Clementine looks at life at 30


My little “Clementine” is a fantastic writer in at least three languages (that is, three languages that I know of). I loved her wit and “storylined” view of the world even before I read her honest appraisal of her “accomplishments and failures in life so far,” I begged to put it up on this humble blog. She agreed! So, lucky readers, you get to share in her reflections. I think many a single lady at 30, or someone lost on their ambitious career path at this ripe young age, or anyone who has experienced some of the many struggles facing beautiful intelligent women trying to fit the pieces of their disparate worlds together can relate. Enjoy it.

My life at 30: failures and achievements

By: Clementine

Since it’s my 30th birthday this Sunday I’m making a list of my life so far, not just this past year. And, I’m dividing it in two parts. First, failures and shortcomings, and five blessings and achievements.

So, on with Failures and Shortcomings:

1. Sex

Sex has been a BIG disappointment so far. I never knew what all the fuss is about. There is something very inadequate with the whole concept, can’t seem to shake a lingering suspicion that I’m being cheated, by whom I’m not sure. The system.

This morning I had to go and do a regular check-up at the gynecologist, and the nurse was very considerate, saying things like “this might feel a bit uncomfortable” and so on, and I felt like telling her that it wasn’t worse than some of the sex I’ve had. For one she was doing something that was actually good for me, also she took her time, and we had a nice chat before hand (we talked about China), and afterwards she told me exactly when she was going to call and give results, plus all I needed to know about the following procedure, and when I would see her again (in three years).

2. Taking care of my little ones

I’ve had two cats, both which I’ve abandoned in one way or another. Even when we were together, I wasn’t loving enough and they both turned out a bit crazy. The last one I called Tintin (like the journalist, which can be a girl’s name in my country) and I had her put to sleep a few weeks back… Had her in my lap when she slowly succumbed to heavy sedatives…

My other little one, my little brother, doesn’t seem to realize that I genuinely want what is best for him. He has some kind of competitive complex towards me. I see myself as nothing less than his biggest fan, but he can’t seem to see that. (As a 22-year-old I chose to move to a place not far from the polar circle – a place where the only inhabitants are the ones involuntarily left behind, not a fun place when you’re 22 – just to be near him when he was a baby.). So, I have to do a much better job as a sister.

3. Subsistence

Moving in with my father as a 29-year-old was a “low water mark” (as we say in my language, I’m not sure it works in English). Coming home and finding that every single one of my old class mates, ex-colleagues and friends makes more than I do was another one. Not to mention not being successful in any of my work or university applications for the last three years. I’m not exaggerating, the only job I got (writing) turned out to not to be a real job at all, and a real job I did get as a purchasing manager at a foreign jewelry company in China I was fired from after getting too friendly with the factory girls. (It’s true! But not as interesting as it sounds).

4. … (How depressing, I think I won’t write a number four, but do let me know if you think of something)

5. Persistence

I feel I’ve never really persisted in doing anything professionally, personally or …physically I guess you could say (like a sport or perfecting a skill or such). That goes for yoga, running, Chinese, living in one place, staying with a job, or in a relationship. I’m so fickle.

Enough about that. Now, here’s to things I’ve done well, instead. Blessings and Achievements:

1. Friends

Holding on to a handful of perfect friends. I seem to have been able to choose exactly the ones I knew would make my life wonderful, and they’ve both changed and stayed the same and I love
them and feel so grateful I can count on them, talk to them and see them (some of them far too seldomly!). I have always been lucky with friends, and it’s such a blessing.

2. Writing

I have written professionally for all the major media outlets in my country that I could have hoped for starting out as a journalist, both the cool magazines and the serious dailies. And I’ve actually done a few reports that I’m genuinely proud of.

3. Boyfriends

I’ve had a few really good ones! I listen to my friends complaining about men, and I realize I have been lucky so far. I’ve met kind, reasonable people, whom I still love and respect, and when any
of them call me it’s a nice surprise. Not that there’s been that many, but still.

