On Eggplant, Intercultural Love and Making Room for Cultural Differences at the Table

Earlier, I wrote about How “Italian Eggplant” Divided Us, and Then United Us in Love:

Jun and I have a fascinating history with eggplant – specifically, a Chinese-style dish I’ve nicknamed “Italian Eggplant”. It’s one of the first dishes I ever prepared for him when we started dating years ago. It’s also a dish that led to one of our first heated (no pun intended) arguments.

I had spent the evening making one of my favorite dishes for Jun, and found myself shocked by his reaction:

“Too sour. Too much soy sauce. Too much tomato,” he said. Jun grimaced with every bite – and I could feel my anger rising with every complaint. How dare he insult the food I so lovingly prepared for him! Where was his appreciation for my hard work?

I was steaming almost as much as that dish fresh from the kitchen — not what I intended for a romantic dinner at home, and definitely not one of my proudest moments. But behind our spat wasn’t merely a difference of opinion, but rather one of culture and upbringing:

[My reaction] had to do with how I’d been raised – to always say thank you to the chef, even if you didn’t like the food. It was a lesson I’d learned well after years of dining at my paternal grandmother’s house. She was a notoriously horrible cook who would entertain us with things like soggy, tasteless macaroni and veggies from a can. Even though I could sometimes barely stomach the stuff on my plate, I would force myself to say how good the food was.

When I told Jun about this, his face turned as red as the tomatoes in the dish. Turns out, he had a completely different experience growing up at the table. Every dinner included a course of blunt feedback about how everything tasted – even if that meant saying the food was unequivocally bad.

I apologized for my outburst, and he apologized for criticizing my food, instead of saying thanks.

Thankfully, we were able to share our own perspectives and ultimately recognize where each of us went wrong in the exchange. And in doing so, we also learned something about our own respective cultural backgrounds. At the same time, it reminded us that the taste preferences we bring to the table reflect the respective cultures of our upbringing. (Jun did in time come to embrace my “Italian eggplant” dish — so much so that he has actually learned how to prepare it for me later on!)

But such a realization and reflection requires a willingness to see cultural differences and, in some circumstances, recognize there isn’t always one “right” point of view. This especially holds true when it comes to what we regard as “strange” foods. The macaroni and cheese that my mother often made us for dinner growing up seems bizarre to my husband, who never consumed this dairy product in his childhood in rural China, let alone with noodles. Meanwhile, the tofu and seaweed dishes my husband enjoyed as a young boy would appear odd or even downright unappetizing to many of my relatives in the US.

I wonder, what if that eggplant clash had happened between people with more rigid views about the world, believing their cultural upbringing was the “right” one? He might have branded her eggplant dish as “weird” and told her to never make it again. She would have become even more enraged — and perhaps might not have told him that his behavior violated the mealtime manners her parents had taught her growing up. Likewise, he probably wouldn’t have acknowledged that his family did things differently. Perhaps one of them might have stormed out of the apartment. And if the two couldn’t reconcile their differences over a simple meal, how could they possibly navigate the even trickier issues that arise in a long-term relationship?

Sometimes, two people of two distinct cultures might sit down to dinner, smell the eggplant, and discover they smelled something different after all. And that’s OK, so long as they make room for those differences at the table.

P.S.: See also my post Why Ignoring Cultural Differences in Cross-Cultural Relationships is Harmful.

Intercultural Love Leads to More Creativity? Study by MIT Prof Says Yes

Creativity doesn’t usually come to mind when we think of intercultural love — but it should, thanks to the 2017 study from MIT assistant professor Jackson G. Lu titled “Going out” of the box: Close intercultural friendships and romantic relationships spark creativity, workplace innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Here’s a summary of the researchers’ findings from the study [emphasis added]:

…we found that close intercultural romantic relationships and friendships predicted important creative outcomes. As a two-phase longitudinal study, Study 1 found that MBA students who dated someone from another culture during their program performed better on both divergent and convergent forms of creativity at Phase 2 (accounting for creative performance at Phase 1 and other control variables). Using an experimental design, Study 2 revealed that reactivating a past intercultural dating experience led to higher creativity than reactivating a past intracultural dating experience; importantly, this effect was mediated by cultural learning. Comparing the duration versus the number of both intercultural and intracultural romantic relationships, Study 3 found that only the duration of intercultural relationships significantly predicted the ability of current employees to generate creative names for marketing products. Extending the preceding findings to the “Big C” creativity (Simonton, 1994), Study 4 found that professional repatriates’ frequency of contact with American friends positively predicted both entrepreneurship and workplace innovation back in their home countries….

