On My Negative Dating Experiences With Chinese Men, and Why I Still Kept Smiling About China’s “Dating Scene”

Jocelyn Eikenburg, smiling in a windswept
The winds (of China’s dating scene) didn’t always blow my way, but I still remained smiling, despite all my own negative experiences w/ Chinese men.

A few years ago, I remember stumbling across a post that linked back to me on the now defunct Shlaowai blog (which billed itself as “Shanghai Uncensored”). The post, written by one of their white female writers, was titled, “So, What’s the Dating Scene Like?” I can’t share any quotes from the post — unfortunately, the blog’s creators blocked archiving of their material, which means you can’t even dig up their original content through the Wayback Machine. Still, given that the post featured the infamous photo of a shorter Long Duk Dong with his head buried in the bosom of a taller white girl, you can guess what the author had to say about “the dating scene” in China.

I can’t recall her exact wording when she referenced my site, but I remember how I felt. That I somehow couldn’t be trusted to understand her experience. After all, I crossed the line she somehow drew there in Shanghai by dating and marrying a Chinese (and then daring to write something positive about it).

You might wonder, why do I even care about an obscure post from years back on a now-defunct blog? It’s because I’ve increasingly encountered a similar perspective in e-mails from some readers — e-mails that ask, in a suspect tone, why I’m not writing enough negative things about dating Chinese men? Continue reading “On My Negative Dating Experiences With Chinese Men, and Why I Still Kept Smiling About China’s “Dating Scene””

Ask the Yangxifu: My Chinese Family Speaks Local Dialect at Dinner, Not Mandarin

A family dinner at home in an Asian household
(photo by avlxyz)

Lixifur asks:

I am sitting in Beijing after spending 20 days in Southern China visiting my in-laws. I just found your blog and find it most timely. I am writing because I find myself so lost when it comes to the endless, dreaded family gatherings. My Mandarin is intermediate level and I’ve only travelled to China many times. Each time I come, I hope I can improve my skills but I am always disappointed by the fact that I almost never hear Mandarin, except on TV. Even more challenging is that while my mother-in-law is from the city, my father-in-law is from a bit further north in the province and he speaks a mixture of Mandarin, the city’s dialect and his local dialect. Naturally, we have so many family dinners and I am so frustrated by the use of one or more dialects at the table depending on the crowd and almost never Mandarin, except to me with strong accents. Please give me some advice on how to cope with the scenario. I am working on improving my Mandarin, so that will generally help, but I could sure use some advice based on your experience when your in-laws get together and just speak dialect. Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: My Chinese Family Speaks Local Dialect at Dinner, Not Mandarin”

How I Broke Chinese Family Etiquette To Save A Baby Mobile

My sister-in-law's baby and the mobile that almost got broke
My sister-in-law's baby and the mobile that almost got broke

It’s not polite to tell a guest they shouldn’t do something. I learned this rule only hours after I broke it at my Chinese in-laws’ home.

The next-door neighbor happened to come over, a tiny grandmother with short curly hair and a face that reminded me of Squiggy from the sitcom Laverne and Shirley. As usual, she came in holding her 10-month grandson, a kid nearly one-third her size who looked so big, I wondered why he hadn’t walked in on his own. She stood with her grandson in the foyer of our family home with Laoma (what we call my mother-in-law) and Wenjuan, my sister-in-law.

Most evenings, I wouldn’t notice the guests, but this evening was different. She happened to come during dinner. And this dinner happened to be interrupted by Laoba (what I call my father-in-law) when he told me the pair of flip-flops I sunned outside had dried. I put my chopsticks down to take the flip-flops back to my rooms upstairs, and then returned to the dining room.

That’s when I saw it. Continue reading “How I Broke Chinese Family Etiquette To Save A Baby Mobile”

Things We’ve Learned About Going Meatless in China From Our Chinese Families

Eating dinner at the family table at my Chinese wedding ceremony -- while I dine on the veggies, my husband goes for the pork.

I’m excited to share with you my first-ever collaborative article, which I wrote with Susan Blumberg-Kason. Susan is the author of All the Tea in Chicago and the forthcoming book Good Chinese Wife, a memoir of the five years she spent trying to assimilate into a Chinese family.

