On Dating Abroad: The Fetish and Green Card Conundrum

on dating abroadThis past weekend, I attended a going away party for one of my friends. It was a lovely event, featuring a large spread of Chinese food accompanied by a good amount of beer. About an hour into the party, I found myself in the Men’s Room at the same time as my friend Micky. While I took a leak in one of the stalls, Micky used a urinal and talked to me through the stall door.

“I tell you,” he said, “you and Fang Deng are just so good together. I mean, the way you two interact…you’re perfect for each other. Now, I know there are a lot of skeptical people that think she’s only in it for a green card, but if anyone pays attention to the way she looks at you, they’d be able to tell she really loves you.”

I thanked Micky for his kind, if somewhat jarring, words. Zipping up my fly, I found it hard to focus on the part about Fang Deng and I being a perfect couple or whatever he said. Instead, I kept thinking about the other part. The part about the green card.

“What fuckers are saying she’s only in it for a green card?” I wanted to ask. I fought against doing so. That would only make me look petty and lacking in confidence. Still, I imagined pushing Micky up against the urinal and yelling, “Tell me! I want names!”

When I first moved to Asia, I found that the foreign men here fell into one of two camps: those who were eager to date the local women, and those that had basically no interest at all in dating the local women. There wasn’t much of a middle ground. This was in stark contrast to the foreign women who move to Asia. They seem somewhat uncertain about dating in general, and are just as likely to date a local man as they would another foreigner. But the men aren’t like that. Some of them are totally on the prowl, while the others watch in disgust.

Truth be told, I guess I was in the former category. Moving to South Korea in 2010, I definitely wanted to date a Korean woman. I’d like to think that was more out of curiosity than because of some fetish, but who knows what subconscious things were working in my head. My first girlfriend, in high school, just happened to be Cambodian, and, before that, the first Playboy magazine I ever owned featured a centerfold named Venice Kong who was part Chinese. She is mildly famous in the history of Playboy for being the last centerfold to have a staple going through her body.

I think about these things sometimes. I think about how some of my friends in Korea and then later in China probably viewed me as a sleazy white guy with ‘yellow fever,’ a phrase that is only inoffensive when put in comparison with the far more candid ‘jungle fever.’ They probably questioned my motivations. Was I out for love, as I claimed? I’m sure they would say ‘no.’ I was out for Venice Kong look-a-likes.

This is the reality of being in an interracial relationship while living in Asia. The white male is viewed as having a fetish and being driven by sex, and the Asian woman is viewed as only wanting a green card. I’m sure the people Micky alluded to believe this, because sometimes, even Fang Deng and I start to think that.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Fang Deng told me one time when we were discussing the green card question. “I’m 31 years old. Do you really think I couldn’t find an American to marry me when I was in my 20s? I studied in Holland. Do you think it was impossible for me to convince any of the men in Europe to marry me and get me out of China? Are you nuts? If I was just marrying to go live in the west, well, I would’ve done that already.”

And really this little bit of reassurance is all I need. Of anything she’s ever said on the subject, I’ve found this particular argument to be the most convincing. Maybe to be able to shake off the green card question, one has to really believe that love is hard to find, while manipulation of men is pretty easy. There are tons of suckers everywhere, right? I have no doubt that Fang Deng could have worked a mark without any difficulty if that’s what she wanted to do. Had she chose to, I completely believe that Fang Deng could’ve gotten some dude wrapped around her little finger. Could’ve had him begging her for her hand in marriage. Could’ve had him buy her a home in Texas, with a bunch of dogs running through the backyard and a bed with a dozen pillows.

Love, on the other hand, is elusive. That’s something that evades you until you’re in your early thirties (or late thirties, in my case). Finding someone you care about is a bit trickier than finding a guy with an American passport or any random girl who can satisfy a sexual compulsion. Sketchy motivations aren’t hard to satisfy. That’s what dating apps are for.

Fang Deng and I authentically care about each other, although some people can’t see that. Micky could, which is why he gave me that little talk in the urinal. Micky could see the truth. Micky knew.