Furthermore, the study offers some insightful advice about the importance of being deeply engaged and open to cultural differences [emphasis added]:

Importantly, the current findings suggest that people cannot simply “collect” intercultural relationships at a superficial level, but instead must engage in cultural learning at a deep level. When in an intercultural relationship, an individual should not eschew cultural differences but rather embrace them, because such differences enable one to discern and learn the underlying assumptions and values of both the foreign culture and the home culture (Cheng & Leung, 2013; Leung & Chiu, 2010). Without close social interactions, it can be difficult for individuals to juxtapose and synthesize different cultural perspectives to achieve cultural learning and produce creative insights.

Previously, I had written about Why Ignoring Cultural Differences in Cross-Cultural Relationships is Harmful, pointing out the negative consequences of this colorblind approach. But this study from Lu highlights the tremendous creative benefits that come from welcoming and exploring cultural differences in a thoughtful way, and the findings indicate that such advantages wouldn’t come to those who disregard cultural differences.

This fascinating research has also led me to reflect on my own intercultural relationship and the ways in which it may have boosted my creativity (such as the founding of this very blog). And I also thought about the many other creative folks I’ve encountered in intercultural relationships here in China, from bloggers and writers to entrepreneurs, artists and musicians. How much has their creative output benefited from loving outside the lines?

In any event, the study certainly stands as compelling evidence for why everyone should embrace meaningful intercultural ties in their lives, including romantic ones.

What do you think about this study?

‘Love Battle’ (爱情保卫战): Cross-Cultural Couples Collide in Chinese TV Show

Can you resolve your cross-cultural dating dilemmas and boost your Chinese at the same time? Maybe, if you’re watching the Tianjin-based Chinese reality show Love Battle (爱情保卫战), where couples in crisis present their problems in front of a panel of “dating doctors,” who later offer their advice before a live studio audience. (Talk about “bearing your soul”!)

It’s not exactly what you’d call relationship counseling — in the few episodes I did watch, the panelists (who range from matchmaking experts to even actors and TV personalities) doled out a lot of pointed, even tough-love advice to troubled couples, a sharp contrast to how real counselors and psychologists usually handle couples therapy. But that’s reality TV for you.

What is interesting about Love Battle (爱情保卫战), however, is the fact that the show welcomes cross-cultural and international couples to take part, touching on a number of issues common to such couples. Even issues that resonate with me.

For example, there’s an African woman who doubts her Chinese boyfriend because he won’t introduce her to his parents. The reason (which I won’t reveal — you’ll have to watch this short clip for yourself) is one that I once faced in a relationship (and it ultimately led to our breakup).

In another segment, a Chinese man doesn’t understand why his Russian girlfriend wants her own space and independence in the relationship. Meanwhile, she thinks he’s too clingy and can’t understand why he doubts her commitment. Sound familiar?

Here’s a selection of a few other episodes of Love Battle (爱情保卫战) with international, cross-cultural couples if you’re curious and would like to watch:

  • Episode 20140821, with a Kenyan man and a Chinese woman, and a Russian man and a Chinese woman
  • Episode 20151231, with a Chinese man and a Kenyan woman, a Chinese man and a Russian woman, a German man and a Chinese woman, an Equatorial Guinean man and a Chinese woman
  • A segment published in April 2017 with a Russian man and a Korean woman
  • Episode 20170809, with a Kenyan man and a Chinese woman, and a Turkmen man and a Chinese woman

For those of you in China who can’t get on Youtube, watch episodes from the show here at CNTV.

Have you ever watched Love Battle (爱情保卫战)? What do you think of the show?

