Raise the red flag

A drunken night of excess unexpectedly led to a meaningful cultural experience (and some patriotic education for my expat friends in Beijing). Read it here or on China Daily:

http://chinadaily.com.cn/metro/2010-05/28/content_9903381.htm

I have two sets of photographs documenting my patriotic pilgrimages to see the sunrise flag-raising ceremony at Tian’anmen Square.

In the first series of photos, taken circa 1989, I am sporting the standard Chinese girl grade school outfit – blue skirt and white shirt uniform set, plus a tightly pulled ponytail. In most of these photos, I am performing the Young Pioneer salute, right hand sharply raised above my forehead, with a grimace on my face. It was not the patriotic posture that I minded, but the awkward combination of white socks and sandals that the Shuangyushu Central Elementary School had forced me to wear.

The second set of photos, taken just last week, looks wildly different. I am wearing a short dress and high heels (more appropriate for dancing at a night club than for attending to my patriotic duty) and, although you can’t smell it in the digital image, there is most definitely cigarette smoke in my hair. Instead of uniformed Young Pioneers, I’m surrounded by an eclectic group of friends – a tall blond Texan man, an equally blond Arizonan native, and two culturally and ethnically mixed overseas Chinese. In our hands are plastic cups full of beer and imaginary conductor wands, which we wave about as we loudly warble the national anthem.

These were just two of the more memorable occasions when I went to watch the sun and flag rise in the square at an absurd hour. Like hundreds of thousands of my countrymen who make their way to Tian’anmen Square on holidays from near and far, I find something special in the camaraderie of the event.
If nothing else, there on the square, I share a bond with thousands of others who have endured the painful process of appearing awake in public at an hour when everything else sleeps.

Chinese people take the flag raising ceremony very seriously. Although reliable figures for how many people make the sunrise pilgrimage each year are hard to come by, there are reports of a single day peak at 12,000 people on Jan 1, 2009, and an astounding 220,000 people during National Day golden week in 2006.

While the ceremony starts at a shockingly early hour – around 4:45 am in the summer and 7:30 am in the winter – a look around the square on any given day tells you that setting the alarm was peanuts compared to the other trouble that people went through just to be there. When the green guard gives the flag a sharp toss and the five-star red banner unfurls in the wind, most of the excited faces in the crowd are tanned and their happy exclamations shouted in dialect.

To the non-Beijinger, a trip into the capital to witness the flag raising is a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage that carries a near religious significance. Ever since Mao Zedong announced the founding of the People’s Republic of China to a parade of 300,000 on Oct 1, 1949, people have flocked to Tian’anmen Square in the wee hours of the morning.

Nationalism and patriotism are touchy subjects sometimes, as cynics are quick to dismiss any such acts as products of propaganda and political amnesia. Yet, I would argue that it would be a shame not to partake in this unique cultural experience when in Beijing. At the very least, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

I was surprised by how few of my foreign friends who live in the city have taken advantage of their proximity to the square. None of the group that I dragged into a taxi at 4:20 am in Sanlitun and herded down a wide open Chang’an Avenue at 4:40 am last weekend had attended the flag raising ceremony before. Half of them hadn’t even heard of such a thing. Nor have many of my close friends and acquaintances in Beijing made the trek. Even a quick poll of a 500-member strong “serious Sinophile” academic alumni group yielded only a 50 percent hit rate. Most people I asked who knew about the event simply shrugged and said: “I’ve tried to make it, but it’s just too early.”

If the cultural draw and a chance to mingle with 10,000 of “the masses” aren’t enough to persuade you to at least attempt a visit to Tian’anmen Square early in the morning, consider these three good reasons to make it on time:
1. It will be the only time that traffic stops for you to run across 10 lanes to get to the other side of the street
2. The air over the square has some semblance of crisp cleanliness in the extremely early morning hours
3. For once, you can be surrounded by countless country Chinese and not be the center of circus attention (nobody will be looking at you when the trumpets start playing)

And if you’ve tried and failed to see a flag raising ceremony, take these five words of advice: stay up, don’t get up.

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5 big triumphs

It’s been a month since I started the yoga series and behold what little progress I’ve made with it! I’ve only done two posts. But, as consolation, I can assure you that your faithful yogi-writer has been busy in the studio perfecting her moves and finding her banda’s.

Last time, I wrote about the mini triumphs in yoga, those small moments of elation you get from just breathing or standing right. Today, I’d like to share my five favorite “big triumphs” in yoga. Remember, I’ve only practiced seriously for one year, so my biggies may not be as big as the self-contorting pro’s.