But of course he did. Micky has an Asian wife.

From How Close Up Does Mr. Trump Start to Look Good?

donald-trump-chinaRight now, nearly 7,000 miles separate me and one Donald Trump. I’d really have to squint to see him, to make out the golden waves of hair-like substance that sit matted on his head like a pile of lint might sit on my kitchen floor after I’ve swept. From this distance, the Donald looks small. He seems strange and pathetic and the tiny little fingers on his baby hands look like cocktail wienies.

This is the view from my porch in Beijing, China. Mr. Trump as viewed by an American liberal living abroad. From over here, it’s hard to make out any positive attributes that Trumpy might have. By the time his tweets and his self-congratulatory boasts of being able to “call” really bad things before they happen, by the time those reach my small expat community in Beijing, they sound ridiculous. We laugh at Trump. We criticise him. But all of our condemnations are done from a safe distance. There’s an ocean between us, and viewed from a space that great, it’s difficult for the detached onlooker to see Mr. Trump as anything more than comical and frightening.

Question #1: Would Trump become more, er, attractive, if viewed from closer up.

This is what I wonder. Maybe being in China keeps me away from the sheer magnetism of the man. Perhaps if I was back in America (as I will be two weeks from now), I could get caught up. The Trump Wave would pick me up and pull me out to the Trump Sea like a riptide.

Is that what Trump has? Momentum? Is he like the Grand Canyon, where one has to be there in person to truly grasp the greatness of it? I try to imagine that. I try to picture myself at a rally, with his crowds of enthusiastic supporters all chanting his name. Then he walks out. I’m almost shaking, putting myself in this scene. Once he starts talking, I imagine how charmed I become. I nod along with everything he says as though I’m in a trance. Because that must be it. Up close, he must weave a magical spell.

Nah. I can’t imagine that’s true. Back in the safety of my Beijing apartment, I tell myself that Trump is more like war, where one can only grasp the true horror of it by being there oneself.

Question #2: Seeing that I’ve been okay with the oppressive Chinese government, why am I so frightened of Donald Trump?

It’s a good question. Here in China, things aren’t so hot. The Internet is terribly censored, human and animal rights violations happen constantly, the gap between the rich and the poor is even larger than it is in America, and the levels of government corruption are mind blowing. The RMB – China’s currency – is in a consistent state of flux, its value seemingly sinking down lower and lower every couple of months. They don’t elect their presidents in China and if you were to ask me to cite one good thing that appointed leader Xi Jinping has done – ever – I don’t think that I could do it. He has a nice peaceful countenance, I guess. That must count for something.

Still, I’ve been pretty happy here. Yeah, I’ve complained about a few things in China, but life here is sweet. It’s easy. And so I ask myself how Donald Trump could run a government worse than the current one in China, and I’m not really sure. I mean, this is the original country of walls and foreign exclusion. If I enjoy living here, what makes me think Trump’s America would be that much worse?

Sipping on my instant coffee, it’s a question that I don’t have an immediate answer to. I just know it would suck. That’s all. I think about the president of China again. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard him speak. His voice is a mystery to me.

So that can be my quick answer. If I’m going to live under an all-powerful dictator, at the very least, he could be quiet.

You’re Pregnant? Great! Are you Having a Boy or an Abortion?

Yes, the title of today’s blog is a tad off color, but I wanted to write about a conversation that I had with a coworker the other day. I should first provide a little background information. Although I’m American, I live and work in China. And although many of my coworkers are also from the West, I have lots and lots of Chinese coworkers too. Which is great, because it gives me the opportunity to peer into a world that’s very unlike the one I know.

So, I have a coworker named Lisa (that’s not really her name, it’s the English name she picked for herself since Westerners have trouble remembering Chinese names) (or distinguishing between them because everybody is named Li or Wei or Ma), and Lisa is a lovely youngish Chinese woman. Coming back from summer vacation, news spread that Lisa had gotten knocked up over the summer. When I saw her in the office, I thought I would congratulate her.

“Say, I heard you’re pregnant,” I said. “Congratulations!”

