I’ve passed the booths and tables many times. Always a young girl sitting and playing on her phone while before her, laid out on the table, are booklets, posters, and framed photos of newlyweds in all sorts of poses.
In the spring and summer couples flock to the local parks for their outdoor shoots, and descend on the foreign-looking buildings because it’s fashionable to take photos in front of them, and even schedule elaborate trips in order to capture on-site images instead of using green screens or poster backdrops. When Xiao Ming and I were in Nice a few years ago we saw two photography groups following Chinese couples around!
We talked about taking the pictures ourselves around the time we got married two years ago, but neither of us wanted to really commit to it. We’re not picture-takers. But after Xiao Ming’s cousin got her photos a few months ago we decided to just get it over with. So, on November 6th we spent NINE hours dressed like what felt like fools in a few of the outfits, and, yes, even got some shots of us in front of foreign looking buildings out in the middle of nowhere about forty minutes away.
Not going through that again.
LiYing Wedding Photography is a two-floor shop down a side street beside iMall (No connection to Apple products whatsoever). The mall used to be the only competition for Ansheng Shopping Center across the intersection, but now that a Wanda Shopping Center opened just up the street Kai Fa Qu consumers have plenty of places to spend their money. We arrive before 8 am, and Xiao Ming is ushered into the back where her make-up is applied by women with questionable cosmetic choices themselves.
A Chinese girl so small I could probably toss her across the room comes up to me and says she’ll be putting make-up on me and doing my hair. I laugh.
I make it clear to her that my hair is the way I want it, and there’s no way in hell I’m getting any make-up put on me. Shit, my mom and aunts had to hold me down as a toddler just to apply sunscreen!
So then after Xiao Ming is dolled up enough that I might mistake her for someone else, we put on our first outfits. We’d gone in two weeks before to select our clothing and decided on at least a few shots wearing the traditional red Chinese gowns (I also insisted on having shots done with us wearing our normal clothes and leather jackets!). We donned them and then traipsed upstairs for the first round of pics. It’s no good. Babies are everywhere being asked to smile and say “eggplant.” Qiezi, the Chinese for eggplant, is basically their “Cheese” for photos. Saying it makes them grimace just like saying “cheese” does for us Americans.
So our entourage packs up for a place they call the “basement” that’s in Jinzhou, about thirty minutes or so away. Sure, whatever. Just let me change back into my normal clothes first. Nope! We both walk outside in our flashy red gowns for all the Sunday morning busybodies to see.
Along the way we stop for some Chinese breakfast – still my least favorite of the Chinese meals. After the food everyone dozes as we drive toward Jinzhou, the county to the west of Kai Fa Qu. When we get to the “basement” it’s pretty clear the name is a euphemism.
Tian Lai Wan is a mostly abandoned complex that looks like something you’d see in England or parts of France. Pale stone slabs for the exterior, statues, and columns. Close to the coast and eerily quiet, you could almost forget you’re in China.
The facility is shared by seven photography companies, and they’ve all put money into the place. Sets – that’s the only way to think of them – are everywhere. Castle, Bar, Pool Hall, Library, Wine Cellar, Park, Bridge, Nondescript Rustic Foreign Place, etc.
Once there, we begin.
NINE hours and a lunch break later, we finish.
The day is done and we’re wiped out. Xiao Ming is just swearing up and down in our pidgin Chinese-English mix we’ve developed as a couple together (we’re so cultured! Haha). I’m half asleep and hungry sitting next to her. But we’re done.
It’s about a month before we get a call that says we can come in and see the digital copies and make our final selections. Apprehensive and skeptical, we go in and look through the 200 pics. We were nervous because the dresses Xiao Ming wore were a bit too big on her, the make-up was way more than she ever wears (which is none), and I have a notorious habit for making monkey faces in my pictures.
After pouring over the photos for about half an hour, we narrow our selections down to 44. There are some decisions about sizes and layout, and then we’re told it’ll be another half month. We wait. Three weeks later we’re called. Yay! Picture pick up!
Except not. We get there and are shown the digital book pages that will become the printed hardcopy books. It took three weeks to put this together, I ask. The woman nods hesitantly. I straight up ask her what they’ve done in three weeks. I tell her that if I’d had the digital copies I could have arranged them just like what she’s shown us in one day. There’s nothing she can do, I know, but sometimes bitching about nonsense feels good.
