I see her on the corner crosswalk waiting to meet the other side. My line of vision floats along with the sea of Chinese eyes that follow her, an exceptional figure here in Chengdu: tall, willowy, topped with brilliant red hair and pale skin. She is attractive, and obviously her boyfriend, shorter than her, a nondescript Chinese guy, thinks so too as they hug and kiss, just shy of making out, while waiting for the green light. When the light changes, we spectators sail away in curious thought from this rare sighting. Mao Zedong could have fallen from the heavens, but the sight of a Chinese man with a white woman was way more incredible.
Feichang bang, I think to myself. And smile.
Why is this so awesome? Any kind of love is smile-worthy. Because it's rare? Because it fights stereotypes? Because this couple symbolizes the "underdogs" in a world where it's daily routine that Asian women and Caucasian men constantly hook up, leaving the yellow man left in the metaphorical dust—especially in a country where they outnumber their women? Mmm ... yeah, maybe.
It made me think of my own existence, which came to be from a similar union—white man, Chinese girl. I would describe my father as a kind of cool nerd who obsessed on "everything China" in his younger days. I like that his interest in the culture wasn't fed by a fetish for the women (which seems to be the case for a large number of foreign men in China) but was based more on a quest for knowledge and understanding. My father genuinely loves and is well-read on Chinese history, philosophy, politics, and religion. He speaks and writes Mandarin fluently; it was as if his Oriental soul had taken over a German/Irish/Scotsman's body. He met my mother, a poor, uneducated girl who grew up in the countryside of I-lan, Taiwan, in the antique shop where she was working ... and I don't need to tell the rest of the story because here I am now, writing this and ruminating on whether my genetic combination is detrimental or beneficial to my chances of romance in Chengdu.
One of the most notable features of arriving as a foreigner in Chengdu are the introductory questions new acquaintances are prone to asking: "Ni hao! Your Chinese is spoken so well! Where is your husband? How many children do you have?"
I peer down at my feet as if a magical husband would grow from my shoe and I could answer, "Here he is! We've been together since we were 16 years old. We have a happy, perfect marriage with both a daughter and a son!" This type of answer lights up local faces because it's the most honorable life experience to share. I am not able to say this. The first questions that people in the United States might ask? "What do you do for work?" or "Where are you from?" As a western woman in China, I can feel the expectations placed on my marital status. But ultimately, it is just a cultural difference that nips at my thoughts and has me curious to experience firsthand dating with mainland Chinese men. What are they like? Most grow up with these pressures or are unconsciously conditioned to these expectations. Does that mean most seek marriage? Are they more monogamous than American men? Would they make the first move to kiss me? And would it be before or after loogie-hocking? What in the world is it like?
Living half my life in Asia, half in the United States, I find that wherever I go, it's rare to see the yellow man with the white woman. The other way around is a ubiquitous sighting. From the time I was of dating age, very few Asian men have exuded outright romantic interest in me; however, men of all other races seemed to find pleasure in the pursuit. Maybe that's why I've never had a Chinese boyfriend. My boyfriends in the past have been predominately Latino. As a mixie, I can easily "pass" as somebody of an ethnicity I am not—e.g., Latina—and Latino men tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves.
And now I am about to wear my Chinese-man-dating experiences on my sleeve with this new column I've volunteered to write. While in Chengdu, I am inspired to experiment further with dating and keeping my mind open when meeting Chinese, including Tibetan, men. I have seen several attractive local men, and maybe the mysteriousness of it feeds into my yen to know something that I don't already. I feel it's great to remain open-minded, to not cancel out the opportunities to date within "the majority," not to mention the help it would bring to my Mandarin and experiences with local culture. As of now, I have still not met with success in a willingness to be open to romance in Chengdu, but I'm happy to document my attempts and share them in hopes of making you laugh ... or cry ... for me.
This article by Christine Cauble was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 53 ("reflections"). Photo is a family portrait from the writer's childhood. Photo courtesy of Christine Cauble.