), then an accountant for a successful investment company in Baoding, about 90 miles south of Beijing.
Culturally, Mei’s life was worlds removed from anything Owen had known.
She lived in a city of four million people where tall apartment buildings touched the sky and remnants of the past melded with the ultra-modern landscape.
She was the daughter of a wealthy family and was educated in the best of schools. By the time her path crossed with Owen, she was a successful career woman.
Despite their apparent differences, the two detected the shared chemistry between them. They began chatting online and writing each other emails.
Owen traveled to China in August 2007, and for the first time in the two months he’d known her, he met Mei in person.
Nerves ran high for Owen during that first meeting.
“I’m a small-town boy from Montana,” he said. “And, I’ve really never been outside the United States, let alone going the long distance to China.”
They needed a translator to smooth the way — at the time, Mei could write in English but was still learning to speak the language — but they said what they experienced upon first meeting transcended language barriers and customs.
With Mei, he saw what he hoped to see when he began planning his trip. They visited the 2,000-year-old Buddist temples and the Great Wall of China, to name a few stops on their journey.
“Their culture is so old,” he said with a hint of awe in his voice.
Meanwhile, the chemistry between Mei and Owen grew. They shared the same strong family values, Owen said, a point Mei wholeheartedly agrees with.
“We have the same mind,” she said. “Family is important.
“… Life is short, so we cherish life.”
By the time Owen was on his way back stateside, he and Mei were engaged.
“Even though our cultures and backgrounds were different, it was just like our hearts and thoughts were the same,” he said.
“… It was just in our hearts, I guess.”
The marriage of 2 worlds
Owen made two more trips to China before they married in December 2008.
Even after their wedding, their relationship was still long-distance.
“To apply for her visa and go through all the paperwork — U.S. customs and immigration and all that — it took almost three years,” said Owen, 46.
“It was so hard — so hard,” Mei said.
The waiting ended when Mei came to Craig on May 6, 2010.
Owen’s not done with the process quite yet, though. He’s trying to get a visa for Bailey, 21, Mei’s son from a previous marriage whom he adopted.
Mei, 43, is still polishing her spoken English skills, but what she can’t communicate in words flows from her wide smile, her rich laugh and her fluid movements when she demonstrates Tai Chi.
Their Craig home is a harmonious melding of east and west, old and new.
A traditional Chinese painting flanks their plush couch, and a brightly colored goldfish — a symbol of wealth and prosperity — hangs above a table nearby.
With Owen, Mei has adopted more Western pursuits like camping and golfing, and she’s taken a fancy to American foods rare in China.
“I love cheese,” she said. “I love pizza.”
She’s also embraced her new home, a place so radically different from the bustling city where she worked for almost 20 years.
“I love Craig,” she said. “This (is) my home.”
When asked to explain what brought them together, Owen simply smiled.
“It was in the stars, I guess,” he said.
Regardless of how it came to be, though, Mei knows without doubt what bloomed during that first meeting in China four years ago.
They’ve found “pure love,” she said. “Love forever.”
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