She tells us it’ll be another half month before we can pick up the books!
And so a few days ago we got the call and went to retrieve the pictures we’d taken in the Autumn.
Being married to a Chinese woman isn’t exactly like those melodramatic TV shows or the ridiculously formulaic Korean dramas that people can’t seem to get enough of here.
Ever watch one?
Turn on the tube and chances are you’ll catch one of five types of show:
Dynastic China with subtle, watered-down undertones of political commentary, a World War II series that usually makes the Kuomintang out to be insufferable fools and the Japanese as subhuman monsters while the Communists are righteously wielding inferior weapons and still coming out on top, a medical drama with absurdly handsome and young people staring very sternly at one another, a game show where people just straight up do stupid shit for really nothing but the audience’s applause, or the Korean family drama.
Korean dramas usually follow the boy meets girl story, and then they throw a wammy of boy meets girl’s family and must win over the overbearing parents. Follow that up with boy marries girl. Then girl must win over the overbearing mother of the boy. Once they all like each other there is usually an issue with the pregnancy or stress put on the girl for a boy (the more desired). And in the midst of it all someone gets themselves tossed into the hospital because of a sickness or some stupid behavior that in the end brings to light that they all just love each other and want good things for the family. Yay – happily ever after.
I may have sidetracked myself.
My point is that being married to a Chinese woman isn’t always like that, but dealing with parents in this culture does require some flexibility. Xiao Ming’s mom and dad have always welcomed me, but man can they push my buttons, too.
I come home one day a few weeks back and ol’ mom and pop are there hanging out with Xiao Ming. Her dad motions for me to follow him into my office, so I do. We stand in front of the dresser and he points to it, saying that he fixed it. I open the drawers and sure enough they slide open and shut seamlessly. The flimsy bottoms had begun to bow and made those motions difficult. Great! Fixed. Thanks, Dad.
Except the second thing I noticed was that everything in the drawers were now somehow reorganized. I don’t just have a dresser of clothes. I use three drawers for other things like nik-naks, notebooks, etc. Nothing too crazy personal, but still, personal. To fix the dresser he had to take everything out and then to put it back the way he did, he had to carefully think about how to put items where. So he just went through all my stuff.
If you’re thinking to yourself, Jordan, he fixed the dresser. You’re right. Absolutely. If I were a better person, I’d see that and stop there. I’m not, and I didn’t.
I pulled Xiao Ming to the side, told her I appreciated the help. I didn’t ask for it, but, sure, thanks.
Side note – I grew up working on most weekends helping my stepdad maintain our rentals. I know how to do home maintenance. And, yes, it does bother me to have someone in my home doing things I can do myself. That make me a small man? Fine. I own that.
So I tell Xiao Ming that I’m uncomfortable with the way it all went down. They pop over all the time unannounced, and even come in and fiddle around when we’re not home from time to time. Whatever. No issues. But going through my dresser, even to fix it, was something I’m not okay with.
Xiao Ming gets it. She even admits that she told her father not to do it because I wouldn’t like it. Love her. She knows me. But I’m still seeing red. I have to say something, I tell her. To him. Right now. No, no, she says, but I don’t give in.
I greet him in the living room – damn he’s a small guy – and I very politely thank him for helping with the dresser. But, I add, next time – oh no, he senses my tone and is bowing his head with that uncomfortable smile – I’d like to fix something like that myself. He nods and I walk back to my office like a horrible troll that’s collected a tax for walking over his bridge. Immediately I feel crappy. He does, too, and I can hear him talking to Xiao Ming about it.
What should I have done? That was my line.
In the end, it blows over. After all, we’re family!
And today I come home to a house with a few lights on that I know I turned off. Strange. I go into the bathroom to wash my face and get a shower since I’m sweaty from the gym. Can’t do that. The handle for the bathroom sink is missing.
And the drawers under the sink are sitting oddly. I pull on one and it falls out. The tracks it’s supposed to be on are sticking out of the trash, all rusted and old looking. Obviously Xiao Ming’s father has been here.