3 Fun Things About Learning Your Partner’s Obscure Language or Dialect

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about deciding whether or not to learn the dialect when your family doesn’t speak Mandarin Chinese.

Well, I chose to learn my husband’s local dialect, and now I can proudly say I’m proficient in many of the common conversational phrases. It’s amazing to finally connect with my husband’s family and friends in the local dialect.

But more than that, learning your partner’s obscure language or dialect can also be a LOT of fun, as I’ve discovered.

Here are 3 reasons why:

IMG_190448#1: Being able to talk privately when you travel with your partner

My husband’s entire home county has a population of only 400,000 people. Most folks there are also homebodies, preferring to stay close to family.

So when we travel outside the county, the chances of actually running into someone from there – especially if we go abroad – are practically nil.

That makes speaking my husband’s local dialect our go-to language to express anything we’d rather keep private. You know, like the fact that I find my husband’s butt very sexy… 😉

IMG_2151#2: Making the family laugh, because they never expected to hear you say THAT in their language

There’s nothing quite like watching my mother-in-law giggle when she hears me say “I’m going to wash clothes” or “I can’t eat this” in the local dialect.

Yes, plain, everyday phrases like that suddenly become hilarious whenever I speak them in front of family (even my husband). And it’s all because it’s so odd to see me – a white American woman – using the local dialect.

(I have to admit, sometimes even I have to laugh when I speak in it. Never in a million years did I imagine myself learning this language, one that had once seemed impossible and completely unintelligible to me!)

IMG_20160207_164829#3: Finally being able to follow conversations around the family dinner table

One of the reasons I used to dread visiting my husband’s family was the fact that I got really, really bored sitting around the table at dinner. After all, everyone would fall into the local dialect – the preferred language – and I couldn’t understand a single word.

Not so anymore.

Nowadays, I understand more than 60 percent of the conversations in local dialect – and whatever I don’t understand, I can usually figure out by the context. (I still can’t believe how much I’ve learned!)

Although, this can sometimes qualify as “not so fun after all” when the conversations happen to involve something intensely personal (like, say, how the family is wondering aloud when you’re finally going to have kids – which happens more than you might think!).

Ah well. Better to hear it firsthand than filtered through someone else, right?

What do you think?

More on Weathering Those Cross-Cultural Differences in Your Relationship

IMG_20160227_165522I’ve been happily married for over a decade to someone from another country and culture. And like many folks in my shoes, sometimes I forget how far I’ve come from the early days in my relationship…from those arguments, misunderstandings, and stumbles to where John and I are now.

I was reminded of this after seeing the following comment:

I took the chance to read once more your post on cultural differences in intercultural relationships, especially today since I am back to South France after a week spent in Tokyo; I was there for work, commuting everyday from my boyfriend’s place (he is from Inner Mongolia, now living and working in Japan).

It was a hard week, under many aspects. I will quit my present job and move to Japan in August this year, and we already made plans for the future, everything is almost set, but last week we often discussed over each other’s “domestic” habits.

I wanted to ask if you, or your husband, ever felt that the other, sometimes, does not think/understand that there is always “another side of the coin” speaking of how things should be done or viewed. I feel this way, now, but also believe some time together, only the two of us, and at a normal rhythm, is what we need.

Oh, believe me, I’ve been there.

When my husband and I first started living with each other full time in Shanghai, we definitely had our share of ups and downs:

Like the weather, relationships have their own rapid fluctuations — as I have discovered in this month. In only a few minutes, your congenial conversation might end with the thundering echo of a slamming door, just as ours did a few weeks ago, when John and I were sitting on the bed after eating dinner. I bolted down the street to my yoga class, hoping the asanas would help to cloud over the events of the evening. But in the end my eyes let out a deluge of tears. And, to my surprise, when I came out of the gym, there was John sitting on the steps, ready to clear the skies with an apologetic embrace.

This wasn’t the only inclement moment this month. Frankly, not a week has gone by without some petty quarrel — and it has brought me into a strange fog of anxiety and depression.