“Thanks!” she said, with a big I-just-got-pregnant-and-I-like-the-attention smile on her face.

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

“I don’t know,” Lisa said. “In China, they don’t tell you.”

“Oh,” I said, “that’s cool. It adds a bit of mystery, right? It’s like a big surprise!”

“Well, actually,” she said, “they don’t tell you because they’re afraid people would abort the baby if it’s a girl.”

That threw me for a loop. I hadn’t considered that at all. It was far darker than the fun ‘surprise’ angle I’d assumed was the rationale for keeping the gender secret. But it made sense. This is a country with a one-child only policy, so I suppose there would be a real danger in telling the parents the baby’s gender. I looked this up later on Google and learned the term ‘gendercide,’ and I also learned that this isn’t just a China problem, and that gender-based abortion happens worldwide.

Which struck me as crazy, mostly because I’d never heard about this before and also because I personally would much prefer to have a girl baby if I accidently impregnated my girlfriend. Going back to that conversation with Lisa, I don’t think I asked her any other questions because my mind was blown. I nodded and walked away and felt icky.

After thinking about it for awhile, I decided that if I was a doctor, I’d just tell everyone they’d be having a boy. And then I’d bring a video camera into the birthing room and tape the fathers’ reactions to their surprise daughters’ arrivals. And then I’d put the videos on YouTube.

Which is blocked in China, but still, it’s nice to dream.




The Umbrellabator (Umbrella Masterbator) Returns!

ps umbrellabator fourTwo and a half years ago, I first noticed that there was a man masterbating under the Shahe University subway station train tracks.

If that sentence hits you by surprise, just imagine how I felt. It’s one thing to read some words and go, “Whoa, a masterbator under the train tracks?” It’s a whole different thing, though, to see it happening and go, “Whoa! A masterbater under the train tracks!”

Anyways, so two and a half years ago, my girlfriend at the time and I had gotten off the subway train and were waiting outside to get the bus to take us home. The Shahe University subway station is on the Changping Line in northern Beijing, and, like all stations on the Changping Line, it’s raised up above the street because the train tracks go over the city. I fear I did not do a very good job of describing that, so look at the picture below and to the right and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

ps umbrellabator oneNow that you’re looking at the picture, you’ll notice that there’s a dude sitting down underneath the raised train tracks. I took this photo yesterday, but my girlfriend and I saw the same guy in that exact same spot two and a half years ago. It was dark on that day, maybe six at night, but looking across the way, we could clearly see the guy looking at us. He had a weird look on his face and it appeared he was panting like a dog.

I should also mention that his entire lower half was covered by an umbrella. While he looked at us, we could see his body shaking and his arm moving.

“Jesus Christ,” I said, “that guy’s rubbing one out over there!”

“What?” my girlfriend said.

“You can tell. It’s obvious. He’s jerking off under that umbrella!”

Thankfully the bus came soon after and we got out of there. But a few days later, I took the subway on my own, and there he was again. It was earlier in the day this time. He had his umbrella set up to cover himself just as he had a few days earlier. There were lots of people at the bus stop and I could see the guy – who I now call ‘The Umbrellabator’ – shaking and panting.

“He’s doing it again!” I said to myself. “It’s like Three Billy Goats Gruff. Only there are train tracks instead of a bridge, and instead of a troll, there’s an old masterbating Chinese guy!”

ps billy goat gruffI have to say, though, on this occasion, I had some trouble laughing off The Umbrellabator. There were lots of young girls and little kids at the bus stop, and The Umbrellabator appeared to be looking at them while going to town under his umbrella-ella-ella-eh-eh. It was actually getting me kind of upset. I kept looking at the local people around me like, “Yo, isn’t somebody going to say something to this guy? I would but I’m a stupid foreigner who doesn’t know the language and I don’t fit in.”

Of course nobody said anything, and I contemplated a way to alert the authorities or something. But in the end, all I did was tell some people at my school, who promptly did nothing a la Penn State.