So apparently he plans to fix the bathroom sink and the drawers. True, both are due for an upgrade, but they were manageable. A call to Xiao Ming to see if she knows anything. Nope. Her dad has just pulled one of his ninja moves. So now instead of having a sink that works and one that I can fix on the weekend, I have no sink and I have to wait until he feels like finishing what he’s started in case I upset him like I did last time when I asked him to stop fixing things.
As I typed this he sent a message to Xiao Ming –
Tell Jordan, the bathroom’s sink head is broken.
I’ll buy a new one and put it on tomorrow.
Yup, I’m a rotten person.
Xiao Ming has her own battles with her mother, though. She gets on Xiao Ming for everything from our habit of getting delivery most nights to driving habits. She’s always giving Xiao Ming grief about not cooking a lot, about how the apartment could be cleaner (It’s pretty damn clean!), and making Xiao Ming call her everyday just so her mother knows she made it home from work. We eat with them usually once every two weeks, sometimes less. I don’t know, but for me that seems like a good amount for most adult children. Of course her mother makes her feel bad that we don’t eat over there most nights like her cousins eat with their parents. The fact that the cousins still live with their parents and don’t work the same hours as we do doesn’t seem to affect this sentiment at all.
I couldn’t imagine life here without the whole Liu Clan. Everyone from the quiet, meddling father and nagging but caring mother to the fussy aunts and noisy uncles makes life here richer and more meaningful.
Every time we eat at Xiao Ming’s parents’ her mother tries to elicit a promise that we will eat there at least once a week. She believes that all the wai mai de fan, food we order from restaurants, is trash and unhealthy. She loves to spend hours preparing good meals for us, taking pains to include all the Chinese dishes that I enjoy–even skinless, leg less, headless shrimp and nearly boneless fish. It’s ridiculous, the amount of pleasure she derives from having us over.
She is a short, portly woman in her early sixties with a mind trained on family and any path that leads that family to wealth and health. The former is generally the focus of her attention. Absurdly practical and frugal, she simmers for days right after nearly every store purchase, lying in bed weighing the benefits and cost of buying even the simplest of household products. Face is important to her, and this cultural obsession with it hasn’t always made her the warmest of mothers to Xiao Ming. Performance, achievement, and filial piety are her virtues, making her a tough but simple woman.
Xiao Ming’s father, on the other hand, quietly helps boil, fry, or bake the dishes, never insisting on anything other than me studying more and more Chinese. Infinitely patient, he only ever shows his disappointment or concern by calling his daughter by her family nickname, his voice dropping low and grave as he says, “Ming Ming ah.” He is an incredibly unassuming man,full of limitless curiosity and interests that he discreetly pursues and cultivates without the slightest hint of ego or need to influence others. Unfortunately, none of his hobbies stand a chance of making him or his family rich, and his wife has spent years lamenting this fact not-so discreetly. Almost a complete Yang to his wife’s Yin, he seems to have resigned himself to a constant tug-of-war within his marriage.
In order to make sure they get all the ingredients, her parents wake up early on the days we’re expected and go to the markets together. I imagine their conversations are a series of grunts, criticisms about one another, and questions about what their wai guo de son-in-law will and will not eat.
Products of a generation that saw Chairman Mao as a savior and cruel task master, both of Xiao Ming’s parents felt the full effects of the Cultural Revolution. When the college entrance exam Gao Kao was suspended due to the chaos of the time, her mother and aunts were placed in reeducation camps in villages, and Xiao Ming’s father, unable to enter college the normal way, entered the citizen’s army where he did a lot of farming. Afterward, he received a recommendation for college and went, but by then his youthful ambition had been dulled, and only a meek persistence remained.
They didn’t have a whirlwind romance, but they shared a lot of love. Even after getting married and they had to live with relatives, Xiao Ming’s father doted on his young wife. He caught a lot of flak from cousin-in-laws for not being able to afford his own place, but eventually they moved out and had Xiao Ming. But by then the trend of criticism and let downs had already been established.
When Xiao Ming first began telling me about her family, it felt natural to see the dad as the hero and the mom as the bad guy. While the mean mom complained and demanded perfection, the gentle dad provided support and unconditional love. There were the stories about how the mom berated the dad for building a large birdhouse on their small balcony to take care of pigeons, the times the mom sided with her sisters against the dad, tales from when they slept on the large table at her dad’s work because they hadn’t found an apartment yet, and even when she yelled at Xiao Ming, complaining that her own daughter wasn’t being a good, filial daughter. These and so many more stories I heard prepared me for a formidable, frustrated old woman, but that is not the lady I’ve come to care about.