No one has ever cheated on me (that I know of), or even broken up with me in a bad way, or messed me up with strange behavior, or made me feel useless, or desert me or… or any of those things that seem to go on around me.

And my hook-ups haven’t been too bad either. Like that guy in the leopard morning-gown, apart from doing an awful job of faking an orgasm (I think he was gay), he was really very decent and helped me with an article later.

Or the pizza-man I picked up in XYZ once, even if he never called me as he said he would it was probably just because I send him home all the way to ABC in a cab – that must have cost him a fortune – and I don’t know what he could have made in a month. Not a lot probably. He wasn’t even a citizen – it can’t have been easy.

Or the TV anchor man who habitually told me to “manage my expectations” when reproached for being hours late, or even excused himself that whatever he had done instead of being on time was “serving the people,” still there’s no denying he made an effort to make me happy. Maybe more than anyone else has ever done, before or after. He just happened to have the most complicated life I’ve ever come in contact with. The man is like an ecosystem, with people depending on him and him relying on other people, doing favors, setting off reactions, trying to manage effects, while you get the feeling the whole process is already so messed up there’s just no way of stopping the race towards imminent catastrophe. (Though in his case it was more of an “egosystem.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist a pun).

One guy I’m glad I never did get involved with (there you go, probably my lucky star stopping me) was that rock-singer “Big Brother Six” in Wudaokou. Apart from being detrimental to my image (not that I have one – but foreign women with Chinese rock musicians are so Beijing in late-90’s, I would have been at least ten years too late), the financial burden would have been severe: for our first date he suggested having pijiu by the (dirty) river, asking me for 5 kuai for 2 bottles of Qingdao (what a scrub!). Besides, I already got all the benefits of his company, after me deciding to end it sooner rather than later he would send me these haiku-poems of unhappy love, such as: “The rain is falling. I want to wait for you in the rain, but where can I go?”

And there you have it, Clementine’s “life at 30.” I love it!

A male point of view

Seven more days till Qrious graduates from yoga teacher training boot camp and resumes the old writing life (and new yoga teaching life) in Beijing.

To mix things up a little, this week I bring you a male point of view (partly because the intense physical regimen here leaves me little time to write on love and romance, a favorite subject). Once again, here is the controversial M. France, this time speaking his mind on “finding The One in Beijing.”

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It seems to have become a prevailing orthodoxy of late, to view the comings and goings of Beijing personal lives through the prism of how “difficult it is for women”. I have lost count of the number of such references I have read on this matter, even on this hallowed blog. The complaints come thick and fast: how modern Asia ‘corrupts’ men; makes them shallow and leads to them to chase only short-term pursuits; that women looking for a long-term relationship are at a disadvantage. Never mind the subtext that locals girls are sluts who have no interest in the loftier ideals that westernised girls want, the main charge is that men here cannot be ‘good’, are immoral and fall to the temptations of the flesh far too easily.

It seems to me that this is all somewhat self-indulgent of womenfolk out here on the frontier. The simple fact, conversely, is that men find it just as difficult to find the right relationship. Although some guys, particularly for the first few months here, feel like a kid in a sweet shop, for most people the trip across does not suddenly render all their traditional ideas redundant. Several of my friends, some of whom would be labelled precisely the kind of ‘player’ so beloved by girls who want to set up a straw man, are looking – quite consciously – for that special someone. The problem is, they can’t find any here. There are two main reasons why, for the two types of girl out there.

First, there are the local girls. Here we essentially have the age-old problem of cultural clash which is still largely irreconcilable. Modern Beijing females will go out clubbing and drinking, wear revealing clothes and put out, of that there is no doubt. This leads men to think they are more western than they really are, however, since no matter how many episodes of Friends they have watched, or even how many years they have spent studuying abroad, the inexhorable pull of centuries of Chinese culture still tells them they should marry early, that they should have children, that they should be saving for a house and so on. When you consider that the average marrying age in the UK, even for women, is now well over 30, the dissonance between the two sides is clear. This is not the basis for true love, and the still overt materialism of many such girls is the final nail in the coffin.