This article grew out of stories that Susan and I swapped over the past year about going meatless in China, and especially going meatless in a Chinese family. Hope you enjoy it.

—– Continue reading “Things We’ve Learned About Going Meatless in China From Our Chinese Families”

Why I Write About “Forbidden” Love in China

Forbidden entry sign
(photo by ilco)

Forbidden. That’s what someone once called my writing back in 2004 when I started sharing my relationships with Chinese men. It’s not as if I put some adult-store-version of my life out there, complete with salacious descriptions that would have everyone heading for a cold shower. Sex never even came up.

No, I just happened to write about my former Chinese boyfriends.

I broke with Chinese tradition, where you keep your past loves buried away in your heart (to be sure, I never used their actual names and changed some of their details, though everything I shared was essentially true). That comment shook me then — I never realized I crossed a cultural line in my writing. If my old files from that time are any measure — I steered clear of intimate topics for years — the comment impacted me in ways I didn’t even realize. Continue reading “Why I Write About “Forbidden” Love in China”

Getting Personal When Buying Condoms at Watson’s China

At Watson’s in China, a little personal shopping got too personal when I decided to stock up on condoms. (photo by Calvin Teo from wikimedia.org)

“Your Personal Store.” That’s the tagline for Watson’s, the most popular pharmacy/drugstore shop in Asia and my go-to in China for so many health and beauty items I need. But after my experience this summer, I began to wonder if Watson’s wasn’t becoming “Your A Little Too Personal Store.”

Last summer, I lived mostly with my in-laws and visited Hangzhou or Shanghai only a few times. For me, that meant no Watson’s conveniently just around the corner or a short bus, subway or taxi ride away. So when I saw a Watson’s, I would sometimes kick into “storage mode.” That meant buying some extra peppermint hand wipes, another bottle of Johnson’s Baby Wash (for my sensitive skin), and, say, some more Durex condoms.

I’m a married woman, and yes, I wanted to replenish my condom stash. I sure couldn’t do it in my Chinese husband’s rural village, which probably sold those dodgy ones with what always looked like adult movie stills printed on the package. On this day in question, I still stayed with him in his rented room in Shanghai for a few more days, we’d have a few weeks or so together at the end of the summer before returning to the US, and what we didn’t use, we could always take home. Yes, condoms would definitely come in handy.

But I’d have to go alone on this one. “It’s easier for you,” John said. “They expect foreigners to buy these things.”

I couldn’t deny the truth in what he said — that many Chinese believed foreigners, especially foreign women, were so much more “open” about sex. Sure, I liked sleeping with my husband, and wasn’t afraid to say so. But that didn’t make me some foreign Jezebel ready to screw on the spot. Besides, I couldn’t hide in China — people noticed me everywhere as a foreigner, and that meant they might even notice my purchase even more.

“But people will stare at me, it will be so embarrassing,” I said.

He flashed me one of those “go-get-’em” smiles, and said, “You have self-efficacy, you can do this.” Then he patted me on the shoulder. That was all his way of saying, there’s no way in hell I will buy the condoms. Continue reading “Getting Personal When Buying Condoms at Watson’s China”

Ask the Yangxifu: Carolyn J. Phillips On Charming A Chinese Family Through Food

Carolyn J. Phllips
Accomplished Chinese food writer and yangxifu Carolyn J. Phillips talks with me about food and what it takes to charm your Chinese family at the table. (photo from zesterdaily.com)

A few weeks ago, Carolyn Phillips wrote this to me:

Food is such an integral part of Chinese culture that it’s really hard to fit into a Chinese family if one isn’t adept at the cuisine. I suppose this is true to some extent with any country, but the Chinese are probably on par with the French and Italians when it comes to the importance of dining well. 

This is probably doubly important when a yangxifu doesn’t speak Chinese fluently but still hopes to be accepted. Have your readers talked much about this? I truly feel that the old saw about the way to a man’s stomach etc is gospel for us yangxifu.