To my great relief, The Umbrellabator totally vanished after that second day. And he’s been gone for two and a half years now. But yesterday I had to take the bus, and who was hanging out underneath those train tracks? The Umbrellabator, back for more! This time I decided to take pictures of him, and those are the images you see in this blog. He was doing the same stuff as always, shaking and panting and working away under his umbrella. I walked into the road to take the pictures, and part of me contemplated getting closer, maybe snapping an image of what exactly was going on under there.

ps umbrellabator twoI decided not to. The last thing I want to do is get attacked by a guy who’s publicly masterbating. Which is not a sentence I ever thought I’d type.

So that’s all for now. I will be sure to post updates if anything exciting happens with The Umbrellabator. Till then, have a great day, and if you happen to be in the Shahe University area and it’s raining, do not accept any offers from this man to stand under his umbrella.

4 Delightful Dishes From Xi’an’s Muslim District

xian muslim quarterSo about a week ago, my friends and I went down to visit Xi’an, in the northwest part of China. Last week I wrote a bit about the underwhelming Terracotta Warriors, and today I thought I’d write a little about the food in Xi’an. Because, it seems, every different area in China is famous for its food, and Xi’an is no different.

But Xi’an’s food isn’t as distinct as, say, Sichuan’s. There aren’t a lot of loud spices or bold tastes. Xi’an cuisine seems to be more about well cooked meats and tends to center largely around street food. Everything is cheap. Really super cheap. Even the sit-down restaurants we went to were cheap, including a famous dumpling one that was jammed with people. Since we were only in Xi’an for two days, I didn’t have a ton of time to sample the different dishes, although I did my best, and here are the highlights:

xian rou jia mo1. Rou Jia Mo – Anyone coming to Xi’an needs to stuff one of these little Chinese hamburgers into his or her face as soon as possible. Because they’re absolutely delicious. There’s not much to it – just beef or pork in a sort of pita bread. But the meat is cooked so well and is so flavorful, it turns out to be a real treat. I only ate one because I wanted to eat the crab on a stick, and for this I might be forever filled with regret (see crab on a stick comments below).

2. Beef or Lamb Pao Mo – Pao Mo is a funny dish because it requires a little bit of work. Pao Mo is basically just a soup with meat in it, but the thing that sets it apart is the process. See, when you order Pao Mo, first you get an empty bowl with some bread in it. You must then spend the next 5-10 minutes shredding the bread with your fingers and filling the bowl with it. Here are my girlfriend Feng Deng’s fingers as she does this.

xian breaking bread

Then once the bread is all ripped up, you get your broth and noodles and choice of meat. The bread soaks up the broth but doesn’t get soggy and disgusting like Rice Krispies sometimes do. Instead the bread retains a nice taste and goes very well with the noodles and meat. Overall, I wasn’t blown away by Pao Mo, although I did enjoy it and I do believe it’s a must for anyone going to Xi’an.

xian soup

xian crab on stick3. Fried Soft Shell Crab on a Stick – This was the one thing that didn’t turn out so great. I was really excited to try this since it looked so intense. Three small soft shelled crabs, put onto a stick and friend in oil. How could it possibly be bad? Well, it was. The crab had virtually no taste and dripped with oil. It also stunk. Feng Deng and I made the mistake of taking these on the train to eat on the ride back, and we seriously stunk that place up. On the good side, I will say the texture was decent and it wasn’t difficult to eat. So if you want to eat bland crab off a stick, do it baby.

4. Ja San Soup Pau – So, here you have it. I saved the best for last. The soup dumplings at the famous Ja San Soup Pau were, for me, the absolute highlight of the foods I had in Xi’an. The restaurant is really popular and packed with soup dumpling lovers; Feng Deng and I had to share our table with another couple we’d never met before (and who, I must add, seemed to like each other far less than we like each other).

xian dumpling place


The restaurant is also extremely loud as the staff basically scream out orders across the place. All that said, once the food comes, you’re in for a treat. These were probably the most delicious dumplings I’ve ever had. They’re filled with soup and the soup makes the meat really tender and moist. We had the traditional standard dumplings and the chicken and shrimp dumplings too. Both were excellent, though the traditional ones truly brought joy to my Western mouth. I’m not sure why this hasn’t caught on and soup dumplings aren’t served everywhere. They’re fantastic, and the high point of a night strolling around Muslim Street.

xian dumplings

Of course there are more famous foods on Muslim Street. Hand stretched noodles. Yellow fruit rice cake. Giant spicy chaunr on thick sticks. It’s a cool place to go. Sadly, now I’m back at my apartment, so I guess it’s back to soggy Rick Krispies.

