Last weekend we went to the family house for the tomb-sweeping holiday. Guess who was there, with a big, brave smile on her face? Little Brother's girlfriend, Cao Dan. I have to give both of them some credit for courage, because it can't have been an easy weekend for either of them.
Ma Lei's father gave Little Brother a major tongue-lashing, which Ma Lei summarized to me as: "Men should be like shi tou (rocks), not like mian tiaor (cooked noodles)." Later, after a bit of biajiu, he gave a long speech to the girlfriend, which Ma Lei did not translate for me.
There is not going to be any transfer of money, at least not anything above a level Ma Lei regards as appropriate. It's fine with her if our family gives a couple thousand bucks for a ring and wedding dress, because that's considered tradition, but any gift to the bride's parents is right straight out of the question.
Nevertheless, everyone still sees lots of trouble ahead. If that woman's parents have been this much trouble already, they will only get worse later.
I've seen enough of aging, greedy Chinese women to know that they're capable of anything. Hell, young and greedy ones will do things that make your jaw drop, but they're at least statistically more likely to be trustworthy.
Old Chinese women are 99% likely to be con-women.
I don't think Cao Dan is to blame for her family's grabbiness. She seems to be a pure dope, having been groomed by them to be nice and cheery and ingenuous. She's never had responsibility for a choice in her life, so it is — I guess — kind of admirable that she's stayed with Didi and his poor family even when her family tried to sell her to a higher bidder.
So we all made nice with Cao Dan, Ma Lei most of all. Me, second-most of all. None of us except Father could express anything other than regular, normal, we're-treating-you-as-one-of-the-family behavior, because it is his prerogative, alone, to speak the unspeakable. He's perhaps a bit like the chorus in a Greek drama.
As the "wise" university professor and the has-an-excuse-to-be-rude foreigner in the family, I could perhaps voice an opinion, but I'd rather do so only when it's important to do so. This time, I mostly agreed with what I assumed Father was saying, though probably not with as much emphasis as he gave it. I've tried to give Didi (Little Brother) a hand up whenever I could, but on this one I don't think I could have helped.
The week before, I'd bought an apartmentful of stuff from my friend Dawn, who was departing from our university in a very quick huff. One thing she had, I cared about deeply: a ten-inch-deep memory-foam mattress pad, to make my nights comfortable. The Chinese believe that it's "good for health" to sleep on bricks, but it hasn't proven good for mine.
Most of the things I'd paid for, though, were really intended for Didi. There was an entire set of color-coordinated plates and dishes, a box of beautiful glasses, a whole pile of Ikea silverware, a super-comfortable desk chair, and a massive toolbox filled with brand-new high-quality equipment. That toolbox would have been pretty nice to have, and I'd have enjoyed those plates and dishes, not to mention the desk chair, but I preferred that they go to him for his brand-new apartment.
I didn't exactly want them to go to Cao Dan and her hungry-rich family.
The other night, I had a nightmare in which I was buying things at a very high premium, and it was way too much for any of my combined accounts, and yet I kept buying and trying to balance things among accounts. As soon as I bought something, Didi and Cao Dan were there to take them away and ask me for something else.
Within a day, Ma Lei woke me with basically the same nightmare.
I'm with Ma Lei. It's great for us to do nice things for her parents, as we have, but we don't need to become the support network for a whole family of hangers-on. Especially, if Didi wants to stay with Cao Dan and funnel our money to her vampiric family.