1. Getting your toes off the ground in “crow.” It sounds absolutely insane the first time you hear an instructor calmly say, “Put your knees on your elbows. Lift one foot off the ground. Now lift the other.” Crow looks like a hunched over flying maneuver and is embarrassing as hell to practice. The starting point is a very unaesthetic squat and the failed attempts land you flat on your face with legs splayed out behind. But like many awesome looking yoga moves, crow is less about brute strength and more about finding that delicate balance. I felt sheer euphoria one unexpected day when I lifted one leg and, oopsie daisy, up came the other one as lightly as a feather! There I was, perched in the middle of my mat on with knees on elbows. I imagined the rest of the room stopping to gape in awe and applaud my finesse.

2. Belly to thigh: the forward bend. My favorite Aussie-Zimbabwean instructor, Matt, said this in a class recently as he directed us into sitting forward bends, “If you can’t reach your toes with your hands, don’t worry about it, just bend your knees. If you’re really flexible, you can press your belly to your thighs. The very talented few will bring their foreheads to their feet.” Chuckles, muffled into thighs, knees, and shins (no one in class was among the “talented few” who might have laughed into their toes) went up around the room. When I first started doing yoga seriously a year ago, I could barely touch my toes with my fingers, so I cheated with a towel. As time went by, I learned how to “breathe into the move” and also to elongate my body from the inside (imagine hollowing out your body by lifting your organs up). Voila, now I can press my belly to my thighs on a good day. I’m still working on the head-to-foot bit though.

3. Leap of faith: “crow” to “chaturanga.” Yoga is a thoroughly humbling experience. Just when you think you’ve rocked a move, you discover a little fine-tuning that makes takes you back to square one. Somehow, angling your foot a slightly different way (in the correct way) makes your whole posture fall apart. Other times, it’s the modifications that take an already difficult move to a whole different level. Shortly after I had the “crow” down pat, my instructor started saying, “From crow, lift your knees off your elbows and jump back to chaturanga.” Woman, are you kidding me!? Jump from a hunched over flying maneuver into a half push-up without breaking the bridge of my nose? For a few months I struggled and alternatingly squashed my nose, or gave up and crawled out of my crow in defeat. The stunning failures only made personal victory that much sweeter on the day that I did finally send my legs flying through the air behind me.

4. Toe stand: look Ma, no hands! In my “5 small triumphs” piece I wrote about the simple satisfaction of a solid “tree” pose. When you’re ready to take it up a notch, your instructor will be more than happy to bring on the additional challenge of a toe stand. You start in standing tree pose with your legs in “half lotus”, reach your hands upward, stretch them out and down in front of you, then bring your entire body weight to bear on your toes. Yes, you’re “sitting” in “half lotus”, with hands in “prayer” in front of your heart, trying to not wobble on your big toe. This is a fun little exercise, less of a challenge than the “flying” balance moves, but tricky enough that it makes you want to try it again and again, until you finally get that light balance just right.

5. The handstand, the ultimate victory. Without getting into ridiculously advanced poses, like “peacock”, I think the envy of every new yoga student is the effortless-looking handstands that their neighbors lift into at the end of class. It’s gravity defying, gracefully straight, and the lucky few who can do it just look so damned comfortable as they perform this incredible feat. I’m still working on my handstand, but each little milestone along the way has given me a natural high. From learning to support myself on my head and elbows, to teetering into a half “tripod”, to squirming my way up while leaning against a supporting wall, to finally realizing that it is really as easy as just lifting your legs into the air when you do find the balance. Just this week my teacher revolutionized my whole approach when she told me to stop using momentum to propel my legs up. In firm Chinese “tough love” fashion, she barked, “Don’t try to swing your legs into it! And don’t lift one leg at a time either! Trust yourself, walk both legs up at once!” She was right, once I trusted myself, my legs came up as though I were a puppet pulled by master strings from above. Signing off now to go practice trusting myself some more before I forget the wonderful sensation!

To the opera

It’s art festival season in Beijing — photography, electronica, everything French, and opera. I went to catch “Carmen,” against the advice of more cultured friends who can comment on the quality of local productions. The show was great. The audience, not so much. Read it here or on China Daily:

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/metro/2010-05/14/content_9850443.htm


It’s summer and, along with gorgeous flora, the Beijing arts scene is blooming. Music festivals in the parks, visiting dance troupes, and theater productions are all there deliciously waiting for the partaking.

