When Marghini wrote that her Chinese boyfriend “just never thought a Western girl could ever be interested in him,” it was as if she channeled my good buddy Xiao Yu from 2002. Back then, he offered a nearly identical explanation for the frustrating experiences I had with a number of Chinese men who drifted in and out of my life — and never responded to my subtle flirtations. (I would meet John only months later, who ended all of those frustrations for good!)
Marghini’s story speaks to a reality that, like it or not, exists not only in China but around the world. But it’s also inspiring to see how she and Mr. B still managed to fall in love in spite of it!
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The first thing I thought when I met Mr. B for the first time was that he looked very weird. I had arrived in Beijing only few days earlier and I quickly noticed how Chinese guys usually looked, behaved, dressed, and spoke English. Then I met this guy, who didn’t look, act, dress or speak they way the other Chinese boys did, yet sported a Chinese looking face.
Coming from a small Italian city, I was never really exposed to Asian Americans or simply to people with a very international upbringing. Therefore I just assumed that face and identity had to correspond. That is the reason why I was so confused at first; I couldn’t fit that funny looking guy into any of the categories I was used to. This confusion quickly turned into curiosity, which quickly became attraction. I was captured by the fact he looked so different from anyone else and my inability to decipher him just added to my attraction. His reserved personality, coupled with my inability to fully comprehend his American accented English, didn’t make it any easier for me to understand who this charming Chinese-non-Chinese was.
Time went by and slowly I got to know the guy better. I discovered why he looked so “mixed”, being born in Hong Kong but raised in Singapore, New Zealand and the US. My attraction grew bigger and bigger and I started thinking about how to show my interest to him. Being a hot-blooded Italian lady, I was used to being very direct and open about my feelings, but this time I found myself scratching my head. I didn’t know if I had to consider him Chinese or a Hong Konger or a New Zealander or an American, and I didn’t know if any of these identities would require a different approach from what I was used to. Groping in the dark, I decided I had to keep my Italian outgoing nature at bay. I bit my tongue and tried to approach the guy in a more delicate and indirect way — just few glances here and there, a couple of sweetish emails and a lot of eagerness to engage in conversations with him. Yet I felt so lost in translation! This soft strategy kept going for longer than a month and even though I sometimes felt like I spotted some sign of interest in me, nothing really meaningful happened. Then I tried to be a bit more direct, leaving a small present on his desk with a nice encouraging note, obtaining no reaction but a “thank you”.
I started considering the idea that maybe he was just not that into me. I tried to feign indifference, but in reality I felt incredibly sad and disappointed that the Chinese-non-Chinese boy didn’t share my same interest. At some point, I just stopped trying. I thought that my attempt to date out of the box just didn’t succeed and that maybe it was not my cup of tea. Maybe I had to stick to Italians as I always did.
I would have never ever guessed that Mr. B was actually very into me! He just never thought a Western girl could ever be interested in him, so therefore he just assumed he was misunderstanding my behavior. Funny enough, this handsome, smart, talented, kind and well-educated boy was convinced he was not attractive enough to date out of his race. His upbringing in New Zealand and the US, where he had to face some nasty jokes about his ethnicity, made him believe that Western girls would never even consider dating an Asian guy. He had been struggling for his whole life, feeling too Chinese in the Western world and too Westernized in China. He felt like he never really fit. Therefore, during the whole month I spent trying to communicate my interest, he was just trying to convince himself it was not possible that a girl like me was actually attracted to a Chinese boy.
Long story short, eventually Mr. B woke up and realized that he had to take a leap of faith. So he finally invited me out. We have been together ever since our first date.
Sometimes I still don’t understand whether he is more Chinese or New Zealand, or American. I would say that different sides of his personality reflect different cultures and identities, like a crystal prism projects different colors according to the edge. That is why I fell in love with him, and why I choose him everyday — because he is offbeat, different from anyone else and really unique.
Marghini is an Italian architect who accidentally stumbled into a life in Asia and has never been the same since. She currently lives in Hong Kong with her boyfriend while they figure out what’s next for them.
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