I should have seen it coming. We’ve both been burdened with a potentially explosive combination of ingredients: John with his thesis and test preparation; me with applying for John’s green card and my work. Throw into that your standard communication gaps between men and women plus cultural misunderstandings, and you’ve got a volatile combination that even the sturdiest chemistry lab hood couldn’t protect you from.

Ironically, I least expected cultural differences to get in the way of my relationship with John. When you’re in love with someone from another culture, when you treat them as your equal, it’s easy to forget that you learned different ways to respond to problems, and different ways to communicate.

Whenever people start living together full time, I think there’s always going to be an adjustment period for everyone. You’re seeing more of that person, right down to those everyday home behaviors you didn’t really see before (like how they deal with chores at home). But when you add cultural differences into the mix, you’re dealing with a whole lot more.

As I wrote above, sometimes I didn’t even think about the cultural differences — when I probably should have acknowledged them more. John and I had different expectations for a lot of things we had initially overlooked, such as how to tackle and resolve conflicts. Tempers flared and sometimes we said things we shouldn’t have. (Ouch.)

Honestly, I think it took us a few years to work out those “kinks” in our relationship and really get to a place where we understood each other. Where we were willing to listen and adjust how we responded to each other. Where we could, as the commenter referenced above, acknowledge that there was more than one way to do things. (For example, John learned how I liked to be talked to during an argument, while I learned to tone down my anger and control my temper.)

Getting to that point takes time, patience and a willingness to make things better. And sometimes it doesn’t happen through conversations alone. Early on in our relationship, I remember how watching American movies and TV with John actually deepened his understanding of my own habits. (Like how I love to spontaneously dance around the house whenever I hear a great song. 😉 ).

To all of the cross-cultural and international couples just starting out, I wish you lots of understanding in your journey to marital bliss. John and I weathered those hardships starting out in our marriage…I know you can too. 🙂

Guest Post: How I Came to Write Gay (Asian Male/Western Male) Romance Novels

Atom Yang Red Envelope

I’m excited to feature this post from writer Atom Yang, and not just because it’s a beautifully written and compelling story. Today marks the debut of Atom Yang’s first romance novel Red Envelope from MLR Press! Here’s the description:

The Chinese New Year is a time for saying goodbye to the past and hello to the future, but Clint doesn’t want to bid farewell to his cousin’s handsome American friend, Weaver, after they share an unexpected passionate encounter.

The Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday in the Chinese calendar, a time for family reunions, and for saying goodbye to the past and hello to the future. Clint, however, doesn’t want to bid farewell to what happened after last year’s celebration, when he and his Cousin Maggie’s handsome Caucasian friend, Weaver, shared an unexpected but long-desired passionate encounter. East is East and West is West, and Weaver seems to want to keep it that way, but maybe Clint can bridge that great divide this coming New Year, and show Weaver what it means to be loved and accepted.

It’s available on Amazon.com (where your purchase helps support this site) and might just be a wonderful holiday gift for the book lovers in your life. 

Do you have a guest post you’d love to see featured here on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn more about how to write for us. 


Atom Yang Red Envelope

My name is Atom Yang, and I write romance. How I came to write romance took a lot of heartbreak, time, and eventually meeting the man of my dreams (just like in those novels).

Cross-cultural and interracial dating isn’t easy for Asian men, especially in the West. The standards of male beauty differ, and in the East, men are prized for appearing scholarly and refined (even androgynous), with lithe bodies, a sensitive demeanor, and high intelligence. This may also be one of the reasons why Western media perpetuates the stereotype of the sexless Asian male. What it means to be a man in the West today—athletic and rugged, with muscular bodies, stoic and individualistic—is essentially the polar opposite of Eastern ideals of masculinity. It’s no wonder that Asian guys get little game outside of the home court—would you want a ballet dancer to be your offensive lineman?

Years of hearing or reading Sorry, I’m not into Asians or No Asians, fats, or femmes or I love Asians took its toll on my self-esteem, to the point where if the proverbial mirror didn’t crack with my obvious unattractiveness or sole value as a fetish, I’d smash it myself to make it true. This is one of the worst heartbreaks a person can experience: to fall out of love with who they are, and to lose faith in their own beauty and worthiness.

