Archive for February, 2011

Stereotypical Love

February 12, 2011

February 12th, 2011

Valentine’s day is in two days and this year I have to buy a present for my new boyfriend. That’s right I have a boyfriend! And it gets stranger; my boyfriend is a Chinese guy. Those of you who know me well know I vowed I would never date a Chinese boy. But my reasons are mostly because I felt like I could never act like the girls on Chinese tv (super thin and super super cute) and if I started dating a Chinese boy I thought I would feel pressured to fall in line. But also because most Chinese boys seem to be completely disinterested in foreign woman and my reaction is to reject before I get rejected.

The funny thing about Xu (my boyfriend’s family name) is that in behaviour he is completely Chinese (he obeys no traffic rules when he drives, he smokes, litters, spits, drinks baijiu and plays majung till early hours of the morning) but then the way he thinks is very Western. He is very open-minded and has little of that judgemental and traditional side I have seen in so many of my students. And now he has a foreign girlfriend. Ha!

You may wonder how we communicate. Because I mentioned that his English is not good. Well first off I like to teach him simple phrases in English, like now he knows “Have a good night!” and “I miss you.” But mostly we speak in Chinese to one another. He speaks slowly and simply to me and that’s all that’s needed. In fact that was one of the things that drew me to him at the very beginning, his incredible patience with me; he speaks slowly and clearly without a hint of condescension. In fact, he has a lot more patience with me than I have with myself. He will explain a concept several times over and over, way past the point where I have given up on myself.

Violet (ZhangYi) and I suddenly have a lot more in common. She dated a Canadian boy before and would complain about some of the cultural differences. But surprisingly, she and I face completely different stereotypes. Violet tells me that sometimes when she was out with her boyfriends, local people would swear at her and accuse her of being a gold-digger and a slut. She said that this made her not want to go out in public with her boyfriend anymore. Many Chinese people view Chinese girls with foreign boys very harshly. They think the girls are looking for a passport and a way out of China. Chinese view Western culture as being loose and fast and many people don’t like to think of their women being wrapped up in that.

For me and Xu on the other hand the stereotypes are not as harsh, though China is still a judgemental place so no one escapes without someone laughing at them. Xu is slightly shorter than me, not noticeable to me, but he thinks people laugh at us. But as far as he being a Chinese and me being a Westerner the stereotypes are not as cruel. When we are out together, I have heard people ask him if he has a lot of money. They are sure he must be some sort of high-roller. On my end well, the foreigner always escapes without much judgement. The foreigner’s very identity means that they can’t be held by the same standards as the locals.

I find it interesting that Xu was more than excited to meet any and all of my foreign friends regardless of whether or not he would be able to speak to them. But when he met Violet for the first time he got really nervous. He explained to me that Chinese girls are different and that I don’t understand. “They are very traditional; they will have lots of questions for me.” And Xu was right, not about Violet, but about most Chinese people. When I tell them I am dating a Chinese guy they start asking all kinds of questions. “How old is he? What do his parents do? What kind of job does he have? What kind of car does he drive? Where does he live?” The questions are all revolved around a central theme “How much money does he have?”

But foreigners, the questions are concealed in a sly smile that after a few drinks finally gets formulated into words and they all revolve around a central theme, as our reputation would have,  – the bedroom.

Recently, I met Mike, a Canadian-born Chinese who told me how good it was to see Xu and I together. He had questions of his own; pulling me aside he asked “let me guess you were one of those girls who said they would never date a Chinese guy right?” I laughed and admitted that  he was right. “It’s not easy growing up Chinese in Canada,” he admitted. “It’s a terrible stereotype over your shoulders especially as a man. We’re shown as being feminine nerdy losers.” I looked at him and tried to deny it, “That’s ridiculous…” But I realized that he was right and I didn’t really know what to say.

I had just finished reading Obama’s memoir about growing up black in America. It was very insightful and that paired with watching “The Wire” and living as a minority in China have made me think more deeply about the crippling power of racial stereotypes. Stereotypes aren’t truth, but they are there, they exist and somehow we have to live in spite of them. Let them laugh, I am not getting are shorter and he’s not getting any whiter.

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Pre-Bday Feminist Rant

February 12, 2011

January 12th, 2011

I realize now I never wrote a blog entry about my trip to Korea. There are a few reasons for that, none of them being that the trip was not interesting. The first reason is that the trip, though eventful, was more about visiting old friends and escaping China than it was about experiencing Korea. But I did see some excellent features of Seoul, lots of cute boys J (the American Army base is helpful in this area), good shopping and lots of Western restaurants. But the best part of Korea was seeing my friend Candace and her husband Jon. I was great to see them settled half-way across the world. I was impressed with their knowledge of the city and their languages skills. Coming to Korea was a new revelation to me as well of how far I had come in Chinese. Now I have basic conversation skills in Chinese and being back in an environment where I couldn’t speak to the local was frustrating.  

Tomorrow is my birthday. I am throwing myself a party and inviting everyone I have met over the last year. It is also my one year anniversary of living in China. And as such it is a time of reflection for me and a time to look back and see what I have accomplished.

The obvious accomplishment has been an improvement in my Chinese which has brought with it a general confidence with being here. After traveling around China by myself using my Chinese to get through some of the discomforts and tough situations, I know that I have the building blocks in place. But this next half a year, I really want to understand this country more. Making more Chinese friends will be my next priority so that I can use more Chinese outside of the classroom.

Right now I have a few friends that I speak with only in Chinese. One is my friend Sammy, who was my Chinese teacher last semester.

And this birthday I feel mostly blessed to have this life. I am so lucky and the large part of that feeling is routed in the fact that I was not born Chinese.  

Being a woman in China would not be easy. Sometimes I find myself getting angry with Chinese girls, for being so submissive and trying so hard to please others. But living here a little longer I have begun to see the enormous pressures they live with.

“Chinese women are more likely to commit suicide than Chinese men. More than half of the world’s female suicides happen in China, where the female suicide rate is nearly five times the world average. China is the only country on Earth where more women commit suicide than men.” Peter Hessler

 I often ask my student whether they think it is harder to be a woman or to be a man in China. They almost always point to the enormous pressures on men to make a good income and claim that it is harder to be a man.

I remember one class of girls I had where I asked them if they believed there was sexism in China and they flatly replied no. I rephrased the questions, does society like powerful women. Do men like successful women? They replied with a no.

Sometimes this fact feels hopeless. I have felt the pressures of identity in my own life. I’ve seen the kind of women that men have felt attracted to and felt hopeless. But my own reaction has always been to reject men before they reject me and preserve the freer sides of myself. But I know that I am an intimidating woman. I know what it’s like to be hitting it off with a guy at the beginning when I am just smiling and laughing at his jokes, but the moment it comes to talking about my own accomplishments seeing him shrink in self doubt.

Living in China has made me realize how far the feminine revolution has brought women.

The way women are portrayed on television in China fills me with rage. They are always pitiful and pathetic; you can’t watch a show without the females falling into hysterical tears within five minutes. One very popular show on television at first glance seems like the story of a Chinese Mary Tyler Moore. Except of course, the Chinese counterpart always has a trembling lip and a pitiful look in the eye. And my friend Shanshan jokes it’s the story of how to sleep your way to the top because the heroine has a love affair with her boss in the show.

Chairman Mao said that women hold up half the sky and as such they are equal. This is one area in which I think you can’t blame the communist party. In the countryside people are still drowning girl babies or selling them to criminals. These problems are more deeply rooted.  

However that being said, it’s not a one way road. I have never seen the blatant sexualisation of women on Chinese television that is so obvious in Western media. I guess we have to live in our pressures. But better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.