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.

A Sense of Belonging in Aisle Four

Grocery StoreAbout a year ago, my girlfriend Fang Deng confessed to me that she hadn’t eaten breakfast in about a decade, and as a result we headed to the grocery store to rectify this problem. She was living in Beijing at the time, and on the weekends I would stay at her place as a guest. And as her guest, I had to take credit for getting the ball rolling on the breakfast thing, because simply having a guest over at one’s apartment can really help a person get their shit together. I, for instance, didn’t clean my apartment at all for months until Fang Deng first came over to visit me. Then in those few days before she showed up, my brain suddenly switched on, and I found myself sweeping the dust off of my windowsills and taking out the trash left from 2014.

It was about eight o’clock at night when we arrived at the grocery store, and I was surprised by how packed the place was. There were loads of people, all quietly floating through the aisles or weighing fruit on that little silver fruit scale thing. Fang Deng kept asking me what to get for breakfast but I wasn’t sure, as Chinese grocery stores don’t always stock cereal that my Western tastes deem as edible.

We kept walking around, and I kept looking at the people shopping for groceries along with us on a Saturday night. There was an old man with a goofy newsboy hat walking around super slow with a plastic bag full of avocados. Then there were two women in hiking gear shopping with big smiles on their faces. A gang of old women chatted idly by the checkouts. A weathered looking guy with eyes so small they looked like pin pricks slowly glided across the floor with an enormous jug of cooking oil.

I looked at all these people and it made me feel nice. This is why I’ve always liked grocery stores. Loved them, even. Because, man, there was a time in my life when I went through a terrible, dark depression the likes of which I hope to never see again. During that time, I fell into a deep cave of loneliness and despair. Few places could take me away from that feeling. I’d go to bars and find a few desperate people sitting around drinking in silence, and it would just bum me out more. Or I’d go to church and feel like an imposter, an outsider, someone who had to smile a lot in order to hide his true feelings of agnostic uncertainty and being-around-religious-people uneasiness. Or I’d go to the library and the heaviness of the books mixed with the general absence of people would immediately make me think about death and late fees.

But the grocery store was never like that. It was different. The grocery store, it seemed, was my one true respite from all the weariness. There’s happiness in the grocery store. Life. You buy food with a small sense of excitement, glad to know you’re doing something that will keep you living. Everything is bright in the grocery store and inoffensive pop music plays at a very reasonable volume. There are always people in the grocery store, too, always doing exactly what you’re doing. And there’s no social pressure, none whatsoever, in the grocery store. You don’t have to talk to anybody, nobody is going to try to be your friend, and there’s no self-imposed pressure to meet girls. Nope, you can simply walk around in the midst of lots of other people while pushing along a big massive metal cart, feeling a tiny sense of belonging that you can’t seem to find anywhere else.

Fang Deng eventually settled on yogurt and pears. We left the bright grocery store and stepped back out onto the dark street, where a few people were smoking cigarettes and some dogs ran around playfully biting each other. Breakfast was secured, my sense of belonging in the world was rejuvenated and, as we walked home, my girlfriend reached out and took one of my hands, the plastic grocery bag gently swaying in the other.

Romance & Coupons

1.pic_hdToday marks the one year anniversary of my current relationship. Yes, time has gone by fast as a Ramones record, and I have now been dating the same woman for 365 days. But, since today is a Sunday, we celebrated our anniversary yesterday and she’s back at her apartment now. I mean, really, who wants to celebrate anything on a Sunday? Personally, I can’t be truly happy unless the prospect of going to work is at least one full day away.

So, how does a couple in Beijing celebrate their one year anniversary? We decided to book a table at one of Beijing’s most well-known fancy restaurants – Temple Restaurant Beijing. When we arrived, I realized that the restaurant actually is in an old temple. One would think the name would give that away, but I didn’t connect the dots.

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See, it’s one of a great maze of temples and there are monk statues outside. One of the things I found weird was that our reservation came with a coupon. Yes, a coupon. Maybe this is a sign of my age, because a coupon just has such bad connotations for me. One uses a coupon to get thirty cents off a box of cereal, not to dine at an upscale restaurant. The coupon would go on to dictate our meal and, although I was apprehensive about it, that turned out just fine.

Now, I’ve noticed that there isn’t a lot of content on the Internet regarding Beijing’s restaurants (not very in-depth at least), so I thought I’d do a little run down of what we experienced at Temple. Here’s how our night went:

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The coupon got us both three course meals with wine pairings. First course was pumpkin soup for her and a caramelised onion for me. Both were nice and the wine pairings were excellent.

4.pic_hd9.pic5.pic_hdCourse Two. The restaurant surprised us with free salmon. Then I got the white tuna with a sweet fruity sauce and she got crab wrapped in carpaccio. All three dishes were excellent and better than the appetizers. The coupon was kicking ass!

6.pic_hd7.pic_hdMain Courses. She got the sea bass (good but not great) and I got the steak (fantastic). We had exhausted the coupon but were not ready to call it a night, and so we ordered chocolate melting cake for desert.

8.pic_hdI have to say, I was highly impressed with Temple Restaurant Beijing. We’ve gone to a lot of the nicer restaurants in Beijing and our experience here was one of the best. And, to be honest, also one of the most modestly priced, due to the ridiculously helpful coupon. The service was good, although the wait staff don’t all speak English (which was a little surprising) and my girlfriend (who is Chinese) had to do most of the ordering. We both left stuffed and slightly boozy, which is exactly how I want to feel leaving a place.

Tomorrow our relationship begins its second year. So hooray for us.