I’m glad that despite all the hoopla over its titanium-reinforced glass exterior and egg-like shape, the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) was actually built. Now I can watch opera, like I would at The Met in New York or the Esplanade in Singapore.

Two weeks ago, I impulsively bought tickets to see Carmen. Right after clicking the “purchase” button on Piao.com.cn, I panicked with buyer’s remorse. I knew nothing about the performers, hadn’t read any reviews, and didn’t bother to find out whether the NCPA’s productions were faithful. (A cultured friend panned the latter, which didn’t help allay my fears).

But when opera night rolled around, I learned that the performers’ operatic chops should have been the last of my concerns. Audience etiquette was the main issue.

While brilliant arias were being sung on stage, quite a separate show was happening off-stage. It started with the audience seating. Locating the right aisle and teetering down steep theater stairs is difficult (especially for a lady in heels) in any opera house, but it was especially challenging at NCPA because of all the “sightseers”.

I’m used to opera-goers purposefully finding their spots and efficiently working through the pre-show routine: arranging themselves comfortably, switching off mobile phones, unwrapping cough drops to avoid crinkling cellophane once the music starts, and perusing the program book. However, here, audience members were milling about, comparison-shopping for seats, taking group photos, and even testing the durability of the handrails.

I was relieved when the lights dimmed, for it forced everyone to take a seat (though not everyone took their assigned seat).

The orchestra started playing the overture as stragglers continued to stream in late and kick out any free riding “seat upgraders” occupying their rightful places. I was ready for show, but the sightseers were not. People continued to chat, greet each other, and express audible wonder at being in an opera house. This audience paid less respect to the overture than I’ve seen moviegoers give attention to previews.

I wanted to say something to a particularly loud group of eight men seated a few rows behind me. They were sporting the “Chinese tourist uniform” of dress pants, dress shirt, and dress shoes. Had it not been for their evident excitement and southern accents, I wouldn’t have known they were here as visitors. But I reasoned that if I shouldn’t add to the noise level with a confrontation. Plus, once the curtains went up they would probably quiet down.

The velour drapes parted to reveal a dazzling set of a Sevillian square. Buxom women in sumptuous skirts strolled about stage, languorously flirting with dashing military men. I was already entranced.

A flash and a shutter click quickly snapped me out of my operatic reverie. The Fujian contingent behind me had started digitally documenting the Sevillian scene in front of me. Although security looks tight at the NCPA – metal detectors, bag scans, and thorough searches – many cameras and all camera phones make it past the checkpoints. Now they were coming out of man purses in full force. The only thing that could’ve made the misuse of cellular technology worse at this point was if the opera house hadn’t blocked reception. Imagine obnoxious ring tones going off in accompaniment to the flashing cameras during Act One.

As annoying and inappropriate as the picture taking was, I figured the novelty would wear off. And it did, after an initial round, only to be replaced by exaggerated gasps of surprise and derisive chuckles at the dramatic Spanish romance unfolding on stage. An appreciative audience is one thing; one that adds its own soundtrack of responses is another.

At this point, the serious gentleman next to me couldn’t stand it any longer. He turned around and issued a firm whisper to the sightseers – “Could you please keep your voices down?” In the dark, I made a secret fist pumping motion. Finally, someone was brave enough to speak my mind!

Yet, instead of quieting down, the well-intentioned warning actually triggered a “shush war”. Not only did the offending audience members continue to chatter with unembarrassed nonchalance, everyone else felt justified to start loudly admonishing them. The exchanges resembled what you would hear in a farmer’s market brawl:

“Be quiet! If you want to chat, just leave!”

“What kind of manners do you have? If you don’t know how to watch a show, then don’t come to the theatre!”

“Shhhhh! Shhhhh! Shhhhhhhhh!”

It was too much for me. By the time Don Jos had wrestled Carmen to the ground in the impassioned final act, I could hardly wait to leave. And then I realized that I was about to commit an opera etiquette faux pas myself – hurrying out of the theater before the standing ovations were done.

One of my favorite people in Beijing

I sat down with beautiful Sophia, yogi extraordinaire and owner of Om Yoga 42, to talk to her about bringing Bikram to Beijing more than six years ago. Read it here or on China Daily:

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/metro/2010-05/21/content_9877848.htm

Q: What did you do before you became a yogi?

A: I was a pianist and once studied marketing. Actually, my background is rather “messy”. My mother was a pianist, so I started playing piano when I was three. I studied it all the way through university, at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, but I hated it. I quit playing after graduating. I wanted to do something completely different. At the time, business and marketing were in fashion, so I went to Canada to study marketing.