That said, stories about rejection and loneliness all have the potential to be an ugly duckling story, but not the kind where a makeover and montage scene solves the protagonist’s problems and brings the love interest around, because this isn’t about how I changed myself with blue contact lenses and bleached hair and suddenly all the white boys who had said Not racist, just my preference decided that I was acceptable. No, this is the real ugly duckling story, and it’s about becoming who you are, leaving behind those who do not appreciate you, and finding those who do.

Over time and in my travels, I came to realize that people other than those in my hometown found me attractive and unique. My ethnicity makes up a part of who I am, and I would hope that it does because it’s an aspect of my identity that informs both my perspective and my experiences in life—things I need my partner to want to understand.

After two decades, a couple of long term relationships, and longer dating dry spells due to prejudice and my location, I finally met my future partner (he’s of German, Irish, and English descent) online, and he lived four hours away. According to those inscrutable algorithms, we were a 99% match, which I think is math for “soul mate.” I admit it’s been uncannily accurate, but to be clear, we were not matched merely based on our interests—we were also matched according to how we express love, support, and understanding for our partners. The only thing the site couldn’t figure out is if there’d be physical chemistry.

We met in person after chatting for two weeks (I read research about online dating and knew it was important to meet early to prevent unrealistic expectations and to allow the relationship to develop). We had seen each other’s pictures and had expressed initial attraction, but a picture is nothing compared to real life. Our first date would be at a geographical midpoint. I arrived first, and spent time trembling with nervous energy hoping we would feel the same in person as we did on the phone, and then he arrived a few minutes later. It was love at first sight for both of us.

Two more months of dating, and given what we knew and what the site had shown us, we proposed to each other. After four months of doing the long distance thing, we decided that I would close down my practice and move in with him. He came up, helped me pack my life on a rainy day with the wizardry of an international Tetris champion, and we caravanned to his home—our home—stopping for dinner at the midway point at the Moroccan restaurant where we had our first date. Sharing our story with several friends who had been married for years, many revealed their own stories of knowing and proposals after a week or two of dating, with the longevity and satisfaction of their marriage as proof that this sort of thing does happen, and more frequently than previously believed.

Domestic life couldn’t be better, but reestablishing my practice in a new town left me a lot of time on my hands that also left the house extremely clean. Feeling loved, supported, and hot by my partner in a way I hadn’t for almost all of my life, I had the mental and emotional space to begin an endeavor I half-finished due to personal difficulties ten years ago: write stories.

Given the happily ever after ending I’ve been creating, I gravitated toward romance. Working in this genre has been an act of gratitude, hope, and social justice for me. It’s a chance to pay it forward and offer narratives that change and expand the landscape upon which we connect to each other and imagine the possibilities of our lives, so that there might be less heartbreak and wasted time for someone while they find out who they are and where they belong. I came to write romance because it happened to me, and I want to share my fervent belief that we all deserve love, good relationships, and happily ever afters. It can happen. Just like in those novels.

Atom Yang

Atom Yang debuts today with his story, Red Envelope, available from MLR Press.

Atom was born to Chinese immigrant parents who thought it’d be a hoot to raise him as an immigrant, too–so he grew up estranged in a familiar land, which gives him an interesting perspective. He’s named after a Japanese manga (comic book) character his father loved, in case you were wondering.

Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Things I’ve Learned from My Chinese Husband: Not Everyone Does DTR (Defining the Relationship)

Picture 462One of my favorite stories from when John and I started dating is the day when he moved into my apartment without any “should we move in together” conversation.

In America, we all know about the conversation, even if we’ve never had it before. We’ve seen it on TV and in the movies, that pivotal moment when someone says, “Let’s move in together” – a simple question that’s never all that simple. People agonize over this, to the point of proliferating totally conflicting advice (from “You’ve got to move in with him to test things out!” to “If he moves in with you, he’ll never propose!).

Well, we never had that conversation. Instead, I came home one day after work and, lo and behold, there was a duffel bag lying in the guest room of my apartment, filled with a soccer ball, a pair of soccer shoes, and some rather familiar T-shirts. When John returned back later that evening, the conversation went like this:

Me: “Is that your bag?”

