|Yes, I was in the doghouse
|I was singing the Blues too
|She wants to be ‘protected’
|Japs have prenuptials ready
|All smiles by Wednesday
The logic was simple but the argument was not. Essentially, I loaned
Jingmei a chunk of money and she had agreed to pay me back, though went I
asked for it, she refused to pay it all back to me. Sighting the obvious,
‘I’m your girlfriend’ excuse, she wanted to erase part of the
To both of us, it wasn’t the amount involved, it was the principle. For
Jingmei, as my girlfriend, I shouldn’t care about money between us;
while for me as an American with an agreement, changing the terms at
payback was highly irregular.
We bitched and moaned for a week as this and other meaningless
disagreements snowballed into full-blown shouting matches before two days
of crying and talking at the edge of the break-up abyss found the real
problem and the obvious solution to our fights.
We finally realized that I am not the Chinese guy in an American body
as she expected, and she’s not an American in a Chinese body as I hoped.
We are not of the same background, culture, or even Lunar Year (She is Ox
while I am Rat), and to live together, we really must communicate our
different outlooks on life.
Let’s take this apartment as an example. It’s her brother’s place, who
gave it to Jingmei when he moved to Shanghai. Unlike the West, there are
no mortgages in China; you pay cash for your home, so we don’t pay rent.
We do pay for utilities and a type of condo fee each month. When I
arrived, as I would do anywhere I don’t have to sleep on the
floor/couch, I asked what I should pay for in terms of rent or utilities.
Jingmei told me not to worry about it, which to me meant the bills
here, like in the other Chinese apartment I lived in, were so small (like
$20/month) as to be insignificant between us. I never asked again, and she
didn’t bring it up until we started to argue. She bitched that I wasn’t
paying my fare share of bills. I was shocked since I’d asked her, the
first week I was here, what I should be paying for and was told not to
worry about it. She was pissed because I didn’t pay for them anyway.
It wasn’t until I learned the true amount of the bills (around $200 a
month as private apartments like ours are charged several times higher for
services than government owned flats), and Chinese payment customs, that I
understood her anger.
See, in one of the many aspects of her Asian mentality that I am
learning about, one should offer to pay at least three times before the
recipient feels they will not look greedy in accepting the money. Between
friends and lovers, this is even more complicated, and you are required to
use CIA tactics to ambush others with your payments.
According to Jingmei, I should’ve somehow paid for the apartment fees
without her knowledge, although I’ve never seen the bills, or been able to
read them if I did! Oh, and it was a loss if Asian ‘face’ for
her to even bring up the subject even though it was frustrating her and
affecting our relationship.
This Asian-ness was very surprising for me, for compared to other
Beijingers, Jingmei is amazingly liberal and Western, lulling me into
thinking she understood American thinkings. I realized just how
un-American she is when we talked about relationships.
I was explaining how I felt a marriage was a partnership, with each
spouse putting in roughly half of all the chores, workload, and child
rearing, when Jingmei interjected. First, as she learned business English
before casual speech, the term ‘partner’ was out as she feels
that, ‘I’m not your partner, we are not a business, I am your
girlfriend!’ Then Jingmei feels I have no place in the kitchen and
she no place in the garage, while I should always make more than her, work
harder than her, and provide more for the family. In the midst of the
heated discussion that followed, we never did get to the child rearing
As my girl-power, feminist Mom influences will never allow me have the
traits of a 1950’s American male that Jingmei desires, and she’ll never be
the post-feminist that I dreamed of, we did work towards an understanding.
I will be the pay-for-everything man she wants when she gives me her
paycheck to add to mine for group expenses. She’ll not have to worry about
me being a bum like I am now, for much longer, and I assured her that when
Wayan works, Wayan works! She’s not my partner, she’s my girlfriend, with
privileges and expectations that I will have to live up to no matter how
odd or demeaning I will think this for her. I will try my best not to
cause her to loose face, even when I have no clue that my actions are
face-loosing, and she’ll be kind enough to give me a little guidance on
how to do it, while not hating me when my clumsy foreigner ways mess it
Above all, we agreed to communicate more, not just asking and assuming,
but trying to explain why we ask (or don’t), what the proper response
is, and if it wasn’t honored, why the hell it wasn’t.
Damn! This cross-cultural loving is a lot harder than I expected.
Luckily, Jingmei is worth ever ounce of the blood, sweat, and tears that’s
going into our love.