Q: Where does yoga come in?

A: A month after giving birth to my son, I was desperate to lose the 30 kg I had gained during pregnancy. A friend told me about a hot yoga studio. At the time, Bikram yoga was new to Canada. During the first class, I was shocked by how inflexible my body was and was amazed by the other students. I liked the challenge yoga presented. I kept going back, six days a week, and lost the weight in four months. My favorite instructor noticed that I was the most regular student and he suggested yoga teacher training to me, which I did. When I came to Beijing for a family issue, I searched everywhere for a place to practise yoga. That’s when I discovered that Bikram yoga didn’t exist here.

Q: Is that what prompted you to build your yoga business?

A: The idea of building a business didn’t even occur to me. There was no market for yoga six and a half years ago. I just wanted a place to practice for myself. A lot of my friends in Beijing saw how different I looked and wanted to learn yoga. We got together to design a loft studio at 798 and I started teaching friends. Every day, one friend would bring another, and people kept coming. They started asking: “Why don’t you open the studio to the public?” In 2005, I moved the studio to this location at Lido. That’s how it started.

Q: What were the challenges with introducing an “exotic” form of exercise here?

A: I had the most difficulty with student etiquette. Elsewhere, yoga is not considered a service business, but in China people think of it as service. People show up late for classes and argue when they are refused entry. In North America, people know that if you are late, you can’t disturb the class, so you just have to leave.

Q: Who are your students?

A: In the early days, Faye Wong, Na Ying, Zhao Wei, Tao Hong, and other celebrities were coming to me. Nowadays, a lot of younger actors and models take classes at the studio. I don’t really know all of them because I have about 200 to 300 regular students.

Q: Why do you think people become so addicted to yoga?

A: People come for all kinds of reasons. Some of them mainly want to keep fit, to look good. Others are concerned about their health; they want to undo the effects of pollution. Some people do yoga to clear their minds.

Q: There are now many bilingual yoga studios in Beijing. How do you explain your loyal following?

A: The most important thing in yoga is finding the right class and the right teacher. When I started the studio I wanted the best teachers, but there weren’t many people doing yoga in China at the time. I personally trained my instructors and they continue to learn. My instructors have traveled to India to attend yoga conferences and training, as well as locally, and one of them was one of my first students in Beijing.

Q: There are hardly any men among your staff and students. Why is that?

A: I think it’s a cultural thing. In Hong Kong or North America, you see a lot of male yoga students. On the Chinese mainland, normal guys think yoga is a “girly” thing. It’s partly due to a lack of knowledge about yoga and partly due to a lack of awareness of exercise among Chinese men. What I see here is that people who want to exercise can’t afford it, but those who can -the business people – think it’s a waste of time.

Q: Yoga is becoming increasingly popular in China. Where do you think it’s headed?

A: Yoga is still not very professional on Chinese mainland. A lot of studios see a good thing and try to copy it. You can build a studio that looks good, but you can’t copy the quality that comes with experienced teachers. Shanghai is more mature than Beijing in yoga. My dream is that one day China will have its own large yoga conference for all Chinese to get to know true yoga.

Journey to the west: a Ningxia travel adventure

A travel log I wrote for friends has been picked up by China Daily today. Read about my days and nights in the desert here, or on China Daily:

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/life/index.html

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/life/2010-05/20/content_9872152.htm

At the edge of the Tengger Desert, the undulating sand dunes extending far into the horizon bring to mind exotic Africa. But this is actually the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, neighboring the Tibetan and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions. While China’s westernmost regions are familiar to most rugged travelers, few know that Ningxia offers a similar adventure and cultural-immersion experience, but without the distance and special travel-permit requirements.

Getting to Ningxia is an expedition in itself. The red and green painted trains, among the oldest in China’s vast rail network, carry passengers to Yinchuan, capital of the autonomous region. On these trains, basic amenities such as toilet paper and soap are sparse, but flying to Yinchuan is an option, it costs three times more.
I decided to save the luxury for my return. Going there, I decided that I would try to get a firsthand feel of the cross-country migration of a worker from the west.