John: “Uh, yeah.”

Me: “Oh, okay.”

You might wonder, why did I just answer “okay” and not grill him about furtively depositing his things in my apartment? Well, for starters, I did give him a key to my place and told him to come over whenever he wanted. I figured he just interpreted that more liberally – that “whenever he wanted” could mean all the time. (And, besides, I was under the deep, romantic spell of love, which has a way of clouding your judgment, especially whenever you think of that hot weekend the two of you just enjoyed at your place.)

Years later, when I asked John about this “moving in without a discussion” thing, he had a very simple explanation for it. “Our relationship was already settled. We didn’t need to discuss things like that.”

I discovered that the fact he kissed me beside the West Lake – and later spent the night at my place – qualified as evidence of our relationship as the real deal. We didn’t have to hash out our relationship status over coffee, debating whether we should just “keep it casual” or “make it serious.” In John’s eyes, we were a serious couple.

This was like a revelation to me – that people could actually enter into a relationship, secure in what it was without ever having some big, nervewracking conversation about it.

I’m reminded of a post I saw a few years back on VOA written by a Chinese girl titled Everything You Need to Know about Dating an American and Having the ‘Relationship Talk’:

Why do Americans have these big relationship talks?

Well, there are so many types of relationships in the U.S.: dating, casual dating, relationship, open relationship (this one does not make any sense to me), serious relationship, etc.  It’s easy to see how people could be confused about which stage they are and which stage their partners are….

In China, and I believe in other Asian countries as well, there is only ONE type of relationship.  You are either boyfriend and girlfriend, or pure friends, so there is no chance to be confused.  In other words, when it comes to V-Day [Valentine’s Day], people either have it for sure, or don’t even think of it.  No discussion needed.

It’s fascinating that a relationship could either be really simple and obvious, or incredibly complicated and worthy of long discussions, depending on who you are and the cultural background you grew up with.

Can Interracial and Intercultural Relationships Be a Transcendental Experience?


Recently, I shared the story of my own unlikely pathway to marrying a Chinese man, including what I originally thought of Chinese men before coming to China, in an opinion piece for the China Daily. Here’s an excerpt from that:

When I think back to the months I spent in preparation for that year of teaching English in Zhengzhou, I draw a blank on Chinese men, apart from one simple thing. I assumed they weren’t dating material for me, and I wasn’t alone. An American man who had once taught in China famously told me, “You don’t have to worry about the students falling in love with you.”

It made sense to me. I had only ever forged friendships with foreign Asian men at my university, feeling romance was never a possibility, and had yet to move past “Hello” with any of the Chinese men on campus, who almost never noticed when I smiled or waved at them while passing by on the way to classes. I never saw white women dating Asian men on television or in the movies. Even the handful of Asian men who went to high school with me in my very white, very middle-class suburb didn’t seem to date anyone, let alone a girl like me. It was as if the universe decreed that there was a racial and cultural line that I was never meant to cross if I wanted to find love.

Yep, in my mind, white American girls like me just didn’t date Asian men, let alone Chinese men. And when I read stories like Why Did I Assume I’d Never Find a Man to Date in China? from Rosie in Beijing, I know I’m not the only one.

But beyond all expectations, love happened to me in China – and it was a love deeper and more passionate than anything I had ever experienced before. It was as if I had never truly loved before. Here was China, giving me a real-life lesson in what it actually meant to be intimately connected with someone else.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t opened my heart to the possibility of love – if I hadn’t transcended my own past assumptions and biases about dating in China.

For me, the interracial and intercultural relationships I’ve enjoyed in China – including, most of all, my marriage to John – have been a transcendental experience. They’ve allowed me to go beyond what I used to believe about Chinese men and Asian men, and have made me more aware of how prejudices and stereotypes against certain racial groups still loom large in the dating world.

Granted, I know that one person isn’t a lot. But I’d like to think that every time someone like me ends up loving beyond their own boundaries — their own perceptions of what it means to be in love – it brightens our world a little more.

