Oh, my wife! That mouth of hers is going to get her in trouble someday. She's awesome!
This noontime, she was down buying some cold noodles for lunch. There were a couple of 50-something guys shooting the shit about an unfortunate young, 20-something woman who lives somewhere in our apartment complex. According to these guys, that woman is of a type I'd thought existed only in America: so morbidly obese as to be completely housebound. As they described her, she weighs about 400 pounds.
Of course, it’s totally normal for the Chinese to tell someone straight to her face that they think she’s fat. There's no sense of avoiding affront, at least not yet. Let this country pudge out for a generation or two, and I expect the norms to change radically. But for now, fat-shaming is pretty normal.
Once when I was teaching a class of kindergarten students, on the very first day I walked down the front row chatting with them. The first one looked up at me and said “you are very tall!” The second one said “Your hair is very curly.” The third one said “You are very fat.” Good student, good student, BAD student!
Another anecdote: When I used to teach Oral English, I frequently had students play a game of Taboo. If you’ve not played that game, it’s a team-based game in which one person picks a word card off the top of a stack. The card will have one target word and five “taboo” words. Using only words, not gestures or pictures, the person who’s “It” has to lead his or her teammates to guess the target word without using any of the “taboo” words.
First I had the students come up with vocabulary words to test, along with a list of five or six “taboo” words. Invariably, every class would have at least one card where the target word was “Fat,” and one taboo word was the name of a classmate of theirs, as in “Alice is very…” In some cases, among the taboo words would be MY name — suggesting that the Chinese clearly don’t get how offensive this kind of talk is to foreigners. If they knew how foreigners feel about being called fat, they’d never, ever call their own teacher fat!
However, there’s a fine line to be walked, even in Chinese culture. As Ma Lei explained her feelings about this conversation, it's one thing to talk about how obese this woman was, but these guys were going way above and beyond. "How does she go to the toilet? She must crack the porcelain every time she sits down on it!" Ha, ha, ha!
Ma Lei lit into those two older guys. Translating loosely: "Is it any of your damned business how she goes to the toilet? Why do you care so much about her? Is she your girlfriend?” Whoof! HUGE insult to a China-guy.
The guy whom she'd addressed most directly tried to dismiss her by saying — translated literally — "shut up, woman. We're not talking about you."
Oh, poor him. He SO didn't know whom he was talking to! In all of China, you couldn't run into a more intransigent buzz-saw when she gets her dander up.
If you could take the soul of a feisty South-Side Chicago ghetto woman and pour it into the frame of a five-foot-nothing China-girl, that’s my wife. It is an explosive kind of beast.
The literal translation of her response is as follows, but it should really be read in a ghetto-sass accent: “Of course I know you ain't talking about me. You know how I KNOW you ain't talking about me? It’s because you're still alive. If you WERE talking about me, I'd have already beaten you to death.” That’s literally what she said: 打死你！(Hit-to-death you.)
Whereupon these two big bu-bu-bu-boom guys were stunned into silence, looking down at all five-foot-nothing of Ma Lei, going "What just happened?" They grabbed their cold noodles and got the hell out of there.
Man, I wish I'd been there to see it!
Then again, just minutes ago, Ma Lei was riding down on the elevator with the two little dogs. There was a youngish guy, perhaps 20-something, who was looking at her and plucking at his genitals. Not playing, but plucking — like plucking a harp, or picking weeds.
(We foreigners almost never see how insane Chinese men are with regard to their spastic sexuality, but apparently it knows very few bounds.)
When he saw her looking, he just smiled and carried on plucking, as if he were encouraging something to grow.
Ma Lei turned to him, full-face, hands on her hips, and said “Okay, take off your pants and let me see.”
The guy flushed and put his hands behind his back. He didn’t make eye contact again.
I didn’t marry any submissive wet noodle, that’s for sure!