Friday, November 09, 2007

So, China Dirt #1

For the last few weeks I’ve been reading Chinadirt, where expat women are invited to tell their ‘horror stories from the front lines’ Headlining with a cliché isn’t the best way to make a reader stick around; no more is ‘wierd’ for ‘weird’ and ‘diasterous’ for ‘disastrous.’ Such solecisms may be overlooked in a hurried entry but in the permanent text of a site it might make one suspect sloppy writers are sloppy thinkers.

But no matter to that -- let us look beyond mere pedantry (for I am sure in the many thousands of words below I have made one or two errors) to the meat of the thing.

Here’s ‘The Running Man’:-

You came along when I was slaving away at a job in which each day felt like a tour through every layer of Dante's Inferno. You were like a breath of fresh air rushing through lungs that were drying out from ten hours a day in hell. You taught me to relax. You taught me there was more to life than work, work, work. You assured me that it was OK and even noble to enjoy life.

You seemed to live life so well. "He seems so calm, so happy, so Zen," I thought to myself, "whereas I'm always frantic and stressed." Looking around at the stacks of reports and screen full of unanswered work emails that made up my life, I realized that my long hours in the eternally 23 degrees celsius office had robbed me of the knowledge of even what season it was outside. I decided you, with your carefree manner, jovial laugh and long nights spent bonding with friends, had a better way. Almost spiritual.

I learned a lot from my time with you. I learned to live in the moment. I learned to put friends ahead of meetings. I learned that an extra hour of intimate late night conversation is well worth being tired the next day. I learned to leave work behind when I exit the office.

But the biggest lesson I learned is that you're not the deep, spiritual, life-embracing man I thought you were. You're just a scared little boy.

And then ‘Requiem to a Relationship’:-

Though only a month back, I feel slightly alien when thinking about my New Years resolution. “Ok, me,” I thought, “enough of this relationship hopping. It’s time to refocus on yourself. You can’t avoid the ache of being alone forever.” And then he came along with and in feeling him wrap around me I thought that it would be different this time around, it would be better, it would last. Why worry about the cycle when this was obviously going to be the one that would break it? And so, I dipped my toe back into the pool and was so swelled with hope that I didn’t even realize when I fell in. I didn’t even realize that I started drowning in the idealism of him and me until it was too late.

Then the relationship stopped, killed softly in its sleep with a whimper. Aborted before it was ever even alive, and all the hope that I had been bottling into it floated out dead and limp in a puddle of tears. Then before I knew it, the near decade of hazy transitions fell on me at full force, slamming me with eight years of repressed heartache.

And so on it goes, expat woman after expat woman complaining about what toads and bugs we expat men are, what goats and monkeys.

We know this. This is not news to us.

Of course the most of us are sleazy. Yes, we chase, chase and chase some more and when we get a woman it never satisfies us; of course we treat China as a paradise. Of course; we are gods here and no matter how aged, halt or hopeless we look in the mirror and we see Dionysius, Apollo; we look with the eyes of what Chinese culture allows us to be. Why would we not?

Running Man – So you’re looking for Virgil to lead you out of the Inferno – and god knows you need the advice on poetics too. But the guy you found doesn’t want to be your guide, he’s no Virgil, no. You placed the hatred you have for your job square on his shoulders. But need scares men. We don’t want it. Do you think he wanted to be your savior? It is no wonder he ran. And then when he didn’t measure up to your impossible expectations you cursed him. Oh, I understand why and you’ve got the right of it, no doubt; he is scared, sure, returning the ticket of commitment, thank-you, and leaving. He is a little boy. As are we all.

