Chapter 16: Foreign Girlfriend or Fascinating Moonlight Tale?

(photo from Stuart Williams’ Flickr)

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.

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10 Replies to “Chapter 16: Foreign Girlfriend or Fascinating Moonlight Tale?”

  1. Wow… this is strangely similar to my case but somewhat different… a few days before I was to leave for university in another country, my chinese bf’s mother who had met me told him that he could have a foreign gf but not a foreign wife (i guess coz we had already been together for more than a year)… The references you make of Chang’e really touched my heart. We are still working on me not being Chang’e fied… but we ll see…Great post! Thanks for sharing..

  2. You know, there have been many times when I asked myself why it seemed that my husband and I chose such a difficult road for our future. We love each other dearly, and are committed to each other… but sometimes it seems that we ask so much of each other.

    In just the fact that I am a foreigner, and have so much to learn about the world that my husband comes from is by itself a huge obstacle. For him to have such patience and longsuffering as I blunder along must not be easy for him! Not to mention the demands that I come with when it comes to being an independent Western woman.

    The question of where to live is constant: having the option to live in my home country, or his, to live close to his family or mine. Are we being “fair” to our parents, but limiting the time that one side is able to see their grandchildren? Even in the issue of when we die, where we be buried or kept? We can say that as long as we are together, nothing else matters…but is that really true? It seems as if we will always, deep down, be sacrificing dearly for the other; that we really chose the hardest road when it comes to spending your life with someone you love.

    Even so, we are both too committed (and stubborn) to let those questions and uncertainties control what we both want to do and be.

  3. Perhaps it’s being raised in a Western country, but I do think that if my parents wouldn’t accept the relationship I would carry on anyway regardless. There’s a lot I could say in terms of places to live, but it’s a long story. In regards to Stephanie’s comment, I don’t think knowledge is a one-way street though, but of course it depends on the situation. If my partner has to learn about my culture, then I also want to know about his. ‘Western’ shouldn’t be generalised either, just as ‘Asian’ has many dimensions.

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