What to pack for a three-day camel trek in the Tengger Desert, I wondered. The closest city to my journey’s starting point was Zhongwei, a place never mentioned in any major weather forecast. On the Internet, estimates for day and nighttime temperatures ranged from zero to 30 deg C. I filled my bag with layers of summer and winter clothing.
The train for Yinchuan leaves Beijing West Station in the early afternoon and arrives at its destination 19 hours later. The “hard sleeper” train, a barrack-style compartment, looked like a village on wheels. Passengers played cards ceaselessly, ate pan-friend sunflower seeds, and watched train attendants hawk goods in the aisles.

The Ningxia autonomous region is home to the Hui people, a Muslim minority comprising one-third of the local population. Yinchuan is small for a capital city, with less than 1.5 million residents and only four registered English-speaking tour guides. While the Tengger Desert is the chief tourism draw, there are several cultural sites around Yinchuan that are also worth exploring.

At the Western Xia Imperial Tombs (Xixia Wang Ling), one can see what remains of the Tangut emperors who ruled the region from 1038. The tombs are located less than an hour’s drive west of Yinchuan. Nine imperial tombs and 70 odd accompanying tombs dot an area of 40 square kilometers. These enormous mound-shaped structures rise abruptly from the dry flat terrain, earning them the moniker “Chinese pyramids”.
There is little in the way of signage at the tomb site, but a small and surprisingly well-appointed museum nearby educates visitors on the Western Xia Empire’s position on the Silk Road and its fall to the Mongol leader Genghis Khan.

An entirely different kind of historical and cultural experience awaits travelers at the West China Zhenbei Film Studio. Zhenbei was once a border fortification. Over time, the village fort lost its military value and was used to produce steel during the “Great Leap Forward” (1958-60). In the 1980s, the Chinese film industry rediscovered this sprawling tract of land. Classic films, such as Zhang Yimou’s career-launching Red Sorghum, were shot at Zhenbei and the iconic sets used in this film remain standing to this day.

Visitors can experience different eras of Chinese history at Zhenbei. The most popular – and morbid – of the studio sets is the Cultural Revolution Alley. Here, 1960s-style buildings are covered with slogans and murals. Gleeful tourists rent khaki uniforms, wield prop rifles, and stage mock “denunciation sessions”, filmed by hired camera crews. Watching live reenactments of such distressing incidents can be disconcerting to the foreign traveler, but it does serve to give a glimpse into the conflicting mix of forgiveness, nostalgia, and amnesia that pervades modern China.

After the film studio, a visit to Helan Mountain can be a welcome respite. This national cultural-heritage site is home to nomadic cave paintings dating back 3,000 to 10,000 years. Despite fanciful names – such as “Lion Roaring” and “Crouching Tiger” – the images are small and scattered around a large park area. But anthropological value aside, the paved park trail and jagged mountain peaks make for a scenic hike.

A day of sightseeing around Yinchuan is best rounded off with a halal Chinese dinner. Dining options are modest, but many Muslim-friendly restaurants serve healthy fare, featuring plenty of leafy greens. There is little nightlife, besides the Chinese staple of karaoke. But this is just as well, as an early bedtime is good preparation for the three-day desert trek ahead.

The portion of the Tengger – China’s fourth largest desert – accessible to travelers in Ningxia sits on the outskirts of Zhongwei city, a three-hour drive southwest of Yinchuan. “Tengger” means “sky” in Mongolian, evoking an image of sky meeting sand on the desert horizon. Indeed, when my van finally stopped on a two-lane road, the awesome scene in front of me reminded me of the rich tableaux of Latvian-born American Mark Rothko’s paintings.

As our caravan of camels, their caretakers and adventurers set off, the Tengger Desert spread out before us like an endless yellow blanket. Its dunes and valleys appeared soft and welcoming in the distance. The camels walked languorously, swaying from side to side and occasionally slipping on a sheer sandy cliff, but steadying quickly thanks to their thickly padded hooves. Their minders, local farmers who had found in camel tourism a better way to make a living, walked beside them. Over the three days we spent together, I only saw the tanned and good-natured guides ride these animals to lead them to the grazing areas.

The colors and moods of a desert scene are intense and pure and present a wide variety. In calm moments, the blue sky and sandy earth gave the Tengger the appearance of a faraway dry beach. During high noon, the quiet heat lulls all living creatures to sleep under any available shade. At other times, furious winds blow up sheer panes of sand, forcing travelers to shield themselves behind kerchiefs and hats.

We spent the days just wandering around the desert and I suspected that by day two, the guides were leading us on lateral laps instead of further into the desert. Despite this, the scenery was ever changing and continually breathtaking.

