Before I came to Hong Kong, I never paid a whole lot of attention to “inter-racial couples.” In fact, I don’t even like the term: inter-racial.
But then I came to Hong Kong
Of course at first I didn’t pay attention to it, as we know, being raised in my comfortably liberal surroundings, this is not the sort of thing you are supposed to pay attention to: Celebrate Diversity! But the longer I was in Asia, the more I started to see a pattern. And really, it didn’t take a genius to spot it.
White guy + Asian girl = HK M.O.
Everyone talks about it. The perspectives vary, but the topic is consistent. My best friend from high school (Eurasian) calls it Asian Fetish. Here it is just Yellow Fever. I have Chinese girl friends who will only date western men. I have an American acquaintance who swore he would never date a local Chinese girl when he arrived in HK, but I would say it is safe to say he rescinded that declaration less that one year in.Lots of my friends swear by internet dating in the States… here the websites are specifically designed for white men to meet “Asian Beauties” or “Hot Asia Babes” and such… [And for the record, websites for white girls to meet “Hot Asian Dudes” (or vice versa) do not exist… something to ponder I think .] Many of my male friends say it is envy that sparks this conversation among Western women; my female friends counter that it is lack of conversation that sparks the notion in Western men. I am not sure that it is so simple in either case, nor am I sure what my feelings are about the whole thing, save that there has got to be some sort of explanation for it… Maybe.
I just finished reading Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. I liked it. The novel is the first English language effort from the author who has written several others in Chinese and I do wonder how much of the story is autobiographical, though that could emanate from my own version of self-obsession. It is the story of a 20 year old Chinese girl who leaves her village to go to London to study English. There, in a movie theater she sits next to a man who immediately takes a keen interest in her… to the point where he takes her home and they have sex. He is a 44 year old Englishman. Seem far-fetched? Not to me. I see it all the time. [And I wonder what the reaction would be at home if a 44 year old was actively seeking out 20 year olds…] After their first liaison the ‘communication’ gets really interesting.
From the start, the expectations don’t match. So, what you say? This is typical in relationships you say? Perhaps.
“I want to see where you live,” I say.
You look in my eyes. “Be my guest.”
That’s how all start. From misunderstanding. When you say ‘guest’ I think you meaning I can stay your house. A week later, I move out from Chinese landlord.
Now, you see… I am wondering how many girlfriends I have that would consider it normal, or even not completely freaking scary, to think that a guy you met twice wants you to move in with him. How that can seem appropriate is beyond the limits of my own cultural understanding. Now, the protagonist of the novel did say that he was her lover, and she also acknowledges the misstep of language… yet the events go on uninterrupted. She moves in. And he is cool with it. Now time to ponder aloud, how many of my guy friends would suggest a move-in after two hook-ups ? Is this just completely preposterous literature, or is it somehow realistic because these two types are up for the challenge for some reason I cannot fathom? The exotic erotic trumps logic?
I think the misunderstandings are unique for both individuals here… but bear in mind I am only speculating as I have no personal experience with a relationship like this. I think she does not realize that they have different ideas about the relationship. When he leaves for a few days she is confused:
I thought we together, we will spend time together and our lifes will never be separated… I thought I will not scared to live in this country alone, because now I having you, and you my family, my home.
On the other hand, it seems like he must be aware that the two have different ideas about their relationship, but he allows these differences to persist unmentioned because he is enjoying the here and now and will deal with the later, later.
The book is actually designed like a dictionary… each chapter begins with a new word that our narrator has learned. Being sort of a vocabulary freak, I like that. And I like how it works for setting the tone for the forthcoming chapters. But to me, more than some kind of love story… this book really gets to the heart of the matter of the conundrum of these WM-AW couplings. To be fair, it is probably a problem in any kind of coupling… that issue is communication.
The book is written in broken English. It is written with a syntax and diction that I recognized immediately as authentic after more than three years of teaching English in Hong Kong. The review that appeared in the Observer was not so understanding. The review opens: “I not Chinese. I British. I prefer read book with sentences not made look like broke. I prefer writer who not pretend not speak Englsih when actually I think she speak English very goodly.” While this pathetic mock-up hardly does the use of broken English in the novel justice, it is clear that this reviewer has not worked with a lot of English language learners from Asia. Another review in the Spectator said that “in 50 years of listening to Chinese learning to speak English I never heard this kind of thing: I not meet you yet. You in future.” Well, I can tell you I certainly have… and the way she explained the issues with verb tenses was perfectly priceless. I laughed out loud at so many linguistic issues in the book and recognized as many of the conventional mistakes I hear every day in Hong Kong. I don’t think this is making fun, I certainly do not speak enough Chinese to make fun, but this was clearly written by someone who has had to learn English in that ‘second-language’ kind of way. The best part of it though is the way that the book reminds us how powerful language is – or perhaps, communication.
As I am extremely loquacious, even verbose and some might rightly say garrulous, you can imagine that communication in a relationship might just be the Achilles Heel I keep running up against. And I am not even talking about communicating in different languages. I think this is what I stumble over the most when I see the WM-AW pairings… I wonder, often out loud… how do they communicate? They must have so little they can talk about.
But then again, that might be just what they are after…. I mean, who am I to talk?
As I read the book I started to ‘get’ certain things that I see so frequently and have been mystified by… behaviors and interpretations of things that made no sense suddenly had some context. And I don’t think this is for a lack of Chinese friends, but these are little things that you just really wouldn’t think to ask about normally and so to see them from more of an insider point of view was pretty cool. Mind you, a lot of it still confounds me, but at least I see a little more clearly where it is coming from.
The main character in the story just seems to be so much more concrete than the really abstract boyfriend. and maybe that is the difference. she sees things so simply, and I do not mean simple like stupid, I mean simple like uncomplicated. The boyfriend has a role to fill. They had sex and so he will be the husband, the home, the provider. it is simple and obvious from her point of view. and maybe this is refreshing to guys who are so sick of my contemporaries just making everything so “damn complicated.” In one scene, she reads his journals while he is away. When he freaks out on his discovery of this transgression, she gets angry:
“What privacy? But we living together! No privacy if we are lovers!”
“Of course there is! Everybody has privacy!”
But why people need privacy? In China, every family live together, grandparents, parents, daughter, son, and their relatives too. Eat together and share everything, talk about everything. Privacy make people lonely. Privacy make family fallen apart.
This is just one example of the different ways that these two people see things. Like when I tell one of my Chinese girl friends that I have a good friend who is male, and she wants to know we are not married… I am not sure what to say to that. Why aren’t we married? “Why should we be married?” I say. But she says, “Because you are both single.” It is a very different view. But then again, with the number of people I know actively seeking people through whatever means necessary, perhaps it is not so different, just more up front.
I am not sure I will ever understand the imbalance that I see in Hong Kong with the WM-AW couples. Maybe it is just as simple as a friend of mine in Hong Kong said: “Asian women are just better looking.” [I have not even gotten into the imbalance in attractiveness in these couples… generally the girl is gorgeous and the guy… well, he probably wasn’t seeing a lot of action in his homeland.] But maybe it is not necessary to understand, just like I don’t really need to understand how gravity works, I just need to accept that it does. As a dear French friend said… “If it works for them, that is good, no?”