Then there are the western girls – and here no doubt the shrieks of indignation will explode. These are the put upon, long-suffering women who know they can’t compete as they have either too much self-worth or too much girth to get their men to pay attention. Or this is at least what they would have you think. But when one examines these supposed martyrs of our age, a quite different pictures emerges: of self-pitying, neurotic girls who verge on psychosis, obsessed about how unfairly local girls compete and how terrible the men are. China does something to women who come over – it makes them feel at the same time self-righteous and also, well, desperate. When any half decent guy comes onto the scene, girls who should know better (and at home on their Ivy League campuses, may never fall victim to this) become clingy and possessive. A pride of female lions guarding a carcass at the end of a sub-Saharan drought have nothing on these girls.

So there you have it – women bring it on themselves, and they certainly have it no worse than men. There is no getting away from the fact that men will tend to play around at first. But to characterise the general trend as being totally focused on this, is erroneous. Men find it every bit as hard as women to find a girl who is sophisticated, relaxed and independent enough to commit to, and unless girls change their attitude, the short-term pleasures will always win out.

This Colette person may be onto something…

Another bite out of Love Bites from Colette Li at Global Times:

http://www.globaltimes.cn/www/english/metro-beijing/two-cents/letters/2010-08/565725.html

Do office seducers flirt with disaster?
By Colette Li

“I don’t want to become ‘that girl’ who hooks up with all the guys in the office,” my friend told me between bites of brunch last weekend.

I had been hearing her gush about a new romantic interest in the office for a few weeks. Apparently, there were “sparks flying” and “covert flirting” between trips to the water cooler. Now she was spilling all the beans.

“He’s not just my coworker, but my ‘mentee.’ I’m the experienced colleague assigned to help him navigate office politics and locate the copy machine.” Interesting. I’m sensing a bit of reverse gender roles at play here.

“I’m not that worried about the mentor/mentee thing – I’m not his real manager and he’s only a year younger than I am. But I’ve already had liaisons with three other co-workers. One was just a kiss and the other two were a few months of harmless fun.” Aha, now we get to the real point.

“Should I keep things strictly business with my hot mentee, or should I go for it, no holds barred?”

I’ve been on the listening end in conversations with a lot of women who profess to have the hots for a sexy boss, but rare is the advice-seeker who comes to me pining for a junior co-worker. We’ve seen it on screen – Demi Moore in Disclosure and Rachel Green on Friends both played characters who tried to take things a little (or a lot) further with a man lower down the corporate totem pole – but I’ve yet to see it in real life.

As I pondered my friend’s quandary, I found the feminist in me getting worked up. If everyone male from Bill Clinton to David Letterman, to name just a few famous bosses with wandering eyes, is having fun with young female staffers, why shouldn’t we?

Personally, I see nothing wrong with an office mentor reciprocating the signals a mentee is sending her way. However, I would check the Employee Handbook before getting too involved with a co-worker. At larger corporations especially, there can be rather strict rules about office dating and serious professional repercussions if the relationship were discovered. Think about how much of a turn off it would be if one of an amorous duo – or both – were dismissed for violating workplace poli-cies.

Luckily for my friend, there were no injunctions against co-workers getting cozy at her company. But even with the rules cleared and out of the way, there were still other hang-ups. She wondered why she’s been so “lucky” with office men and, after a string of flings, has she become the “office tart?”

The whole “office tart” (or other less choicely-worded labels) perception is perhaps just self-inflicted guilt. It’s natural for young professionals who spend inordinate amounts of time together poring over contracts and presentations to develop romantic chemistry. After all, the simple fact of working life is that you see your colleagues way more than you see anyone else. If my friend found something specifically and individually appealing about each of her previous three office liaisons, then there’s really not much for her to worry about.

But, if she couldn’t honestly say that each coworker she cuddled (or kissed) was uniquely attractive in some way, then her predilection for workplace romance is just a matter of convenience. That is, the guys were simply there. If this were the case (and it isn’t), I would urge my friend – and other serial office romancers out there – to carve out separate work and personal spaces. Join a club, go to the gym, take a walk in the park – meet guys outside of the conference room, for Pete’s sake!