Same Shirt, Different Day

ps shirt one

I saw him again today. He probably knows I’m staring at him, can see the disapproval in my eyes. He never looks back at me, always keeps his head down. Today he had the shirt on again, the bright green one. It’s been two weeks now. If I was a stronger, more confident man, I’d rip it right off his back.

For several justifiable reasons.

REASON #1: About a month ago, someone made a note on the whiteboard in the front of my apartment building about clothes donations. In fact, that’s all it said. “Clothes Donations.” And then there was an arrow pointing at the floor under the whiteboard. So I went and took all the shirts I don’t love any longer out of my closet and placed them there. Under the arrow. The green shirt was one of them. And then a few weeks later, I saw him wearing it.

Who is he? He’s the husband of the desk lady that works in my apartment building, which wasn’t really who I had in mind. Clothes donations? I assumed they were going to some poor Chinese workers in the village by our school. Not to the husband of the desk lady. That’s like donating your body to science and then learning it was taken by a crazy club-footed lab assistant who wanted new feet.

“Say, Seymour, do you know where that body disappeared to? And what happened to your limp?”

REASON #2: Two weeks, man. He’s been wearing my shirt every day for two weeks straight. Like it’s all he has. Like he’s a cartoon character. Like he’s been sentenced to wear for all of eternity by Nickelodeon.

ps shirt threeWhich brings us to the larger issue. See, back at home in the USA, it would be considered embarrassing to wear the same thing two days in a row. It just doesn’t happen. Wearing the same thing two days consecutively implies laziness and possible poverty. It would almost be like coming to work with a different hairstyle every day. People would find it odd and off-putting. That’s sort of how things work in an American office. The hair stays consistent, and the clothes always alter.

But that is not how they roll in China. From what I’ve gathered, it’s pretty common to wear the same outfit multiple days in a row. The Chinese teachers at my school constantly wear the same thing, sometimes three or four days straight. It’s kind of funny. A teacher will show up wearing a bright, colorful dress, and I’ll be like, “Wow, that’s a beautiful dress!”

And then the next day it’s the same dress. And the next day. And then I feel like the strong aesthetic value of that particular dress is actually having a negative impact overall, because the thing is too noticeable, too conspicuous to wear three days in a row. Maybe if it was a dull black shirt and some grey jeans, then I’d look past it without paying attention.

“Say, hasn’t Zheng Zheng been wearing the same thing for a month?”

“I dunno. Maybe. Or maybe she just has multiple black shirts.”

But when you wear your Oscar night dress for a whole week, it’s a bit obvious. I sometimes go over to the person and quietly inform them that I’ve noticed.

“You really like that dress, huh?”

ps same shirt twoThe funny thing, I guess, is that I’m not that much better. I mean, it’s not like I have an endless closet. I basically wear the same rotation of dress shirts and pants every week. The key, though, is that I change the dress shirt each day, which, in my mind, adds spark and variety.

“What should I wear today?” I’ve asked Feng Deng on occasion.

“Wear what you wore yesterday,” she’ll say. “It looked good.”

“But I wore it yesterday.”


I’m not sure how to answer this.

“It will look weird. I’ll seem dirty.”

“What are you talking about? It’s not dirty. You only wore it one day.”

I know it’s true, but still.

Is it the cleanliness? Is it the monotony? What is it in Western thinking that says wearing the same shirt twice in a row is wrong? Is uncool? What is it that makes me cringe every time I see the desk girl’s husband, walking around in the same green shirt from Uniqlo?