Do you think that interracial/intercultural relationships can be a transcendental experience?

People Who Feel Like They Own the Opposite Sex of Their Race and Culture

This photo of a marriage registration in Beijing was taken two days before the woman was stabbed to death by a Chinese man who hated Americans. I wondered, did he mean “American men” by that, and was he another example of someone who thinks they own the opposite sex of their own race/culture?

It’s funny how things in life mysteriously collide – that two seemingly unrelated events I’ve heard about recently actually have something in common. Specifically, the concept of people who feel like they own the opposite sex of their race or culture.

The first is the stabbing murder of an innocent Chinese woman in Beijing just married to a French man, a confirmed hate crime prompting my recent post, Is Beijing Becoming Dangerous for Couples of Foreign Men and Chinese Women?

In the discussion in the comments section, I noticed that people started linking this murder to the idea of people who feel like they own the opposite sex of their race/culture. See this comment from A. Madhavan:

I can’t help but notice the deep misogyny in this murder – many times when we date out of our race/nationality, men of our race will try to “claim” us and shame us for dating/marrying outside of it. As if we are pieces of property and only belong to them. I have seen this happen with white men to white women; black men to black women; Indian men to Indian woman – how dare a [sic] we women marry outside her race and have complete autonomy over our decisions? It is threatening to A LOT of people…

And this comment from R Zhao:

This sometimes happens in America, too. It happened to me when I was dating a black American man. I was accused by a small group of black women (who I didn’t know) of “taking one of theirs.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think there is a lot of frustration. Black women face a lot of discrimination while dating and have a significant smaller dating pool than white women do because of cross-race dating preferences. This happens to Asian men as well.

To be sure, there is a shortage of women here in China because of the gender imbalance, leading to a growing population of unmarried bachelors in China’s countryside known as “bare branches”. According to this article from Tea Leaf Nation, “an estimated 12 to 15 percent of Chinese men — a population nearly the size of Texas — will be unable to find a mate within the next seven years.” Personally, I’ve even heard Chinese men who lament that China is “exporting” far too many of its women overseas.

The Shanghaiist confirms in a recent story that the Sanlitun killer “said he ‘hated Americans’ before attacking Chinese-French couple in Beijing,” specifically asking the woman’s husband if he was an American before stabbing him and his wife. And while it’s never explicitly stated, I can’t help but wonder, does this man represent the anger and frustration of millions who feel a certain entitlement to Chinese women over foreigners because of the shrinking dating pool?

Obviously, this is an incredibly complicated and potentially delicate issue, depending on who you are and whether you’re one of the folks facing a more limited dating pool simply because of your race and/or culture.

What’s your take on this? What do you think about the idea of people who think they own the opposite sex of their own race/culture? Is it ever justified? Sound off in the comments.

UPDATE: I’ve edited this post because that some of the content was inappropriate and insensitive towards the Jewish community. I made some poor choices in what I had written and failed to consider how my words might actually come across to readers (including the individuals I had specifically mentioned in this post). I want to apologize for this mistake.

Thank you to those people who were courageous enough to reach out to me to point out the errors in the original content. I wanted to append this apology to let you know I’ve learned a tremendous lesson in the importance of being sensitive about how groups of people are portrayed on this blog, as well as what should and should not be quoted in posts. 

Guest Post: My Relationship Ideals Were a Smorgasbord of Western & Eastern Values, All Torn Down by Him

Have you ever compromised your own core values in a relationship? That’s what happened to Jocelyn Wong (who blogs at Jocelyn Writes and Is That Top 30?) when she dated a fellow from China. She writes, “I grew up in Hong Kong but many of the things I was brought up with included splitting a meal, not having sex on the first date and waiting until the engagement to meet each other’s parents. These ideals were a smorgasbord of Western and Eastern values that were all torn down early on in the relationship.”

Read on for the full story.

Do you have a tough breakup, love story or other guest post you’d like to share on Speaking of China? Learn how to become a guest poster by checking out the submit a post page.