Requiem for a Relationship – Just like the ‘Running Man’ you have all this need in you, this hunger, and you dump it all on the shoulders of the guy. You see him as what you want him to be, not as what he is, and all your need, your hunger, your vacuum – all on him, all buckling and crushing him. And you seem to know it now, I’ll give you that – ‘I didn’t even realize that I started drowning in the idealism of him and me until it was too late.’ Maybe I misunderstood your writing, but you apparently indicate you knew this guy for less than a month, decided he was the answer to all your needs and then – could you not see it coming? – the relationship was ‘aborted before it was ever even alive.’ Of course it was; you killed it. I tell you, every guy who reads what you wrote – every single one of us – will think just as I thought (for there is little I think that is new) – ‘Thank fuck I never met her’ and ‘Wow, imagine dating a woman like that!’

Get out of your bathtub of self-indulgent mush, stop feeling so damn sorry for yourself and act like a responsible member of the human race. Spine - Spine - Spine! Then we won’t be running away from you because fuck knows, just reading your tense, brittle text, I’m lacing up my Nikes to follow the runner above.

I had a friend, very dear to me, and she gave me this advice: Think of the blue whale. This is not as glib nor absurd as it might sound. ‘Imagine being almost the last of your kind,’ she said, ‘Hunted close to extinction, your environment poisoned. Imagine that.’ And it works, it really does. Think of where you are and where you could be, and it’s pretty easy to say ‘fuck this’ to your maunderings (as this friend did to me, later, though that is another story…)

And ‘Fuck this’ is worth exploring some, for it is at the heart of our experience as expats in China. It is at the heart of what it is to be a male – or at least a male expat in China. We are here and we date Chinese women because we have said ‘fuck this’ to the expectations of dating in the West.

Ah, yes, turning our backs on the West. And here the ‘loser back home’ trope comes in, and what a lazy bit of writing that is. From the site:

Sometimes I feel like one of the main reasons expat guys come to China is because life back in their home countries had gone drastically wrong. What? you're over 30 and have never held a real job? Oh? You failed out of university in your second year and don't have any direction in life? Hm? You're addicted to cocaine and are exiled from your home country? Ah? You have mysterious twitches and smell a bit funny?

Now how breathtakingly arrogant – how passingly patronizing. What, China is such a lowball country that any monkey can hold down a job here? China has no standards? Do you think when Western Firm X wants to expand into China they rummage round the garbage cans out back to find some hapless stooge to send? Or do you rather think they reason ‘We gotta spend a shed of cash on this, let’s pick a live one’?

Yes, sure, we treat Chinese women like shit in the large of it, but that is not because we are failed men. It is because we are men. Just men; and China allows the inner nature that every man holds to come to the surface. It allows us to say ‘fuck it’ to the checks and balances of Western dating; and that freedom, which many men do not get, allows our baser side to show – to an extreme. We don’t come here because we’re rotten; it is rather that the inner rot that lies in the core of most men can grow and flourish here. Like a full-acorned boar, we all want to cry O and mount – as ‘Western Girl’ (from Chinadirt) writes:-

If "western girl" means having enough self-respect not to hop into bed with a man I've known for less than six hours in gratitude for one lousy 60 kuai dry martini, then I'm proud to be a hardass Western girl.

I did think to ask ‘So how much would you hop into bed for? A 600 kuai martini? A 6000 kuai bottle of wine?’ – but the truth of it is you’re right to be proud, angered, on your mettle.

Joseph Conrad, an incomparably great writer, one word of his worth ten thousand mine, wrote of a certain kind of Westerner in Asia:-

‘The majority were men who ... had been thrown there by some accident, had remained as officers of country ships. They now had a horror of the home service, with its harder conditions, severer view of duty, and the hazard of stormy oceans. They were attuned to the eternal peace of Eastern sky and sea. They loved short passages, good deck chairs, large native crews, and the privilege of being white. They shuddered at the thought of hard work, and led precariously easy lives, always on the verge of engagement, serving Chinamen, Arabs, half-castes – would have served the devil himself had he made it easy enough. They talked everlastingly of turns of luck: how So-and-so got charge of a boat on the coast of China – a soft thing; and how this one had an easy billet in Japan somewhere, and that one was doing well in the Siamese navy; and in all they said – in their actions, in their looks, in their persons – could be detected the soft spot, the place of decay, the determination to lounge safely through existence.’