Starstruck over the US — just as I once was in China

Just before John and I went to the US together, I too was once starstruck with the idea of living here.
Just before John and I went to the US together, I too was once starstruck with the idea of living here.

“Everything is so great here in the US!” said this young woman from Jiangsu. She gushed like a girl talking about her first crush, right down to the blush on her cheeks and the glimmer in her eyes. And in a way, maybe it was a crush to her — a “business-trip-to-the-US” crush.

We met her while waiting for a changing room to open up at an Adidas outlet. Even though the conditions in the store seemed like hell — only three changing rooms and endless customers streaming in through the doors — the conditions outside bordered on heavenly. An azure sky, sunshine, the trees dressed in their finest autumn scarlet and gold and orange, and throngs of happy shoppers. In the beauty of that day, I even began to forget the sadness of the past 24 hours.

But when I heard her praise the US, a part of me shuddered. After all of the hardship that John and I experienced in this country, I just could never endorse the idea that everything was just fabulous here. And given the recent government shutdown — which has locked up the local national park where I once found solace and comfort in daily hikes — I wasn’t alone in my feelings.

Yet, before I brought John to the US, wasn’t I — in a sense — as starstruck as this young Chinese woman? Once upon a time, I spun my own personal fairytale version of a happily ever after with John in the US. The fact that John was once denied a tourist visa to come over to the US only strengthened my conviction that, somehow, if I could just bring him over here, everything would be better. But things unravelled as the years in this country passed and the disappointments piled up — until I had not a single thread of that fairytale left.

What I had left was a lot of guilt. I remembered how John’s father told me, “When you’re far away from us in the US, you’ll have to take care of him.” Even though it was completely and utterly irrational, I felt responsible for every terrible thing that happened to John.

Sometimes life lets you down. But it doesn’t mean that I’m down or John is down. And it also doesn’t mean that I have to bring someone else down because of it.

So when she gushed about the US, I just smiled and nodded. “I’m glad you’re having a good time.”

Who knows if she’ll feel the same way days or even years later? And who knows if I’ll feel the same? But I do know this — her happiness somehow touched me, and reminded me that perhaps my happiness will eventually come in time.

41 Replies to “Starstruck over the US — just as I once was in China”

  1. To say that no country is a perfect place is really a cliche. But cliche or not, the sad truth is that where ever you go to or live in, discrimination in one form or another and prejudices of one kind or another abound, especially if you are not, or not considered, one of the local guys. That is the sad condition of humanity. This primordial fear and suspicion of others – call it by whatever name you want. The only difference between one place or country and another, is one merely of degree. Can we ever hope for something less depressing? Not in a million years I am afraid. So long as there are differences in colour, looks, mannerisms or culture and way of life, so long too, humanity have to cope with the monster of discrimination.

  2. I think, its not about where to go, or where to live… its about how you chose to stay happy…. i guess its about a stable mental statement. once you felt so “lonely,” coming in time.. you would also enjoy this unique lonely time or place,where is no one around, but yourself… its like walking in darkness. you don’t know the direction, but eventually you see lights as hope, hopes will ignite your bones making you through the toughest time in this life. we all just will be fine even life is never easy for everyone.

    Regards from Random Chinese guy

  3. There is always some part of world fitting some people better than others. Every body to one’s own.

    Chinese proverbs: Human moving alive, tree moving die.

  4. As a kid I was impressed by US, never knowing how much I had to give up living here; one is my native tongue, the fact my family isn’t part of any community and there isn’t much to do where I live, and another is the true Russian food.

    1. I think it depends where do you live, in Bay area of Norther California there are many Russian shops, I go to one in Castro Valley, because they also import ‘my food’. But I can understand you, I also gave up everything in my country to follow my husband’s will to work in the USA. I think many people in China like it because US is seen as ‘the highest’ country, having friends there, living, traveling is seen as the best you could do. Even in AMWF forums Chinese men ‘rank’ women – first is USA and UK, then western Europe, Center Europe and in the end Eastern Europe. Isn’t that sad?
      Everyone knows the sentence ‘grass is always greener on the other side’ and I must say that might be kinda true, it’s much easier to survive in financial point of view in the USA rather than in Europe or Asia. Recently my husband was counting how long it would take with average salary as industrial engineer to pay off the house in USA and in China/HK, it was almost 10 years of difference!
      PS. Easter European food FTW! 🙂

  5. In the days when most women were housewives, moving was easier. Even then, it was hard for one or both people to move away from their family and friends. Now a move may also mean that one person will be moving away from job opportunities for the sake of the other person’s job. The same holds true whether they’re moving from one country to another or whether they’re only moving to another state or city.

