Friday, August 04, 2006


So Clarissa, a woman who has the most powerful effect on me – intoxicating, captivating, maddening.

As are they all, she was a student in class; but she was, is, nothing like the average student. I’d written up a bunch of adjectives on the board (or ‘abjectives’ as I now think of them, after Tingting’s neologism – Tingting who, to my surprise and delight, is now back in my life again) one of which I’d misspelled. Now this happens fairly frequently (not because I am illiterate but rather because I tend to talk and write at the same time, and thus my concentration lapses) and students almost never point it out, even when the error is egregious, at which point I’ll turn it into a little homily, telling them this passive approach will not do in the West. But Clarissa, bold and confident, raised her hand and pointed it out.

And thus began my admiration for her.

Among the hundreds – thousands – of students who have come and gone, she stands out with total clarity. Even the word I spelled wrong – ‘choas’ for ‘chaos’ -- glitters bright in my mind, burnished by memories of her, and each time I write it in a class she is uppermost on my mind. Equally vivid in my mind is how, at the end of the second class, she stayed behind after to ask me some vocabulary, wondering how to say ‘小便’ (‘to piss’)

Perhaps these foundations to our relationship have shaped the edifice we have created together; bold, straightforward, honest – but also sexy, secret, intimate.

Both these elements were right there at the beginning -- the sex so much so that even that first time she talked with me after class I had to pull down my jumper. Hoping to get to know her outside the class, she was one of the rare few (like Deedee) to whom I gave my card.

Sometime later, when she messaged me online from Guilin, I failed to recognize it was her. But the next time she did so, I worked it out… and our conversation rose from the polite to the excitable – stoked in part by her, asking me if I had heard of the term ‘MBA.’

‘Master of Business Administration…?’

‘Married but Available.’

And from there our conversation grew more open. She is an adventurous sort, having had an older, richer, married lover before she got married. This is unusual, even with all China’s much-touted modernity. Many people here still marry their first boyfriend or girlfriend, and a sizeable proportion are virgins when they marry.

Clarissa told me how she had felt deeply for this guy, but how their relationship had come to nothing, he unable to be anything more than a lover, his social position ruling out any possibility of something more permanent between them.

This is something I have found time and again in Chinese women; their great openness – even need – to talk about their emotional lives; to talk of love, sex, of romance and passion, of affairs and cheating, of desires hidden and hopes quelled.

It’s not because I am especially sensitive, or profound (and certainly not trustworthy) – it is rather that there is just no outlet for this in their Chinese life; they cannot talk about it with Chinese men. (On which note: I do tend to make these sweeping statements about Chinese men, and such generalizations are often unwise. But while I do not mean to say that all Chinese guys are alike (far from it) I do still feel there are traits that many have in common. And this rather limp approach to love and passion is one of them, as is a rather antediluvian attitude to women. Frequently in class I ask my male students, ‘If in the future, when you were married, your wife earned more than you, how would you feel?’ About 70% of them tell me they would feel uneasy, or humiliated, and that it is the man’s duty to earn more than the woman. I will then ask the women what they think of that, and their most general answer is something along the lines of ‘It’s an absurd attitude but that is what guys are like.’ I will also often ask, ‘If your wife had a better job than you, and asked you to stay home to look after your child, would you?’ Utter shock unrolls across the student’s face at the thought of this, at its (to him) sheer absurdity. (It is as ludicrous a proposition to him as if I said ‘Taiwan is not part of China.’ Taiwan is of course part of China, just as it is a woman who should raise the kids. That there could be any other truth to the matter is simply inconceivable.) The women students generally roar with laughter too, at the idea that a Chinese guy could ever be relaxed enough about himself to do this. As with money, so with education. A Chinese guy, in general, will not be comfortable with a woman who has a higher education than him. Thus the saying current here, ‘In China there are three genders – men, women, and women with PhDs.’)

And thus, later, when Clarissa and I met face to face (a meeting she suggested, to my deep joy) our conversation soon dived beyond the trivial, down into these emotional depths, the truths she needed to tell. She’d suggested meeting near Shanghai’s Donghu Hotel, a venue in which, just a few weeks before, I had been running down another unhappily married woman, Carole. She too is one I never got (for in truth my hits are more than my misses) and has since dropped out of sight wholly. This Carole was, at the time, on the verge of initiating divorce and, later, sent me semi-cryptic text messages suggesting she had initiated it. But despite my replies I never saw her again.

No great matter for that (though I still think of her, for, having not got her, she is more stuck in my mind than she would be if I had). To my wolvish pleasure, the Donghu Hotel was, at that time, just near the very bar for my plans, JZ, a jazz club which has since relocated (and which is mentioned here. This rather good site clued me into the fact they had a new singer for Monday nights and thus, last week, when Kay (a woman worth an entry who I will get round to soon) wanted me to take her out for an evening, to cheer her in her misery (caused by her married lover’s casual treatment of her) that was where I chose. JZ is a sexy sort of place, good for a seduction, and as there is a sexual thing between Kay and me, it was a fine choice.)

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