When the sky began darkening to a velvety blue, the guides led us to sheltered valleys. Everyone busied with preparations for the night: pitching tents, gathering firewood, and arranging sitting rugs around the campfire. As the moon shone whiter and brighter, we huddled close to fight off the biting cold. The camel guides, quiet during the day, became loquacious, entertaining us with beer and drinking games. Soon, a multilingual round-robin of love songs echoed through the dunes.

By early afternoon on the third day, we were led out of the Tengger Desert. As Zhongwei’s smoke stacks and narrow roads came into view, I felt myself longing for a hot shower, a chance to shake out the sand from my clothes, and a real meal. Yet, I lingered when saying goodbye, to take in the serene beauty of the desert and enjoy the humble hospitality of my guides a while longer.

Blame it on “sajiao”

I find the American male take on “sajiao” very amusing. Here is Joe Christian’s original piece, which inspired my “Love, lost in translation” article. Read it here, or on China Daily:

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/metro/2010-05/14/content_9849794.htm

For all that has been written about cross cultural relationships I am really surprised no one has really mentioned sajiao. Of course there are a lot of cultural differences that influence any romantic relationship between a Chinese and a Westerner but in my opinion none as often, or as much, as sajiao.

So what is sajiao? It’s not as easy to answer as you might think. Chinese people know what it is because it’s such a big part of their romantic and family relationships. Almost every young Chinese man wants his woman to sajiao to him. But if you ask them for a definition most have a hard time coming up with something precise.

“Now that you asked me it’s not so easy to explain,” one of my Chinese friends told me.

But from a conglomeration of sources that includes my friends and cultural bloggers I will attempt to give you some kind of definition of what sajiao is. So buckle you seatbelt and prepare to be schooled in the art of sajiao.

One way to describe sajiao is when Chinese women act like a cute but spoiled child in an attempt to appear gentle and soft. The pouty faces and innocent eyes are enough to melt the heart of any Chinese man, making them ready to do anything for such an innocent and helpless looking beauty. Which by the way brings me to another aspect of sajiao…the feminine performance of appearing weak to get what you want.

A perfect example would be when I am sitting at my computer surfing the Internet and my Chinese girlfriend is sitting across the room, right next to the water dispenser, watching TV. She will then turn to me with a sulky face and in a childish voice ask me, “baby can you get me some water?”

From my Western perspective my first thought is, “What the hell! You are the one right next to the water dispenser…get it yourself.” But most Chinese men would jump to their feet and rush to the water dispenser to get a fresh glass of water to reward the sajiao of their girlfriend. While I might think it is acting spoiled, Chinese men love sajiao. It makes them feel wanted and gives them a chance to act as the stronger sex.

In fact one of my Chinese friends often complains that his girlfriend doesn’t sajiao enough. “You know, she is too harsh,” he said, “I really feel like I can’t please her.”

Which brings me to the main thrust of this article as to why sajiao is to blame for many of the problems in cross-cultural dating. While things like curiosity, loneliness, and practical benefits help create cross-cultural relationships, nothing destroys them faster than misunderstanding sajiao.

I know a monster of a man from Canada. When he first came to China he looked like a shaved Paul Bunyan on steroids. He wasn’t mean; in fact he was actually very nice and quite funny. Combine this with his handsome looks and Chinese girls quickly started lining up for just a chance to talk with him. But my Canadian friend couldn’t stand most of them. “I hate it when they act so childish,” he would fume. “It drives me nuts…it feels like they are playing some kind of game with me.”

I have another American friend that simply walks out the door as soon as a Chinese girl starts to sajiao to him. “I don’t mean to be cruel but I can’t stand all that,” he said.

It might be easy for them to find a new girlfriend given the immense curiosity many young Chinese women have for foreign men, but a lot of these relationships don’t work out. Blame it on sajiao.

On the flip side, I know a lot of Chinese men that are interested in foreign women for the same reason, they are curious with something that is so different. Yet sadly most can’t even get their foot in the door.

I’ve heard many explanations as to why Chinese men largely fail to pick up a Western girl; everything from media stereotypes to the fact that Chinese men are somehow less aggressive and confident.

But is this really the case, or do the above explanations miss a much more important reason why Chinese men have a problem with foreign women, I think it’s because they ignore the fact that foreign women don’t sajiao. They don’t put on the cute whiny face and play the weaker sex. They want to be equal! For a man that is used to and expects sajiao this can be quite a rude awakening!

In the end whether you are a Chinese or foreign guy and want to find a functioning and lasting relationship you are going to have to adapt. If not, well then at least you now have something to blame…sajiao.