Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ma Lei on a tear!

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!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A friend of mine who goes all the way back to my University of Chicago days recently asked, in her romantic sort of way, "how did you meet your Chinese wife?" The question seemed fairly simple, but the answer comes only in installments.

When I came to China, I had no expectation to meet a wife, though nearly everyone else I knew expected me to. 

I'd heard too many horror stories about marriages between American men and Chinese women, and too few success stories. None, actually. Not a single story of happy union of the kind, and plenty of stories of unhappy ones.

China is probably the only nation on earth with a stronger sense of so-called "exceptionalism" than the United States. It's right there in the name: Zhong Guo, which means "Middle Country" (though it's often translated "Middle Kingdom"). Another way of describing China, usually used in the context of the realm ruled by China's emperor, is "Everything Under Heaven.” Never mind a century and a half of ignominy at the hands of the yangguizi — literally, "Foreign Devils" — the Chinese still feel their own superiority to everyone else. 

Even people who would give anything to get out of China and go to America, still say "and when I get there, I will find a Chinese girl/man to marry." Their modern, internet mythology abounds with stories of evil foreigners, specifically evil foreign men who come here with bad intentions.

Add to that, the Chinese people are essentially binary: the good ones, I would trust with my life without question. The bad ones would steal the clothes off your back and leave you in the middle of the Gobi Desert. The trouble is, the bad ones vastly outnumber the good ones, and for sheer two-faced manipulativeness those wicked Chinese take second place to no other country I know.

And lastly, I have a certain premise about romantic partners, Garmong's Rule. It's perhaps a brutally cruel rule, but one to which I have never personally encountered an exception. It's definitely a relationship guideline for me, personally.

The rule is this: Any woman who is profoundly alienated from her family is almost certainly too full of conflicting desires, fears, and neediness to make a good romantic partner for me. 

I admit the possibility of exceptions, of course, as there always are with psychological phenomena. And other men may have a higher tolerance for the "issues" that arise in that situation, but it's not for me. I am too trusting a person to be with someone who doesn't trust me, and I've got no interest in entering the swirling eddy of comparisons to her abusive or absentee father — or her controlling mother — or her religious-fanatic aunts and uncles — or whomever she was raised with and hates. I'll support her in her struggles, I'll wish her all the best, but I'll back away from romantic involvement. I'd rather be her best friend than her boyfriend.

I suspect that the same problems arise when a woman is alienated from her culture. She may be right to be alienated — it may be a rotten culture, as China is in so many ways — but unfortunately for her and for any man who chooses to be with her, the penalty for being born in a rotten culture is almost always loose screws deep, deep down in the machinery. I don’t have the patience to spend enough time with a spanner such that I might help her solve all her problems, whereupon my great reward is that I get the same relationship I’d have gotten with an un-conflicted woman. “Issues” girls are clearly not for me.

As I've said, my theory is cruel. But to make of oneself an exception to that rule requires an independence so heroic as to be very nearly legendary. I’ve not yet met that woman.

The Chinese women I've met or heard about who've been specifically seeking foreign husbands, have typically fallen into a very small set of neatly-defined categories.

There are the gold-diggers who associate a white face and a paunchy belly with wealth. I’ve got the paunch and the white face, but I'm fairly safe from that category, because I have no wealth until I get around to inheriting it.

There are the green-card-diggers who see an American husband as a "bridge" — literally the word they use when talking among their Chinese friends — to get the hell out of this country. I can't blame them, but I don't care to let them walk to America across my back in stiletto heels to go find a younger/handsomer/wealthier man.

There are a few devoted Christian Chinese women who associate their religion with the West and so wish to find a foreign Christian who can take them away to a more Christian-friendly country. Of course, these tend to overlap with the two previous categories. Not being a Believer, I regard this type as thrice-over hideous, no matter how pretty they may be.

Then there are a minority of Chinese women who have fallen in love with American culture via TV shows and movies they've downloaded from the internet, and who genuinely respond to the freedom and independence of American people.

This last is the only category that I find plausible, but even those are bound to fall afoul of Garmong's Rule. If she's so enamored of the image of the dashing foreigner, she's very likely alienated from her own home environs. And in that case, whether or not she makes a good friend, she surely can't be a girlfriend. Besides which, I want to be loved as one specific person, not a representative of a category.

Oh, and I'm only attracted to women of intelligence and independent, feisty spirit. No limp noodles or subservient Asian stereotypes for me.

So, for me to have fallen in love with a Chinese woman was statistically all-but impossible. 

I would have to find someone who loves her family and her country, who is essentially well-adjusted, yet independent enough to judge her own country objectively. (Lovers of Ma Ze Dong NOT welcome.) She has to NOT be looking specifically for a foreigner, nor for money, nor for an exit from China. And she has to be a woman of extremely high intelligence and a degree of honesty and integrity that is extraordinarily rare in this largely unethical country.

To find what I wanted would be like threading a needle from ten feet away while Fruit Loops kept trying to intercept my thread. It was, of course, impossible. And yet, it happened.