Ultimately, life is too short for guilt trips. As long as you’re having fun, not taking advantage of minors or subordinates and keeping things discrete from 9-to-6, there’s nothing wrong with going after someone who reciprocates your feelings.

Loving and labeling

When can you rightfully call him your “boyfriend”? A certain Colette Li answers in Global Times today.

http://www.globaltimes.cn/www/english/metro-beijing/two-cents/hotline/2010-07/557887.html

Over lunch the other day, a girlfriend popped this question: “When can I call him my ‘boyfriend?'” She has been seeing a wonderful new man for a few months. We all know him by name (and even by a secret nickname), they’re dating exclusively, and, yes, they have slept together. Yet, for whatever unspoken reason, they haven’t had the “DTR” (define the relationship) talk, leaving my friend no choice but to refer to him clumsily as “the guy I’m seeing” in casual conversations.

Loving and labeling was so easy when we were 16. He made you a mix tape – he’s your “boyfriend.” You bought her roses on Valentine’s – she’s your “girlfriend.” You doodled his name all over your math notebook – he’s a “crush.” You drunkenly made out with her at your buddy’s party – she’s a “hook up.”

As adults, we find ourselves floundering for what to call someone we’re more than “in like” with, but not yet “in love” with. The labels we once assigned in cavalier fashion suddenly acquire an air of permanence. And so, we agonize in private over what name to bestow upon the men and women with whom we dine intimately, stroll in the park, and turn off the bedroom lights.

You can get by on euphemisms – like “lover,” “lady friend,” “flame,” or “beau” – for a while, but at a certain point, the “boyfriend-girlfriend” label becomes inevitable. When do you know that time has come? I profess no knowledge of the universal rules of the love game, but I can offer my personal checklist of five things that pretty much make your paramour a boyfriend, or girlfriend.

1.You’re not seeing anyone else

Exclusivity by itself doesn’t earn you the right to call someone a “bf” or “gf,” but it’s a prerequisite to getting there. If he’s canoodling with you on Thursday, but sampling other goods on Saturday, you’re still a ways off from labeling.

2.You get together about 3.5 times a week

At last, mathematical precision to love. If you’re seeing your “special friend” on average every other day of the week (round up from three), then you’re definitely an item. Working folks are busy, so if you’re making time for frequent rendezvous, then it’s a worthwhile relationship.

3.You’ve fought…and made up

When a blind date does something annoying, you politely ignore it and delete their number from your phone after getting home. But when someone you care about does something that bothers you, it’s worth raising a fuss, even if it leads to a fight. You’ll be happily on your way to “boyfriend-girlfriend” territory if it’s not the last fight you have.

4.You’re passionate, but also tender

Sex with strangers stirs the passions, but most people save the slow deliberate lovemaking for someone who matters. The same goes for small gestures, like kissing her fingertips or forehead, or rubbing his neck when he’s tired. The little tendresses signify you’re more than just “friends with benefits.”

5.You “check in”

He may not promise to call and you may not feel entitled to demand it, but somehow you find yourselves communicating at regular intervals. You email him during the workday, he texts you after a night out, maybe you even Skype when one of you is away. Making the effort to stay in touch, even if not constantly, is a sign of emotional commitment.

So, you’ve checked off the list, should you drop the “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” bomb on your special someone the next time you see them? No, no, and no. If you meet all the conditions on my list, you’re probably in a de facto committed relationship. As for why you two haven’t started labeling, the only way to know for sure is to talk it out. Have a serious “DTR,” drop some hints, or make a cute joke about it, whatever suits your style. At least you’ll enter the conversation armed with five pieces of evidence as to why you should be having the talk.

The judgment of my people

I know, how predictable. Here I go complaining about how Chinese people like to judge Chinese women who date non-Chinese (read: western, Caucasian, white, whatever euphemism you prefer) men. But, hey, it’s an important rant and it bears repeating.