    I agree with ordinary malaysian that “no country is a perfect place” and with Random Chinese guy that it isn’t always about “…where to live… it’s about how you choose to stay happy.” But a new place can be more difficult for one partner than the other. And it’s not always because of discrimination. This is where the guilt Jocelyn talks about comes in.

    Living in the Philippines for 15 years as my husband and I did, was definitely more conducive to his career than to mine, and I know he felt guilty about it. Later, at my urging, we moved to Vanuatu in the South Pacific for 3 yrs., a move that suited me better than it did him. Then I felt guilty. And yet, we continued to love one another and find opportunities to make it work.

    Jocelyn, I commend you for the kindness you showed to the young woman from Jiangsu. And I wish you happiness on your return to China.

  6. It is too bad your whole US experiences turn out to be a huge disappointment. Many of us do have setbacks and learn to adapt and find our own places. But I think you will appreciate relative openness of US some day after you really understand how other homogeneous societies work. It is almost impossible to be accepted.

    Most first time visitor likes US,and you will always feel differently when living somewhere long term.

  7. “After all of the hardship that John and I experienced in this country, ”

    Very telling. [State] definitely a wrong place and perhaps [State] as well. Perhaps your opinion will be different if you had moved to California, Oregon or Washington Coast or Hawaii.

  8. “For me, it is Seattle, not Beijing or Shanghai, where I was until I was 26.”

    And very different from [State] or [State]. Your experience of “the US” will be different if your wife is white and you move to [State]. Before I first came to the US in 1979 I was told that American women are not inhibited…they will start running after you. Landed in Northern VA ..pretty much racist and backward at that time. Nothing was further from the truth. In fact white women and men in Northern Virginia looked at non-whites whether Asian, black or hispanic with utter contempt. Coke cans were thrown at my mother and racist slurs were yelled. I guess it was the same way in most of the US with the exception of Washington State. However, California has changed over the last two decades.

  9. My husband and I have faced so many hardships in China and sometimes we just want to run away to the US. But I remind myself and my husband, that that won’t be the answer to all our problems. It will probably solve some of them, but new ones will arise.

    I think this is part of the reality of being a cross-cultural couple and having experienced life in two countries. You are bound to compare the two and at times think, “the grass is greener. . . ” You may feel stuck in between the two places. You may glamorize one over the other.

    I think it is wise not to rain on other people’s parades. Don’t let your bad experiences sour other people’s good ones. People should experience life on their own terms and in time decide what is best for themselves.

  10. Chinese people are very superficial (I’m speaking as an ethnic Chinese). They are always impressed by the most superficial things while unimpressed by true worth. I in China and the people I deal with are so facile and naive about the US. I gave my students a article today about a man that had been sent to prison in the US and the article also talked about the Innocence Project which frees falsely imprisoned people in the US using DNA evidence. Many were so incredulous that the US would ever falsely imprison people. To them, the US represents total freedom, prosperity and justice. I love my country the USA but in many ways it is the worst human rights abuser on earth (most aggressive wars waged, most people in prison, total police and surveillance state, worst polluter and worst economic equality in the developed world, etc etc).

  11. @ Jocelyn.

    “Everything is so great here in the US!” said this young woman from Jiangsu. She gushed like a girl talking about her first crush, right down to the blush on her cheeks and the glimmer in her eyes.”

    You left out the most important detail which we boys want to know. That is, was she pretty and hot looking? Was she sexy? This is the most important detail you left out. Please advise.


  12. I also had high hopes for life in the US when I was married to my ex-husband. That didn’t happen and he never adjusted. Even so, your post reminds me of a dinner in Suzhou 18 years ago when my then-husband, his Hong Kong professor, three mainland professors, and I were at dinner and the subject of the US came up. I started in on the problems there. After dinner my then-husband lectured me about what I’d said. He explained that people who have a hard time getting visas to the US or have to work really hard to get permanent residency there don’t want to hear about the problems in the US. He said I sounded like a spoiled and ungrateful American when I went on about gun violence and injustice. Although he returned to China, he only did so after becoming a US citizen.

