In China, the Autumn is a time of separation, like the solitary confinement of Chang’e, the woman of the moon. Early Autumn is when we celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival, gazing at the moon and paying homage to Chang’e. Chang’e once had a loving husband, Houyi, who saved the earth by shooting down the nine other suns that were scorching its crust. It wasn’t enough for her to have a husband who was hers; she wanted more. She wanted his immortality pill, the one he received from the heavens themselves. After she stole the pill, the immortals banished her to the moon, forever apart from her dear Houyi.
On September 2, 2002, after we visited Daqi Mountain, John sent me back to Hangzhou on a bus, and returned to his village in the countryside for most of the week. His trip made me wonder — was I asking too much out of him, to have a foreign girlfriend?
“My parents said it’s okay to be friends with a foreign girl, but not to date her.” John didn’t feel a sense of regret, or anxiety, as he told me. He even smiled — a nervous smile, though it was. But I felt his words nudging me back towards an exile on the moon.
Months before, in late June, Frank’s parents eventually did that to me. “They cannot accept me with a foreign girl,” he told me while sitting on my bed, his words singeing my heart like a sun that shouldn’t have been there. “They never will.”
“But why?” I sat teary eyed before him. “Maybe they’ll change their mind?”
“That’s their generation, their idea. I cannot change them, I’m sorry.”
Frank never changed his mind about his family, only sharing his relationship with me with his younger brother — who found me a fascinating tale.
From the moment I felt John could be the one, I desperately wanted him to know my family. On a phone conversation with my father in early August, I impetuously handed over the phone. I couldn’t wait for everyone — especially my family — to know him. “He strikes me as a thoughtful, well-mannered young man,” my dad replied. As independent as I was, my dad’s words mattered to me — it was another confirmation that John and I were real, and that we were really going somewhere.
John and I really had gone somewhere. Our relationship went far beyond where Frank, my ex-Chinese boyfriend, and I had been, transcending the confining privacy of my apartment. John and I held hands in the street, and exchanged quick kisses in public. I had met all of John’s close male friends, a cadre of young men he referred to as his xiongdi, which means “brothers.” And this recent journey to Tonglu was already our second trip together, and we had planned a third to Beijing, during the National Week vacation.
But I saw everything through the eyes of a foreigner, raised in a culture where love and dating is as fickle as the stores and streetscapes in China that are here today and demolished tomorrow. While I was taught to “date around” or “play the field,” John was taught to date for marriage. To him, there was no such thing as a casual relationship, or a casual meeting of the parents.
But to his parents, there is no such thing as a foreign girlfriend, or a foreign wife. To them, I might as well have been Chang’e herself — more story than reality.
I didn’t want to be another fascinating moonlight tale to another fascinating Chinese man, but I worried I would. It didn’t help that John and I faced the inevitable Autumn separation — in less than two weeks, he would leave for university in Shanghai on September 19, 2002.
Did you ever feel you asked too much out of your boyfriend or girlfriend, simply because you dared to love them? Did their parents ever stand in your way? Did you feel like your relationship was “mythical” in a way?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.