One of my more devoted (most?) readers, DC, also points out that there’s another article on the subject of love in today’s paper, right next to mine. DC says: “Amusing and somewhat sad irony that the headline link of your today’s China Daily article appears directly above another article by a Chinese female (Dinah Chong Watkins), entitled “Why women miss their chance with Mr Right”.  Your usual laudable efforts to promote a more international and cosmopolitan consciousness in China is totally negated by Watkins’ reactionary piece, which implies that the only possible “Mr Right” for a Chinese woman to marry is a Chinese man (odd that her surname suggests she’s married to a foreigner!).

Read here, or at China Daily:

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/metro/2010-07/23/content_11041407.htm

We the Chinese are a judgmental people, unafraid of assumptions, eager with advice and completely unencumbered by the Western notions of “political correctness”. I say this with the deepest affection for my culture and my people. Despite some of the American sensibilities I have acquired over the years, I still very much espouse the Chinese brand of straight-forwardness.

Why pretend to like foreign food if your palate has life-long been accustomed to one cuisine? Although my father’s insistence on rice at every meal inconvenienced family holidays abroad, I prefer his unabashed honesty to faux cosmopolitan politesse. It used to bother me when my American clients, for the sake of making conversation, would exclaim to me, “I love Chinese food!” Their favorite dishes? Choy suey, lemon chicken, fortune cookies, and other culinary creations of dubious geographic origin.

I can make my own money!

Why go out of your way to compliment someone’s new haircut – which you secretly find unflattering – just to check off the courtesy box? (But I do draw the line at going out of your way to point out shortcomings, as older Chinese aunties are liable to do whenever they spot a few extra kilos on my frame).

However, there is one kind of judgment I can’t stand – the judgment we reserve for Chinese girls dating non-Chinese guys.

A lovely Chinese lady on the arm of a (sometimes) less lovely and older Western man is a common sight in this city. What do you think when you pass by such a pairing? I would bet that “meal ticket,” “gold digger,” or “green card marriage” are some of the Rorschach responses that spring to mind.

As an educated and capable Chinese woman in a relationship with an American man, I find these automatic assumptions infuriating. Yes, there are many cross-cultural “unequal” relationships, where an expat man “trades up” on looks and youth while his Chinese partner “trades down” on these features in exchange for a more comfortable life. But we are not all in relationships of convenience.

The quietly insulting experiences I have had at the receiving end of these blanket assumptions prompt me to remind everyone, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Once, when I was living in another predominantly Chinese-populated Asian capital, a cabbie chatted me up by asking, “What brings you here? Your husband’s job?” Through gritted teeth, I informed him that my boyfriend and I moved to this country together because we both had job offers to relocate.

That same week, as we went about settling into expat life, everyone from the part-time housekeeper to the bank teller peppered me with presumptuous questions, like “What will you do here? Shop? Enjoy life?” (“I will be busy working my job, thank you very much.”) and, “How come you lived in so many places? Always following your husband around?” (“No, I moved around to get the best education I could.”)

The unspoken assumption was always that I am an idle tai tai mooching off my foreign, lighter skinned, significant other.

More recently in Beijing, as I strolled through Houhai with my man, cries of “Hello, man! Music bar very good!” assailed us from every direction. When one of the zealous “bar salesmen” heard me speak Chinese he changed his strategy, asking in Chinese, “Bring your foreign friend to this bar.”

It was a subtle offense, but I’m hypersensitive on the subject and picked up on it immediately. He didn’t say “your boyfriend” or “your husband” – equally fair assumptions – but used the ambiguous “foreign friend.” What is he implying? That I’m some kind of “tour guide with perks” who can influence a foreigner’s spending decisions with my womanly charms?

In situations like these, I wish I could wear my CV on my forehead or shout, “I’m not with this man for his money, I can make my own!”

But what’s the use of that? People will just keep on judging. Perhaps I’d be better off playing along as the non-English speaking local arm candy.

