Chapter 29: An Indecent English Teaching Proposal

When you’re a foreigner in China, the most common phrase you might hear is: “Can you teach me English?” Your foreign face is like a walking advertisement that new friends or friends of friends can’t help but answer — because they live in a world where English could determine their future, or change their destiny.

Chinese must study English to pass the college entrance exam. In college, Chinese must pass the band-four English exam to get a four-year diploma. With good English, a Chinese could study abroad — leading to a new life in a new country, or a prestigious job upon returning to China — or build their career in a multinational company. To the Chinese — especially Chinese parents — learning English can change lives and fortunes.

And sometimes, you, as a foreigner, have the fortune — good or bad — to meet someone who wants you…to teach English.

My next-door neighbor, Zhang, asked me to teach her English the first day we met — and she discovered she had a foreigner living across the hall. Continue reading “Chapter 29: An Indecent English Teaching Proposal”

Chapter 28: Of Chinese Medicine and Balance

In Chinese traditional medicine, there is a saying: anger hurts your liver, melancholy hurts your lungs, thinking hurts your spleen, happiness hurts your heart. The thing is, we are all angry, melancholy, happy, or just thinking at different times in life. What hurts is when we do it too much, without balance.

John, my Chinese boyfriend, thinks my life has lost balance, ever since our time together during National Day — and my health hasn’t been the same.

My back and neck felt unusually sore after an evening swim Friday, October 11. The pain lingered uncomfortably for over a week, even after I received Chinese medical massage. So when John came in the weekend of October 18, he took me to the hospital for an X-ray.

“Your neck has straightened out,” the doctor said to me, looking at the black-and-white photo illuminated in his office. All of those days in the office, sitting at an office chair before a desk, had hurt my neck.

But once John and I left the doctor’s office, it was as if the doctor was still in — the doctor of Chinese traditional medicine and wisdom. Continue reading “Chapter 28: Of Chinese Medicine and Balance”

Chapter 27: I Don’t Need Your Mianzi

Character for good fortune
I didn't need mianzi from the family of the famous calligrapher, Tang.

Tang, the famous calligrapher and painter, and his wife, Zhang — my next door neighbors — lived a world as intentional as the eccentric style of Tang’s calligraphy scrolls that decorated the walls of their apartment. Tang painted and wrote calligraphy, often for dignitaries, officials, the elite — and they reciprocated lavishly. How did I know? Because Zhang told me, whenever I saw her in the hallway between our doors.

Renjia songde — a gift from others,” she would tell me, her lips pursed smugly as she held up the latest swag — from Amway vitamins to the expensive, first harvest green teas, all from the endless stream of guests that the couple entertained most weekends. Sometimes she would blather on about a free trip somewhere, such as an upcoming visit to Huangshan that included a river cruise.

Personally, I didn’t need Zhang — or even Tang — to talk about all of their gifts or free trips or extra apartments in the city. I already respected Tang as an artist. He was the one who memorialized my first date with John at the West Lake, in a painting. But I suspected Zhang couldn’t help it — as the wife of a famous artist, his fame and glory was all that she had, and all that she could feel proud of. There was a sad, lonely woman behind the swag. So I would stand there, smile and nod, as if I was a parent who knew better, listening to a child.

But I could do more than listen. Continue reading “Chapter 27: I Don’t Need Your Mianzi”

Ask the Yangxifu: How Western Women Can Meet Chinese Men in China

Chinese man, sitting on the campus of Suzhou University
How can foreign women improve their chances to meet good Chinese men -- in China? (Pictured: my Chinese husband, John, sitting on the campus of Suzhou University)

Priscilla didn’t ask me anything. But after reading her February 12 opinion piece in the Global Times, titled “Chinese men: pull your weight”, I thought she needed some answers — especially when it comes to finding a good Chinese man. So I decided to pre-empt my scheduled Q&A this week, to help Priscilla.

Here’s an excerpt, where she discusses her interest in dating Chinese men — but lack of suitors:

One girl in a circle of friends decides to give a Chinese guy a chance and is shocked to discover, he’s pretty cool. The others also start testing the waters: flirting with that cute Chinese guy in a uniform, dancing with the tall one at the club, maybe even venturing to have a fling or two. And once the blinkers are lifted, ladies, you’ll discover that you are actually surrounded by attractive men.

But I am writing this as an enlightened foreign lady with several foreign lady friends and I can’t think of a single one who is dating a Chinese guy.

….one reason I can personally attest to is a lack of effort by Chinese men.

She ends the piece by exhorting all would-be Chinese suitors to “man-up” — be a real guy, and get the courage to ask Western women out.

My response? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: How Western Women Can Meet Chinese Men in China”

Chapter 26: Hello, Foreigner – and Goodbye, Generosity

Western woman hiding behind a mooncake box
Sometimes, you misunderstand China, or China misunderstands you. And all you can say is, I'm sorry.