Carolyn should know — she’s a yangxifu who devoted her adult life to mastering the art of Chinese cooking. She blogs about food at Out to Lunch and tweets about it as @MadameHuang. She’s also working on two forthcoming books on the subject — “Simple Pleasures from a Chinese Kitchen: Authentic Seasonal Recipes from Every Region of China” and “Culinary Goddesses: The Women Who Changed Our Dining Landscape… Recipes Included.” — and is a regular contributor writing about Chinese food for Zester Daily. In addition, she’s even fluent enough in Mandarin to do court interpreting.

In any event, Carolyn has discovered a thing or two about what it takes to woo a Chinese family that truly loves to eat through food. So I sat down with her — from one yangxifu to another — to talk about all things related to food and Chinese family. As Chinese New Year approaches, it’s a topic that will come in handy for lots of readers.

Just be warned, Carolyn mentions a lot of delicious Chinese food with links to her recipes — you may not want to read this one on an empty stomach. 😉 Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Carolyn J. Phillips On Charming A Chinese Family Through Food”

Matchmaker, Informal Matchmaker

Double Happiness Matches
if my experience means anything, many Chinese still turn to someone to play matchmaker -- even if that someone is just your coworker. (photo by DHSAM from wikimedia.org)

Last summer, I attended the Hangzhou wedding of my good friend Lao Da at the end of May. But it wasn’t until two weeks later — when we met over Dragonwell tea and snacks at a local teahouse — that I learned exactly how he met his new wife.

“We met through a colleague. He happened to be going out to dinner with a group of women who worked at the bank across the street from our office and didn’t want to go alone. So he asked me to come with him.”

“So, it was love at first sight?”

He shook his head. “No. I didn’t actually contact her until a few weeks later.”

“You didn’t have any special feeling for her then?”

“I had some. But later, my colleague said she had mentioned me, and he wondered if maybe we should date. You know me, I am not so outgoing. So I said I would meet her.”

Of course, Lao Da’s how-we-met story remained uniquely his — just like his geek-chic glasses, ocean-blue Chuck Taylors and funky stonewashed jeans. But I couldn’t help but notice that their story came down to the actions of one person: his colleague. Continue reading “Matchmaker, Informal Matchmaker”

Ask the Yangxifu: More On Finding Western Women to Date in China

Three women in a club
A Chinese man in Guangzhou wonders, can he ever find another Western woman to love in China? (Photo by Jim Reilly)

Ken asks:

I went over to New York when I was 20 years old and I finished my BA and my MBA there. I also worked there for about one year before I decided it was time to come back to China with my classmate/girlfriend then who was from New York. I was able to make the decision of coming back to China because my girlfriend was very supportive of this decision, which, to be very honest, was really to my surprise because she never had been outside of the States except for going to Canada that one time. Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: More On Finding Western Women to Date in China”

Double Happiness: The Date In China That Changed Her Future

A hand holding a pair of chopsticks
When Jemma arrived in China in 2008, she expected to stay two years and then move on to another place. But that was before she met her Chinese boyfriend. (photo by Penny Mathews)

As Jemma’s story reminded me, I’m not the only one that never expected to find love — and more — in China. I’m also not the only one who had a few friends intervene on my behalf to find a better man. 😉 
When I arrived in China in 2008, I figured I would stay two years and then move on to another place. But that was before I met my Chinese boyfriend.

I dated a few men, all Chinese, and had some horror stories and some that just didn’t work out. One night, I happened to share my latest bad date with friends. The date was a nice guy, but seemed only interested in me because I was a foreigner. After hearing this, one of the friends decided to give my e-mail address to a man he met at the gym, a guy who had jokingly asked him to set him up with a foreign woman.

At first, this man and I only spoke on the Internet, until he finally got the courage to ask me out for dinner. When we met that night, I liked him straight away — maybe not tall, but definitely handsome. He was a perfect gentleman in the corny, traditional sort of way. He opened doors for me, pulled my chair out, always checked to see if I wanted more food or drink, and refused to let me pay even though he was still a student. After dinner, we went for a walk in the local park and talked for hours, until he finally walked me home and said good night.

But the next week, I heard nothing from him. I was devastated. I thought, maybe my loud Western ways scared him away. Continue reading “Double Happiness: The Date In China That Changed Her Future”