I believe, after having thought about this, that it boils down to the great fear that my life isn’t going anywhere. That every day is just a dull repetition of the last. That my whole existence is just a skipping record, one where the same song spins endlessly. Wearing the same shirt every day is basically conceding to the idea that one day is no different from the next. It’s saying that today is the same as yesterday, and that tomorrow will replicate both. Each time that dude wears the green Uniqlo shirt, he reminds me that two weeks of my life have gone by, and nothing especially interesting has really happened.

Which is depressing.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll drop another shirt off under the white board. Just to give him another option, and to let him know that there’s hope.

A Loser of Great Intrigue

ps censor time

Today is the first time I’ve written in more than a week. Some of that is my fault. Laziness. Apathy. The desire to watch more than one movie in a day. But part of this is also China’s fault.

Those blog-hating bastards.

See, in China, a lot of websites are blocked by the government. Facebook is blocked. YouTube is blocked. XXXbunker is blocked. And any site related to WordPress is also blocked. I’ve actually tried to start a blog on an unblocked site in China, and it’s virtually impossible. This is because China has a deep impulse to control the flow of information, and thus they hate blogs. There are no bloggers in China. There are no amateur press people or TMZ, no Zhang Wei Hilton. And when I don’t have a VPN, there is no Parking Space 37 either.

Which was the case this weekend. I was at Feng Deng’s place and I didn’t bring my laptop. So there was no writing to be done, since this website was impossible to access. Instead, I sat around and watched the movie ‘200 Cigarettes’ – which I’ve wanted to watch for years but never did and now I realize that it took me almost 2 decades to watch a movie that really sucks – and then at night Feng Deng’s friends came over and we all got pretty drunk.

It’s weird hanging out with Feng Deng’s friends. They’re all in their late twenties or early thirties, and most of them sell cars. They drink a lot and none of them speak English. When we hang out with Feng Deng’s friends, I basically just sit there and do a lot of nodding. Since I can’t speak Chinese, there’s not much communication happening between them and me. Our interactions are limited to smiles, thumbs ups, and clanking our beer glasses together.

But something struck me as interesting the other night. Feng Deng’s friends were talking about me, and thus Feng Deng translated what they were saying. They said that I seemed like a really interesting person. Someone artistic. Someone of depth. Someone who had more to offer the world than an occasional thumbs up.

This, you know, got me thinking. I mean, really, I’m not that confident that I do have much more to offer the world than some nodding and a solid high five. Once in awhile I have my moments, those small incidents of exceptionalism where I say something witty or vaguely insightful. But would they – would I – live up to the expectations of Feng Deng’s friends? I’m not sure. I thought about how it could be possible that being quiet and having emotive eyebrows just might trump the ability to express oneself.

A lot of times, people take a sunny point of view in regards to not speaking a language. “Oh, if they could only understand me, then they’d really like me! They’d see how funny and warm I am!” People are optimistic like that. As for me, a true pessimist, I see it the other way. I think if we all understood each other, we’d probably end up liking each other a lot less. Because I’ve met literally thousands of people in my lifetime that I was able to understand, and how many friends do I have?

Maybe 20?

That’s like 980 people that didn’t make the cut. So what are the chances that Feng Deng’s Chinese friends would end up liking me if they all knew exactly what I was saying? I’m guessing that the chances would be less than they are now, when we all just drink in silence.

And to that degree, maybe China’s onto something. No Facebook. No WordPress. No Twitter. No overdoing it, no supersaturation of opinions. Of our thoughts. There’s no venue for ranting, no place for shared Huffington Post articles or ill-informed dating advice or brief judgemental statements followed by hashtags.

Nope. There’s only those quick bursts of short WeChat moments, baby pictures and flattering selfies. In the West, our freedom of expression, maybe it’s turned into a need to express, a real and true need to share one’s full opinions. And that need is thoroughly absent here in China.

Which could be why Feng Deng’s friends look at my drunk and red foreigner face and wrongly think that there’s something interesting lurking there, behind my flushed cheeks. That there are some words of staggering brilliance dangling like a hanged man at the end of my useless tongue.