The Old Must Go for the New to Come

In January 2010, I crammed 25 years of my life into two little 50 lbs bags and headed out on a China-bound plane to educate the young and inquisitive minds of Dalian on all things American. But why? Why leave a coveted associate producer position at CBS (and six years of journalism training to boot) and head off to a lowly English teaching position in China? Why? Because, frankly, I've learned getting what you think you want out of life isn't always what it's cracked up to be. What follows are the tales of my trials and triumphs (like overcoming my fear of the dreaded squatty potty) and the lessons I've learned along the way...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Rules of Attraction

So, since beginning this blog several months ago, I’ve adhered to a general policy of not mentioning any of my coworkers in my posts. However, recently, I discovered to my quasi-amusement that a fellow teacher thought it fitting to mention me—actually, more specifically, my cleavage—in a recent posting on his blogsite, so I feel it is only equally fitting that I make brief mention of him.

In his post, my coworker recounted an evening a few months back when he first began working for Jayland. At the time, he was new, totally unfamiliar with the area, and for whatever reason, offered little assistance from the staff in terms of practicalities like where to go to get a decent meal in Kaifaqu. Early on, I had developed somewhat of a soft spot for this particular coworker because he reminded me a little of my younger brother (they are almost exactly the same age and have similar fashion sense) and he’s also the only other brown person on the staff (he’s Mexican.) So one evening, being the friendly four-month veteran that I was, I offered to take him out for dinner. Now, I don’t have the slightest recollection of what I was wearing that evening (though, apparently, he did), but I know it was certainly no plunging neckline. At the same time, I am fully aware that I’m not exactly small on top and my preference for v-necks coupled with my frequent tendency to cross my arms when I walk and talk can certainly create the perfect conditions for cleavage. But why this astute, young ex-pat would chose to spend an entire post analyzing this slight wardrobe malfunction when living in a country that offers a myriad of other novelties and absurdities on which to muse is beyond me. Perhaps, it’s just a testament to the psyche of the prototypical American post-grad male who—however, intelligent, enlightened, and informed—is still most preoccupied with female anatomy.

This is not to say his post wasn’t a good read because it actually was. My co-worker happens to be an excellent writer and he broached the subject in good taste (that is, if it’s considered good taste to broach the subject at all.) Overall, the post was more about the rules of male-female interactions than anything else…it just so happened to be based on his interaction with me…and my cleavage. Nevertheless, it actually got me thinking more about the rules of male-female interactions in China, and the whole Chinese notion of attraction…an area which has not ceased to perplex me in all six months of my stay here. 

Now, when it comes to male-female interaction back in the states, I don’t profess to have it all figured out, BUT I’d say I’m pretty well-versed. In New York, I did my fair share of wining and dining with some of the city’s finest; and like most females who’ve spent enough time in urban settings, I became rather accustomed to the catcalls, grunts and genuine compliments of approval that are generously dealt out along the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. And while at the time, I generally found such behavior vile and primitive,  I also found it--as much as I hate to admit it--strangely reassuring. I understood what it meant…Just like I understood the meaning behind a prolonged gaze, forced laughter at jokes that aren’t really funny, feigned interest in topics one could care less about, childish but calculated teasing that gives one an excuse to touch another. Yes, for the most part, I could easily decode these messages for their romantic subtexts. And from there, I would reason the most appropriate response with a clear understanding of what said response revealed about me, my interest and my standards.

Yeah, the rules of male-female relations were fairly clear to me…until I came to China…a world where having people gaze at you for uncomfortably long periods of time is a way of life—if you’re a foreigner…where men and women are prohibited from dating until they are good and graduated from high school (seriously)…where men and women of dating age (20+) don’t actually date so much as just get engaged leaving fairly little room for surveying one's territory and scoping out other possibilitiesand where waif-like women bleach their hair and skin in vain attempts to emulate the likes of Nicole Kidman and Kate Moss, leaving a curvy, curly, and very brown lady like yours truly to wonder if anyone here even considers me attractive at all or just some exotic sideshow freak.

Who knows? I’ve lost all frame of reference when it comes to how to relate to men in this country. Here, eye contact means nothing because everyone stares. A Chinese man’s attempt at carrying on a meaningful conversation with a foreign woman, might be for the sole purpose of advancing his English skills rather than with any intent of making romantic advances...but then again, maybe it's the other way around. And even the most profuse compliments don’t necessarily translate into attraction here as much as pure fascination. I’ve had a number of men remark about how “beautiful” I am as their girlfriends stand beside them nodding enthusiastically. Likewise, I’ve also heard heterosexual men gush about how handsome some of our Western male teachers are (of course, I am just assuming they're heterosexual). I suppose many of the true indicators here are lost in translation.

Truthfully, I don’t know why it even matters to me. It’s not like I have huge desire to date any locals at the moment (although, an entry I posted a few months back may suggest otherwise. Heh heh.) Actually, I don’t have a huge desire to date anyone at the moment. But like most women I know, I do like feeling attractive. I think human beings, in general, are just wired with a desire to feel...well, desired (the rhyming was not intentional). And while I have learned to love the butterscotch skin I’m in, the longer I’m here, the more I have to keep reminding myself that I am attractive, because in a country where petite physiques and deathly pale skin are the trend, it's easy to forget. But then again, being a freak show isn’t so bad. I’m pretty sure when I’m finally back to the normalcy of the states, I’ll really miss all the stares, the pointing, the snapshots…and the blogs about my boobs. So here’s to being an Af-freak-can-American :o)

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