Likewise, the memories set Xiao Ming’s father up as some sort of unsung saint, but that was a bit exaggerated, too. Too quiet sometimes, he will slip in and out of the house without telling anyone where he’s going, and when asked, responds only, “out.” The pigeons that he loved so much and gave so much space to, took up serious amounts of real estate in a one-room apartment too small for two people let alone three and a flock of birds—and they stank. He bought the place they live now without consulting his wife at all, based solely on the fact that it was ground level and he could have a garden in the back yard. He repeated the move recently when he put 20,000 non-refundable RMB down on a 32nd floor apartment for Xiao Ming and me without telling anyone. We tried to be gracious, but in the end really could not make ourselves like it. After an inordinate amount of irritation that included meetings with landlords, agencies, and talks of getting lawyers involved, her folks decided to go all out and buy the place for themselves while giving us their big apartment in which they still currently live. After getting the details and looking at some of the stories objectively, I can see a bit more how Xiao Ming’s mother might feel that without constant supervision and redirection, her husband might do something illogical and costly.
Through the Mao era, their own poverty, personal differences that have nearly led to divorce, family emergencies like Xiao Ming’s mother getting stabbed by a serial killer, big family moves, and a lifetime of hardships, the two of them have remained husband and wife. They raised a brilliant daughter, love their family, and have even accepted into their midst a Lao wai like me.
Watching them as we sit at their small square table and eat together, I can’t help wonder how they see me. No, that’s not quite true. My curiosity isn’t that egotistical. I wonder how they, after living through all that they have, view the two of us–their daughter and an American–being married, what they think of their future grand babies being both Chinese and American, about what they’d like to say to me if I were totally fluent, and I wonder if they genuinely bless our union. I’ve been given answers to all of these questions and more, and they’re all overwhelmingly positive. My in-laws love me, or at least tolerate me in good spirits. But I always wonder what my difference, my not being Chinese, truly means to them.
Tonight we’re going over to have dinner with them, and I know the food will be great, the conversation will border ontopics I can contribute to and others that will pass me right on by, and I know that my mother-in-law will sit across from me and smile, ask me when I’m coming next, and pack all the left overs into a plastic tub for us to take. My father-in-law will try to include me in talks about cultural differences, offer me home-made Bai jiu, and encourage me to keep on studying so that I can become a Zhongguo Tong, a China Hand–expert on Chinese customs. For the Chinese, sharing a meal together as a family is one of the most important ways for them to spend time. I count myself immensely blessed that they have opened their kitchen, home, and hearts to me, expanding my family from all over America and reaching into the Far East.
I originally thought of putting this cultural gem in the “11 Observations of Behavior in China” entry, but it is too complex a topic to simply rope in with the eleven behaviors I mentioned. It’s a bit concept with many facets, but I’m just interested in the behavior aspect of it and how I’ve encountered it in my time here.
In China, when a married man has a girlfriend she isn’t called a “home wrecker,” “Skank,” or even a “gold-digger,” no, she’s called a “Second Wife,” (Er nai or even more common lately, Xiao San “little three” because…well…third person).
The male habit of having a girl on the side is not a uniquely Chinese phenomenon by any means, but Chinese is one of the few cultures where the idea has infiltrated so many levels of society, and in some areas and for some people, has become accepted.
The practice of having a girl on the side goes back a loooong way in Chinese culture. Having a Second Wife you could take care of while also maintaining a household and all those responsibilities were badges of honor and symbols of a man’s status as one belonging to the upper echelons of society. See, it wasn’t just about carnal satisfaction, it was a demonstration of virility, influence, and …well, ok…just because the mechanics of it spoke to status enhancement, it’s hard to rule out simple, base desires as motivating factors. I mean, who goes out and says, “Ah, yes, there is a gal who could boost my image,” huh? I would bet it’s more along the lines of, “Oh, snap, she’s fiiine. Gotta have some of her lovin’.” But, you know, in Chinese.
There are two types of girls at this point: those who know the man’s married and those who do not. Either way, he pursues her somehow. Eventually she has to find out that he’s married. In which case there are also two kinds of those types: those who desire the security his position and money can bring and those who just follow their big ol’ hearts in the name of passion.