(Photo by Kiril Strax via Flickr.com)
(Photo by Kiril Strax via Flickr.com)

Kyle and I met through Tinder of all places after one too many messy breakups. Back then I was living in a small town in Canada. I went into the app with the notion that maybe people in my own social circle just weren’t “good” enough and that my circle of friends might be too small. So I took to online dating to correct that.

I grew up in Hong Kong but many of the things I was brought up with included splitting a meal, not having sex on the first date and waiting until the engagement to meet each other’s parents. These ideals were a smorgasbord of Western and Eastern values that were all torn down early on in the relationship.

Early on our relationship I found it difficult to communicate with Kyle even though I had a very international background. Firstly there was the pseudo language barrier. Don’t get me wrong, I am a native English speaker but there are times when I find it difficult to find certain words in English that communicate my feelings. This proved to be an obstacle on our first date when I was signaling furiously at him to try get him to understand what the concept of 無奈 or 孝順 was in half broken English and Chinese. At the very least, it broke the ice.

There were other things about him that really confounded me on a cultural perspective. I was raised with the theory that “sex comes after marriage” and that you should “only have sex with your husband”. Even barring that, sex always came after “monogamy,” as I was taught by Patti Stanger who hosted Millionaire Matchmaker on Bravo. He was a lot more promiscuous than I was (though I didn’t know it at the time). It was cute though when he asked “Do you kiss on the second date?” Immediately I knew that he was going to be mine sooner or later. I would pursue him romantically because that level of awkwardness and consideration was just what I was looking for in a partner.

I digress though. That night, there was something about him, something strange that just made me throw away all the principles I was brought up with. So I slept with him on that second date.

The sex was unfulfilling, but I should’ve known better.

I’d been spoiled previously – falling in love and having meaningful sex with my previous partners that I forgot what meaningless, hedonistic sex felt like. I regretted my decision almost immediately and wished I’d stuck with my traditional principles. Still, things worked out and we became a couple very soon. The sex didn’t improve though, we were still a premature couple and that level of connection needed to be built up.

The second time our values clashed was when I met his parents the day we decided to become a couple – five days after we had met – and it was too overwhelming. He expected me to be okay with meeting his family the morning after I had slept over at his place. This meant: no makeup, grubby outfit, no carefully pre-arranged gift and certainly no mental preparation. What kind of daughter-in-law was I going to be?! I was mortified. I was raised in an environment where it was absolutely necessary to give your significant other’s parent a gift on your first encounter and to look your best. That day, I failed all of those criteria and retreated into myself, I was disgusted with myself. I didn’t see him for a couple of days because I was so angry with myself and him for making me go through that experience.

More cultural differences: I met his parents again soon after that first awkward encounter. This time I was prepared. I was dressed to the nines and brought them their favourite choice of alcohol (the right brand even) and some gifts I had purchased in Toronto when I spent a weekend there. They were “taken aback by my generosity” but I honestly knew no other way to act. This was how I was brought up and it seemed to have made a good impression on my other Canadian boyfriends so I followed suit this time. I later learned that they found me to be a little over the top.

Throughout our relationship, we would have troubles communicating with each other because of our cultural differences but this was the most glaring when we broke up. I was raised on local TV shows and my mother’s advice to make breakups short and snappy, like “ripping off a bandage” and to “never speak to him again” afterwards. Clean and Clear. Just like those pore strips. And that’s how my breakups had been orchestrated each time: I returned my ex-lovers things and we never spoke to each other again. You can imagine my utter shock and horror when he suggested that we not only gradually return each other’s things but to remain “friends” or “friends-with-benefits” afterwards. I could not comprehend that level of promiscuity at all and his utter lack of consideration for my feelings.

This is not my first trip around the rodeo but one that embodied the biggest cultural differences. I didn’t realise I could compromise my core values for a man. But what can I say? I was stupidly in love. Let’s hope that next time around, I learn from my mistakes and stick to what I believe in and hopefully, it’ll work out.

Jocelyn Wong is a writer, blogger, journalist and radio host. She blogs about food and fun things at www.jocelynwrites.com, and about music at www.isthattop30.com. She has been published in the 2014 Women in Publishing Hong Kong Anthology: Imprint.

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