As October 2002 went on, I fell deeper in love with my Chinese boyfriend, John, and found a new sense of belonging through lunches with Zhang Bin.

Yet, was I just fooling myself, to think I could masquerade as a local? I am a foreign woman. My face, hair and larger, curvier body made me a curiosity, no matter how standard my Mandarin pronunciation was.

I wasn’t a curiosity to Jason, an old college classmate of John’s that we met during the National Day holiday, on the way to our favorite restaurant near my apartment. I had met John’s xiongdi — “brothers,” or close friends — once before. Ever since then, I loved knowing anyone with a connection to John, and Jason seemed nice enough. We exchanged phone numbers, with the suggestion we might meet for lunch sometime. “I could practice my Chinese with him,” I whispered to John, as we walked in the other direction down the street, after meeting Jason. Continue reading “Chapter 26: Hello, Foreigner – and Goodbye, Generosity”

Chapter 25: No Chinese, No American, Just Lunch

Stir-fried chinese vegetables
John, my Chinese boyfriend, wasn't the only one who could make me feel less foreign in China.

When you have a Chinese boyfriend, you have a strange sensation, perhaps the first since your arrival to China — that maybe you’re not so foreign, or so different. The way John spoke to me, and cared for me, made me feel — if only for a moment here and there — that we were equals.

Yet after he left, I began to see that it wasn’t just John who had the capacity to see past my foreign face.

“We shouldn’t see each other as a Chinese and an American.” Those were the words of Zhang Bin, a friend who lived across the street from our office — and who agreed to make lunch with me during the weekdays.

Lunch had been a headache for me ever since I entered the company. The boxed lunches delivered daily to the office were too greasy, and had few vegetables to satisfy a vegan, driving me to find lunch alternatives outside the building. I found them in a variety of restaurants — from a local Zhejiang specialty restaurant to a Japanese noodle house — but usually had to enjoy lunch alone. Continue reading “Chapter 25: No Chinese, No American, Just Lunch”

Ask the Yangxifu: A Big, Fat, Traditional Chinese Wedding?

Western woman and Chinese man in a Chinese wedding

Ana asks:

I have a question about weddings. I am in my late twenties and recently engaged to my Chinese-American boyfriend,which I am really excited about.

But the wedding worries me. Initially I wanted a simple ceremony. I was raised Christian but he wasn’t, but I wouldn’t insist on a church. just maybe a simple ceremony then banquet with friends, some photos outdoors, etc. But when I suggested it to my boyfriend, he said his parents would never agree to it (his parents are from China), that they expect a big traditional Chinese wedding. I heard Chinese weddings can be very elaborate,exhausting with a lot of drinking, more than one dress,lots of guests etc. Seems overwhelming and not my style!! I haven’t brought it up in front of his parents but I feel kinda stuck now. I just really don’t want all this fuss and don’t understand why we cant make it simpler. I’m not sure I can survive a huge Chinese weddings. What should I do? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: A Big, Fat, Traditional Chinese Wedding?”

Ask the Yangxifu: The Chinese doorman closed off friendship

"Don't trouble please" sign on door in Chinese hotel
A Chinese doorman suddenly closes the door to friendship (or more) with a foreign woman.

huayue asks:

I am a 24-year-old Canadian woman teaching English in Shanghai and I have a question for your “yangxifu.” I became friends with the young doorman of this hotel where my gym is. He doesn’t speak English but my Chinese is good enough so we can carry on a conversation. Anyhow he asked me out one day. I’m not sure if it was a date or not. But he took me out to eat and then to play games at an arcade. It was so much fun, one of the best evenings I had had in a long time. He was so charming, gentlemanly and we had a lot in common. After that we both decided to get together again. The second time we had dinner, and then he took me for a walk through the park in the evening. It was kind of romantic. That evening I felt a little closer to him, like there was the possibility for something more than friends. We also agreed to see each other another time, to go for a walk in the park. But the day we planned to see each other it rained and he called to ask us to postpone it. I told him it was fine. But now it’s been almost four weeks and he hasn’t tried to reschedule it. I sent him text messages and call but he hasn’t responded or called me. Whenever I see him at the door of the hotel he avoids talking with me. I would like to see him again at least as a friend and I don’t understand him. What do you think is going on with him? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: The Chinese doorman closed off friendship”

Ask the Yangxifu: How Chinese men can meet foreign women in China

Aiden asks:

I am a Chinese guy who is going to graduate next June. I am majoring in English simply because I want to know more about this world. You mentioned a lot about the cross-culture relationship which is something I desired for years. I always wanna a life different from the ones that most people have in China. I know it is gonna be tough, but I have faith. No difficulty no fun. Life itself is that way. Anyway, it is rather hard for a Chinese mainlander to seek the chance of meeting any International women especially those who want to marry chinese guys. If you have any good channels or tips, why not tell us? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: How Chinese men can meet foreign women in China”