Even television shows and movies have gotten involved. There are a few shows that depict ancient Chinese concubines skirmishing for power, and a very popular Chinese show called Woju had the main female lead become a second wife. She had the wide-eyed innocence that most men in this culture love, but even as her plight became clearer to her, she maintained that she was in love with the guy (who happened to be a handsome, corrupt government official). SPOILER: This became a huge hit here in China, but it was eventually cancelled and the govt official died in a car wreck before he could be brought to justice, and the main girl lost her baby. So, in the end there was some sort of cosmic retribution or a concerted
Another, more recent film, Beijing Meets Seattle (Finding Mr. Right in English), is about a woman who goes to Seattle after watching “Sleepless in Seattle” too many times…well, not necessarily. She’s a pregnant second wife who wants her kid to be born in the States. While there, though, she falls for a stoic Chinese single dad. It’s sort of a boring film, but the themes and ideas in it hit on some pretty hot topics right now.
How does this translate into reality?
Throughout Chinese history Emperors obviously had the best deal, right? I mean, there are some who had hundreds of concubines. Even the Tang emperor, Gao Zong is said to have taken pleasure in about 3,000! Like I said, mistresses, or girls on the side are nothing new, but it was actually quite frowned upon by Mao back in ’49, so the trend was wiped out.
There is a bunch of literature about this topic. You can find out all you need to know about this from any number of sources, but one recent article I read claims that economics is one of the factors that’s brought it all back in fashion. “Second Chinese Wives are Back,” writer, Olivier, says of the Chinese men who have made a buck:
Their social progress is seen by their many luxury expenses (car, travel, home etc.). But now, they consider that it is not enough. The best way to show its rank is the maintenance of young and pretty mistresses. The modern cohabitation thus comeback! This phenomenon is spreading so fast that in most major Chinese cities, there are “concubine villages”, with buildings housing luxury apartments where young women maintained their spending and gifts : jewelry, wardrobe, new technologies…
Villages, man! I know that business men in Hong Kong stick their Er Nai/lai (second wife) in the neighboring city of Shenzhen, but I wasn’t aware of villages. My girlfriend, Xiao Ming, even told me that a lot of second wives get a specific car from their sugar daddy—a BMW—and the first wife (kinda sad that we’ve gone back to numbering them like they did back in the ancient days. What are they, Mormon?) will get a bigger SUV or something like that (I guess it’s so she feels secure in the fact that if the little hussy is too much trouble she can run her over?). Some girls even use this catchy little phrase to sum up their chosen path, “I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle.” The BMW is such a common purchase for this little set up that it’s jokingly referred to as “Bao Ma” or “precious horse,” because, as Xiao Ming explained, you mount both.
The article hints at this, too:
This relationship is organized as a win-win situation. The trend of these new wives is so fashionable that luxury cars have named a segment of their range “car mistress” (often flashy sports cars).
For example, Jian, a 42 years Chinese businessman at the New York Times says “Having a mistress is like playing golf. These are two expensive hobbies”. To maintain his extramarital affair with a 20 year old student, he spends about 4,500 € per month.
Expensive is right, but not just for the man, and not just in regards to cash. I have a friend who was a second wife for a few years while living in Shanghai. As you can imagine, when I learned of this I had a ton of questions, but I couldn’t just interview her about the relationship. Over time I got most of the story, though.
After college she met this business guy, and really liked him, so she moved to Shanghai to be with him. She dealt with her qualms about him being married by focusing on the time they spent together. He bought her jewelry, a car, clothes, etc. This went on for quite some time, but she wanted more. She lied to her family about what she did, who she dated, and it took its toll. More than anything, she wanted to be with this man “for real.” Then he wanted a baby. His wife had a health problem, and he wanted my friend to trust him. So she agreed. She became pregnant and he bought her a 2Million RMB apartment. Things looked as though they were going the way she had always dreamed, but when he disappeared for an extended period she became distraught. She suspected that he had another girl. When he did resurface, he made her get an abortion, saying that he wasn’t ready even though she had already conceived. After that, the illusion broke and so did her spirit.
