I’ll never forget the way my Chinese mother-in-law described the impetus for my sister-in-law’s divorce, a divorce that eventually paved the way for her to marry John’s brother. “Her ex-husband became fond of another woman.”
She used the word hào, to like or be fond of. Yet the tone of her voice made the sentence sound much more like a juicy piece of village gossip, and made me realize that, chances are, there was fondling that came along with that fondness. That, in fact, it was my mother-in-law’s way of saying this man had a sexual affair with someone else.
My husband giggled the other night when I brought it up, because even he could hear the salaciousness in such a simple word. “She was being hánxù,” or implicit. Implying something that, chances are, I wouldn’t have thought to hide behind other words.
But she’s not the only one.
I remember all of the times when I visited doctors in China who asked if I had fángshì (房事). And I remember the embarrassment in John’s laughter, when he explained to me that they weren’t asking about a “room thing,” but rather sex.
I also recall those years in my company, before I registered my marriage with John and used to check the “unmarried” status on my health questionnaire. I always noticed how, in those “unmarried” years, they never gave me the gynecological exam, but they did to my married colleagues. Only then did I realize that being unmarried supposedly made me a virgin, which exempted me from the exam.
Of course, as much as all of these references make me smile — and even giggle — I have to confess that even I know the value of hiding something personal, something private. I still can’t share in public, even on this blog, just how amazing John is when it comes to a certain “room thing.” Some things, no matter what the culture, deserve to stay safely behind closed doors.