  13. Sometime in our life we have to make a decision where we want to be our “home” , and accept all the “faults” with that place. For me, it was about one year ago, I said to myself, if I can be happy here in Seattle I won’t be happy anywhere else.

    Sure there are things that are not perfect: the place can be warmer/drier, people can be more out going, government can be less bureaucratic, etc.. However, I realized that I need to put in efforts on my part to make it home. In the end, home is not a place that is “perfect”, it is a place you feel you are connected, the community you care, the smell of the air that soothes you, and people, no matter how “weird” they are, you understand and share values. For me, it is Seattle, not Beijing or Shanghai, where I was until I was 26.

  14. @David,

    I have lived in Pa, CT, NJ, Bay Area, and Seattle. I would say I felt most comfortable in the Bay Area (Berkeley), where I was acturely majority. But seattle is great, I agree with you that I won’t feel the same way in other places, but I didn’t experience the kind of blatant discrimination you did either. Maybe I was kind of “dumb”, oblivious to people’s remarks or expressions.

  15. USA works for me. But my experience does not necessarily translate for any one else. I get more respect here than P.R. China.

    Your personality, skill, political view, many other factors will shape your feeling in particular enviroment.

    As an introvert, USA is still the land of opportunity for me. With free will competition, I always figure out way to move ahead here. Unfortunately with any competition, there will be winners and losers. Only communism can create absolute equality among people.

    If Olympic game gave every participant gold medal without loser, would you think those athlete still run fast? To make sure people perform at their best, you need fear of losing and joy of winning.

    In USA, there is a lot of respect for people at top. In China, there is a lot of hatred for people at top. I am not right winger. I support progressive income tax to help the poor. I support a lot liberal policies. Racism is reality here. As minority, you have to make extra effort (comparing to whites) to move ahead. But I am not sure my extra effort will translate into success in China (I actually tried and failed in China). My family members have been moving all over world to succeed in their own way.

    On the other hand, a lot of returnees (sea turtles including some of my own family members) succeeded in China.

    Find your place.

  16. @Chen gang:

    Northern Virginia has changed. Although you dont see as much interracial dating or marriage as you would in California or Hawaii, people are tolerant. No more throwing coke cans. The rednecks moved out.


    Where in the US are you located? Berkeley?

  17. That is correct. It doesn’t matter where you live. You just have to adapt and make the best of it. I’ve been on top before but now I’m coming down on the bottom. That’s just part of life. Just be fulfilled and happy. That’s the ultimate goal in life.

  18. A very honest and interesting post, Jocelyn. Enjoyed reading the many imsightful comments too. It’s a deep issue. Really wishing you and John much happiness as you return home to China.

  19. Miriam,

    People like me and others have been through it already. This is not new if you have deep conversation with people .

  20. @Caroline,

    Manny has been spewing out his grandfather brothel adventure in China during WWII from his lower bottoms. He’s been touting his grand plan of offering his two sisters from Texas to Asian men for senseless bang. He even claimed he has finally conquered China doll in Southern Texas.

    What else? Oh yea. He once wanted to know the panty hanging on the doorknob if they are Jocelyn’s.

  21. My husband and I are in the process of applying for his tourist visa to go to Australia. We are planning on going for 6 months so I can give birth to our baby before I have to come back to China for work. All this time I have been in China I haven’t really felt the need to go back, nor do I wear rose-coloured glasses about my country.
    In fact, I am worried how my husband will be treated there. Sure I miss a few different things, like food and friends, but I am not in denial about the underlying and sometimes blatantly racist views some Australians have, and I am sure not excited to go back and live a life ( even if only for 6 mths) scraping it together in the big city.
    However, I do think its important for my husband to visit my country as I think it will give him an insight into my personality more than just words can convey.

    1. @Piaochong

      Good luck and hopefully you guys don’t get into trouble in Australia. Racism is one of the reasons that I left Australia.

      The worse thing about Racism in Australia is that it often express in the form of voilence again innocent people, the unprovoked attacks.

      Image someone have to work all day and after work he & she still can’t have a rest because someone might attack them on their way home!!!

      Its just insane!!!!!!