Shortly after that she returned to Dalian and, with the help of her uncle’s guanxi and some forged documents, got a job. If there can be a silver lining it’s this: the man put her name on the lease of the apartment. My friend used this to her advantage. She put it up for sale and just two months ago it sold, making her quite financially comfortable.
She’s a very strong and passionate woman, but she’s cynical, angry, and hurt. You can see all of this if you take the time to get to know her. I wonder how much of the pain is from her decision to be with the man and all that transpired because of it.
It’s not just the uber-rich or highest level officials in big cities that have these second wives. Here in Dalian my girlfriend’s father has a brother who just asked him to help him deal with his second wife. Apparently the second wife is just causing a stir and the man needs some advice…you know, beyond the obvious. This man works in construction, and though China loves tearing up roads they have just paved, the construction market has already seen its hay day.
If you’re thinking all men are pigs, think again. Some of the wives know of the Xiao San and let the man do as he pleases as long as he’s a capable provider. Some will even take on a man of their own. The term for the wife’s boyfriend is Xiao Bai Lian, or little white face. He’s the strapping young buck who tends to the woman’s needs while she provides him with clothing and everything else so he can just have a leisurely life. Basically, the husband is paying for his second wife and her financial needs, his first wife and family’s needs, and her boyfriend’s needs.
This cultural trend is not just casually accepted by all. Of course, many women despise the practice, and the men who have a bit more integrity are frustrated over it, but it does happen. It is talked about, joked about, and parodied on the big and small screen. In ’09 some 95% of corrupt officials were reported to have had second wives, for crying out loud! Some corrective measures have been enacted, though. Government officials have been asked by Hu Jintao to curb their lust and, “…refrain from all young women temptations,” classes in HS have even been implemented to teach young girls to value themselves and have higher standards, and hell, a vice mayor of Hangzhou was executed because of corruption charges and he had more than a dozen mistresses.
Economics is a factor in all of this, but some people like to blame another one: Western influence. This just frustrates me to no end and makes me want to gouge eyes out with chopsticks. Take this little new trend that’s apparently catching…
Starbucks has become a place for casual pick-ups. Not like a good place to meet people, no, people come here by themselves, to find other like-minded individuals, and find somewhere to get it on. The way it’s been explained to me is like this. That dolled up, cute girl or that slightly older attractive woman sittin’ by herself playing on her phone…she’s probably scanning Weixin (a messaging system that uses texts, pics, and audio) to make new “friends” in the area so they can hook up. The guy who is glued to his phone, but looks up every time the door opens, yeah. I know women and men who have admitted to getting together this way. Some of them are single while some of them are attached and just lookin’ for something more. I asked one guy why they do this at Starbucks, and he said it’s because it’s a Western place. Granted, this is just his idea, but he didn’t hesitate to express it.
I’m not judging the behavior; I’m just annoyed by the perceived motivation behind the venue. Whatever. Western men already get stereotyped as playboys and worse here. What I do get pissed off about is when guys with these cavalier attitudes directly cross my path. Four times already guys have tried to pick up Xiao Ming after knowing she was with me.
The first time was with my old landlord. Remember him? I mentioned him when it happened. He has a wife in Japan, but that didn’t stop him from telling Xiao Ming he loved her. When Xiao Ming laughed and told him she didn’t have any feeling whatsoever for him he became a dick.
Another guy was the manager at the gym on the fifth floor of An Sheng shopping center. At first he asked her the normal questions about filling out membership stuff, and then after she did, he began asking if she had a boyfriend. When she said she did he seemed excited and kept asking her to bring me along so I could join (he’d comp the first few times for me, he said). She thought he was just being a salesman. Then he kept following her around when she’d go there to work out. He’d open conversations with questions about me. What I did, all that…When he learned I was an American he asked her how we communicated. Xiao Ming has a wicked sense of humor, and responded, “Wai guo ren ye shi ren.” Foreigners are also people. He concurred, and walked away. Later, a few days after that, he sent her a text asking how long we’d been together. She exaggerated so he’d get the hint and said a year. He then responded, saying that he didn’t have a chance. That was the last communication they had. We both laughed at the lack of tact on his part, but it was annoying anyway.