“Weird uncle” and the “silver fox”

An article in Chinese Cosmo grabbed my eye last week — “Should you marry ‘weird uncle’?” In my Friday column, I mused over popular conceptions of the May-December romance in China and elsewhere. Read it here, or on China Daily:

http://chinadaily.com.cn/metro/2010-07/09/content_10085925.htm

I came back to Beijing after three weeks away to find my mailbox stuffed with newspapers, bank statements, and miscellaneous mail. Pawing through the pile, I found the brown envelope that holds my monthly guilty pleasure: a glossy frivolous women’s magazine. As I flipped through the issue, one headline leapt out. The English title read: “What if he is much older?” but the Chinese one was much more intriguing – “Should you marry ‘Weird Uncle’?”

The “May-December romance” is talked about so much that it has become rather mundane, but the “weird uncle” phraseology grabbed me. As I studied the article, which featured a love guru’s advice and intimate interviews with three women who married older men, I was surprised by how much this Chinese take differed from American viewpoints I have known.

While living in the US, I heard and read plenty about the perks and pitfalls of younger women dating older men. I even learned a scientific term for the trend in developmental psychology class – the “marriage gradient” describes men’s propensity to “marry down” (i.e. younger, poorer, less educated) on the social class continuum. Although a fair share of American women rant about the leery older men who once ensnared them, there seems to be a greater number – or at least a more vocal group – raving about the benefits of “dating up.” Despite the occasional snafu – He’s still married! He’s hiding a teenage daughter! He has bizarre fetishes! – the older man generally gets a good rap in the US.

A current sampling of the most popular online opinions on the subject (from media outlets like Huffington Post and CNN.com) reaffirmed my impression. The older man is routinely and flatteringly referred to as a “silver fox.” Images of George Clooney or Anderson Cooper come to mind. The silver fox is a sexy sophisticated figure coming to sweep young women off their feet, relieving them of years of frustration with uncouth younger “frat boys.” One American blogger drew up a truly enthusiastic list of “11 Reasons Dating an Older Man is Awesome,” inspiring her readers to leave enraptured comments, like “I’m sold! Sign me up!” My favorites among her reasons: “You get off,” “He knows cool stuff you’ve never heard Of,” “He’s super supportive,” “Someone has already fixed him up,” and “No more going Dutch.”

This impassioned endorsement of “May-December romances” is quite different from the Chinese take I read in the glossy magazine. “Older man, younger woman” is culturally enshrined here, as most Chinese girls (and their parents) think marrying older is wiser than being with someone your own age. Urban legend has it that a Peking University professor once even lectured male students to focus on their studies and save the romancing for later with this rousing speech:

“Research shows that successful men are, on average, older than their spouses by 12 years; exceptional men, by 17 years; and Nobel laureates, well, they can be 54 years older than their mates Why date now when your ideal wives are still in kindergarten!”

Aside from this bit of humor, I found little to smile about in the article. If you haven’t guessed from the name “weird uncle,” older Chinese men aren’t exactly coveted for their physical appeal. They’re generally made out to be tasteless and unattractive, but financially successful. Further, the three interviewees gave glimpses into their May-December marriages that were quite depressing. One reported, “We’ve never shared experiences that ordinary couples have together – travel, shopping, visits to the park He forbids me from seeing my friends, male or female He comes home only a few days a week (because of a demanding job).” Another confides: “We probably have sex once a year In another 10 years, my life will consist of taking care of three elderly people, my parents and husband.” After these sad tales, the complaints of the third interviewee seemed trite: “He never celebrates my birthday, so I’ve gotten used to going to my parents’ house for dinner and coming home to watch a DVD with him.”

Wow. Hardly the cultured, supportive, and sexy silver fox of the American mold!

If the romantic bond between the older man and younger woman is so dismal in China, then why is the pairing still prevalent and the topic relevant? What binds these women to their tacky, controlling and cold husbands? The answer lies perhaps in economics. Two of the three interviewees spoke at considerable length of the financial assistance that their older husbands give to their extended families – from buying a house for the in-laws to setting up jobs for cousins. Without a doubt, feelings of gratitude and kinship, more than passion and romance, seem to hold some May-December relationships together.

This reminded me that I was indeed back in China, where, for better or worse, money still trumps love.

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.