  22. @Susan Blumberg and all,

    Time and time again, I found that people are really into reading too much detail and couldn’t sit back, pause for a moment.

    When someone from Austria (Yea, not Australia), came up to me and talked shit about his/her Austria country and how it could never be a superpower country, I’m not gonna snowball his nefarious attitude like “Yes, your country sucks!, big time!” I’m gonna tame it down and reason with him/her.

    But if he talks shit about my ancestral country, China, “China is cheap, people are dirty!”, I’m gonna strangle him right on the spot until he pass out. That’s how it is.

    When a girl from Jiangsu spoke highly of US “US is a great country.” yes, of course a rural teenage girl who hasn’t been to Shanghai or Beijing yet, will exude all this enthusiasm on once-mighty-now-felony country (NSA spying, middle east meddling, propping shady puppet for oil devouring, ……). What do you expect?

    Of course when I got to the small town in Upstate New York, a White American girl told me “I like Asian culture. They’re so bonded with their family.” What’s the deal here then?

    Manny do you want to know she’s pretty? Hawt?

    Well, you know for sure that I’m not a pedo like most White people are.

  23. The girl in the above story sounds like someone that hasn’t been in the US that long (maybe someone studying abroad or on a short holiday in the USA?). Anyway, sounds like the ever-so-pleasant ‘honeymoon’ stage to me. You move to a new place where everything is so new, strange and exciting—and you get so wrapped up in your surroundings that you might even think: “Wow, I could live here forever!”

    I had honeymoon stage in both Japan and China for about a year, but after that I started to see the not-so-appealing side to the two countries. The overworked Japanese, the levels of inequality in China—the more you deeply understand a place, the more you start to wonder whether you could actually settle down there.

    One thing that bothers me about the USA is how everyone thinks it’s god greatest gift to mankind. Way too much pride.

    But when it comes to quality of life, the USA and China really are incomparable. Sure, in the USA there’s racism and the system can seem really unfair, but at least we have our basic rights as people and the government can only ruin us to a certain degree.

    I’ve heard horror stories in China about my friend’s family being kidnapped from their home because they disobeyed the communist party, and were literally tortured until they paid up their dues for ‘breaking the rules.’ The nobel prize peace winner is locked up. I read a piece of news that said if someone tweets negative information about the government on Weibo and they get 3,000 followers, that person can be imprisoned.

    Let’s not forget growing corruption and inequality. The average salary in Shanghai is 4000 RMB, that’s around 600 USD. Can you imagine living on 600 USD a month? (and believe me, Shanghai isn’t that much more expensive than the USA when it comes to rent and food expenses). Having a salary of 8000 RMB (1200 RMB) is like a faraway dream to most recent college graduates, or even mid-career workers.

    Then there’s the pollution. I’m afraid to eat meat because it might be fake. The water is horrifically polluted and instead of talk about the weather every day, we ask about what level of PM 2.5 we’re at. With the spread of factories and construction across the country, pollution is just getting worse.

    Don’t even get me started on the education system here.

    Being in China makes me realize how much I took for granted in the USA. It makes me realize why Chinese people want to immigrate there (or anywhere) so badly. The government can break you in one day here, no questions asked—and due to that reason alone I knew I could never permanently ‘settle’ in China.

    But despite the above, some foreigners choose to live in China for the rest of their lives here. They like the economic boom, the chance for success, the culture, the food, the people… Everyone just has a different way of life, and maybe China is suited better for Jocelyn and her husband.

    1. @Shanghai Ronin

      Thats right! No country is perfect. Have you been to Guangzhou? May be you should come to Guangzhou have a look!

      Shanghai’s living expenses is just too high.

      1. And I don’t think one can be fully happy about any country! If you look closely then every country have their problems.

  24. @Rdm, you need to deal with your anger issue. White people are not pedophiles. Is it OK to say Mainland Chinese are nose pickers?

    @Shanghai Ronin, let’s just say every country has its own problems. USA may not be the greatest country on earth. However millions of people have come here illegally, so that strongly contradicts your opinion. Every empire will eventually fall. USA is no exception. Thanks to Obama and his friends, this train wreck will happen sooner. We’ve been forced to contribute to social security from our paychecks, and now we’re forced to buy health insurance. Soon we will be forced to buy junk bonds from our government that pays 0.0001%. The less the government gets involved in our lives, the better off we will be.