The next guy hasn’t out and out asked her to be with him, but he’s a bit older and possibly more cunning, but not by much. She met him when she and her cousins and aunts went to KTV. He’s the friend of her aunt or something. Well, that night nothing happened at all. But then a week later, Xiao Ming and I run into him at a bar. The two of them chat a few minutes and I chime in here and there, but then we go our separate ways. At first I thought nothing of it, but then when he said, “Oh, I don’t want to disturb you two,” and Xiao Ming responded, “You’re not disturbing us. We’re together all the time,” I had to wonder. I asked her why she added that. Not because it wasn’t true, but because I could tell it went beyond her normal pattern of speech. She said she felt a little strange when he looked at her.
He had shown an interest in French culture, she said, and when she told me that he’d begun texting her about this I told her to watch out. He even began one line of dialogue by saying I was handsome. What the hell is that about? I explained what he was doing and she saw it, too. The guy did have a bit more tact, going at her through an intellectual route, but it wasn’t going to happen. And then a week later I had dinner with a buddy of mine and then a drink. He and I were having a good time when Xiao Ming texted me and wanted to hang out. She told me that she’d just stepped into one of our favorite places and the guy was there. She told me she thought I should head over because he was talking about using her as a translator on his next trip to America. She laughed about it, on her guard, and when I showed up the guy’s eyes got a little wide, and then sad. I walked over, made it obvious she and I were together, and then joked about him in English with her. She cracked up, and I let the two of them continue chatting for a bit. Then I started picking his brain on where he was traveling to, made some recommendations.
When he tried to tell her that he’d pay for everything, that he’d even sleep on the floor, it was my turn to crack up laughing. He spoke in Chinese, but I had understood and told him it wasn’t happening. Soon after that he and his pal left and Xiao Ming, my friend, and I all kept having a good time.
The fourth guy went about things a bit more discreetly but more explicitly, and that’s why I am still waiting for a chance to see the little bastard. I met this guy first, about a year ago in Starbucks. He and I are not close friends, but we’re at that superficial, by-you-a-round-shoot-the-breeze level. Ever since he and Xiao Ming exchanged numbers (something she only did because she felt that, as my friend, he was ok) he had a thing for her. She told me that he once made an inappropriate joke about sleeping with her and that she had shut him down rather harshly, saying that if he said it again they would never talk again. That was the end of it until recently.
He’s moving back to Shanghai this month, a move to change his boring, lonely life, he says. This has made him rather desperate, I think. One night while Xiao Ming and I were out, we met up with him and two others for a drink. We hung out a bit, but then she and I wanted some food. We told them we’d meet up later. After food, though, we just wanted to hang out on our own, so we told him we’d catch him another time. Then, as she and I were playing pool (we are two of the worst players ever) her phone is lit up with weixin messages. She’s annoyed, I could tell. Her face took on that pensive look she gets.
When I asked about it she reluctantly said I shouldn’t be angry, that he’s just lonely. Apparently he kept asking her where she was, where she’d be staying tonight, and then flat out asked her to spend the night with him. She responded to each of these with irritation and told him that she wasn’t like that, that she was with me. He said it’d be just their secret, but she refused, saying that she’d know, and that she only thought of him as a friend, and now not even as that. I was livid. Man, I wanted to deck him right in his fat face, but I let it go…for a bit. At the time I was just focusing on making her feel better because she felt pretty upset about the whole thing. She wondered what it was about her, what was she doing to get this sort of attention…
I made jokes, I soothed her, I praised her, but I couldn’t let go of one thought: it was me. It’s true, she’s a great woman, and embodies all the ideals of beauty that Chinese men seem to value, but I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that when they see her with me, a young American, some Chinese men automatically judge her based on other preconceived notions of these types of pairings. Suddenly her status is in this hectic blender that they have no right to put her in. I don’t care about the looks I get, but shit, it really irritates the life out of me when I see first hand how this crap affects her. I haven’t gotten a chance to run in to this maggot since that night, but even if I do, I’m not sure how I’ll handle it. My first instinct is to break bones and listen to the snaps, but I’m in China. I may just make it obvious that she’s told me everything, and enjoy the fear in his eyes. Xiao Ming says to leave it since she’s already taken the rest of his Face, but the Y chromosome in me wants to exact masculine vengeance.
I fear I’ve stumbled off into a digression. Please forgive me, and understand that I am not holding any of this up as a general statement of how things are here, but rather as an indication that people can be douche bags on every continent.