  25. Very interesting. Most Chinese of rural original I’ve met overseas LOATHE having to work abroad. Send her to a place without half-decent Chinese restaurants & watch her whine/cry/hiss all day.

  26. America is good if you have no balance on debts and your houses are paid off. China is all about “connections” and who you know. If you have the skills, China is good, too. Please before you guys talk bad about America or China, you have to be there first and observe the environment there.

  27. @JKL,

    You’d better spend most of your time in Jocelyn’s blog and see who’s been trolling with his antics China doll, senseless bang, etc etc. and you’d realize whom I’m getting my finger at.

    @Shanghai Ronin,

    Great!, seems like everything you read the news from the NYT, Washington Post, HuffingtonPost, Guardian. Not that I disagree with your premises on China and US. You have to lift up your views from the macrolevel. Is it US the great country treating his people on earth fair and square? Of course “racism” is the spice of the US culture. Chinese coolies built up the trans-continental roads and got what? “Chinese Exclusion Act”? Remember, it is the only country in history that passed the law on “Exclusion of Chinese women” entering into the country before they passed the “CEA” on both genders. You know what they labeled Chinese women? yes “Prostitutes, Deranged, Syphilis carrying”. That’s the history. Read up some history until you take US the great country for granted.

    Chinese melamine? Yes, google Chinese Melamine Vs US Vioxx.

    Read up “Vincent Chen” tragedy and how he was mistaken for being Japanese and clubbed dead while his crime perpetrators (Dad and Son) got away scot-free.

    Now “Danny Chen”, read up.

    Sorry to bring up those FACTs on Jocelyn’s homecoming thread. But it needs to be said for those who thinks “China is a piss, US is the Miss.”

  28. RDM,

    I still think that Asians have to start a riot in order to get recognition on past, present and future injustice in America. Blacks have riots so can we! Billions will be lost but you get recognized so next time those judges better think twice before they say ” NOT GUILTY”. It’s getting better over the yrs though. The problem is not many Asians run for political office in America so we are still nobody.

  29. I always have violent thoughts on my head most of the time when things don’t go right. I always have to suppress my anger and it’s very difficult. We just don’t go out and kill someone just for example … my plant is shutting down and moving to Germany. We can retrain ourselves with another skills and work in different fields. If I was Vincent Chen brother, I would have hunted down the ” dad and son” and killed them execution style at the court house while they were walking out. I believe in revenge , depending if my family members and wife and kids are fatally harmed . Hey, I always treat people with kindness and respects everyday but do not assume a nice guy like me can not or will not do anything . Yes, a nice, gentle person can become the most deadly and violent person IF he has no way out.

  30. “Remember, it is the only country in history that passed the law on “Exclusion of Chinese women” entering into the country before they passed the “CEA” on both genders. You know what they labeled Chinese women? yes “Prostitutes, Deranged, Syphilis carrying”. That’s the history. Read up some history until you take US the great country for granted.”


    Until the early 1990s, even AW-WM couples were not accepted in the US. And in some places in the Mountain west, AW-WM couples are still not accepted. Try Idaho or parts of Utah.

    “In fact, I am worried how my husband will be treated there. Sure I miss a few different things, like food and friends, but I am not in denial about the underlying and sometimes blatantly racist views some Australians have, and I am sure not excited to go back and live a life ( even if only for 6 mths) scraping it together in the big city.”

    Mao’s last dancer and his family have been very well treated in Melbourne. In fact, he was Australia’s top dad in 2009…

    However, there is plenty of racism in Australia although not the lynching variety that you found in the 1960s southern US. And some people will still probably lynch Asian men for chasing white women in that part of the country.

  31. @Rdm and Bruce

    It’s good to see more awake Asians. I’m working on an Asian empowerment site (it’s different than the one in my link which is for Asian male empowerment). I invite you two and any other feisty Asians to contact me. Let’s get some real change in the Asian community.

    My contact is on my site – just remember to edit the email address before sending.

  32. When I think about the my pass expriences, I too have problem controlling my anger on those unprovoked attackers.

    When I hear them talk sh*t about other people, I am tempted to throw them to the ground and hurt them because I know I can easily do that.

    I am only afraid that I can not control myself and they will end up in Hospital!!!

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