Category Archives: NaBloPoMo

Dating in China [part 5]

Date says more attractive with clothes on. Does an open relationship translate to open dates? Getting an I.O.U. for accepting a drink. Women tell true stories of their dating experiences in China.

Naked couple sitting on couch, woman knitting, portraitCreativ
image from: metro

#11 

It took a couple of lonely months in Beijing, only knowing my colleagues, before I looked to Tinder as a remedy for my tiny social circle. It felt like a last resort. After a disastrously embarrassing first date, and a three-week fling that took me nowhere, I made up my mind to be pickier. I needed to be really into the guy to go out on a date. So I began my search.

On Christmas Eve I got chatting to a handsome man who claimed he’d arrived in Beijing that week. Encouraged by our lively conversation, my generosity warmed by his apparent loneliness in a new place, so I invited him to a Christmas party I was throwing. I figured it would be a safe place to scope him out. He accepted the offer; I got very excited.

He never showed, cancelling at the last minute. I was disappointed but forgave him. He was new here, and it was Christmas. That can be tough. Plus, he said he would make it up to me.

Six weeks later, I was still waiting for that first date. We’d chatted every day, bantering and joking, back and forth. Several times, we set up a date and then he cancelled last minute. I was getting irritated, not sure he was worth it, but I kept hanging on. Friends at parties asked me, “do you understand how Tinder works?” They were shocked anyone would wait six weeks for a Tinder date.

In some way, I was proud of the long courtship. I hoped that this would make “us” different. The waiting had certainly worked. He’d got me hooked. I’d made up my mind to like him before I had even met him.

In the winter holiday, just days before Valentine’s, he finally found time for little old me. On a cold, windy night we had dinner, drinks, and more drinks. He was taller and more handsome in person than I had imagined. He was funny and attentive. The reality was better than his online personality, which rarely happens. We were both super talkative. He complimented my appearance. I could hardly believe how well we were getting on. We moved on to a bar where he smoked and shared the odd cigarette with me. I wasn’t sure whether I was lightheaded because of the smoke or his smile.

Very, very late, after all the bars had closed, he invited me to his place. There was no way I was saying no after the time I’d waited. I’d already decided it would be worth it. To be honest, it was disappointing. He certainly enjoyed it. He was selfish both that night and the next morning, but I barely noticed, so awestruck was I by his body.

In the morning he made me breakfast, told me stories about an old friend he said he wanted me to meet, and walked me to the subway. I drifted home on a cloud and wrote down all the wonderful moments that had made our night special.

We continued to talk day after day. Throughout my short winter vacation I kept wishing myself back in Beijing, imagining spending every night of his lonely week-long break with him. I’d even offered to turn around and go back before my train left the station. I was hopelessly devoted.

Six weeks later, I was back at work and still hadn’t seen him again. We’d set up several more dates and he’d cancelled every time. I was angry and frustrated; worried I’d scared him off by being too keen. It gradually became clear he wasn’t interested in a relationship, or even casual sex. I asked him for an honest reason, and was astounded by his response. I finally felt the sting of that dreaded situation: he thought I was more attractive with my clothes on than nude! He found my body hair so repulsive that he didn’t enjoy sex:

“I found your leg hair distracting. I really had to concentrate to finish.”

My immediate impulse was to fight my corner, argue that women make choices about their appearance for themselves, not for men, and tell him that his opinion didn’t matter.

But I didn’t rant at him. Instead I left him alone in his small-mindedness and got on with my life. I’d blown my chance with him, which bothered me because it was over such a small thing. But what really stung was I’d been on the brink of falling for someone who allowed something so minor to affect our entire relationship. I will never make that mistake again.

– United Kingdom, 26

 

online-dating
image from: sheknows

#12

Dating is hard, especially if you aren’t really dating. Let me explain.

One fall, I met a guy the day after my birthday. He was my coworker, and younger than me by a couple of years. After spending a little time together we ended up making out one night.

The next day as he asked, “what exactly are you looking for?” I was honest, I didn’t see him as a long term thing. Both of us were planning on leaving Beijing that summer. I just wanted fun, with stipulations on privacy. “Ah ok,” he said. “I just wanted to let you know, before we went any further, that I have a girlfriend. Not all girls are cool with that.”

That knocked the breath out of me. At first I was too stunned to reply, curse words forming in my head. But I reacted calmly: “does your girlfriend know?”

“Oh yeah, it was actually her idea. Do you want to talk to her?”

So I took the risk of being in an open relationship. It was weird. Having a guy over two to three times a week cooking, watching movies, having sex, all while knowing I couldn’t f**k it up. My plan was impenetrable. Or so I thought.

Six months in, we went on our first outside date. While out at a fun bar party a cute British girl approached him. After flirting with him, and letting him know she was interested, she asked if we were together. “No” we both responded. She continued to flirt, and I found a way to extract myself. I had a drink by myself at a table in other room but could see them talking at the bar. I played with my phone for a bit.

“Hey,” he was standing next to me, looking down, a little concerned. “Do you want to come hang out with us?”

“Nah,” I told him. “I think she’s pretty interested in you though.”

He brightens. “Yeah! I think she is. You don’t mind, do you?”

OF COURSE I MIND! WE CAME HERE ON A— I caught myself before I yelled.

What were we on? Was it a date? Does it count as a date if you obviously aren’t planning a future together? Did him agreeing to accompany me out contractually bind him to me for the night? I wanted to be cool. Chill. He didn’t owe me anything.

“Nah. Go for it. I’m going to go meet up with some other friends. Have fun, be safe,” I said as lightheartedly as possible. Then, without meeting his eyes, I left.

A long walk on a chilly night is terribly symbolic when you feel alone. I wish I could say I went home and composed this balanced rational story. That would be a lie. I got drunk. I cried. Not because I was in love. But because I just wanted a real date, at which I was the center of a guy’s attention. Through much contemplation (and water) for the next two days, I decided to stop my destructive behavior. Maybe it works for others, but while I could handle and open relationship, I couldn’t handle an open date.

– United States of America, 20s

 

online-dating
image from: independent

#13

Thanks to the ever-popular Tinder app, I met a number of guys online. With some, we moved discussions over to WeChat – a platform not stymied by VPN restrictions. We would chat, occasionally meet up, and often that was it. My schedule left a lot to be desired, and made meeting for dates a large commitment on my part. Unless I was particularly interested in our conversation, it was rare I put in the effort.

But I was starting to realize how little I was actually getting out there, with dating or even just engagements with friends. So I started to say, “yes,” to a few dates. To drinks or a quick bite to eat – something to get a better feel for these fellas.

One such man had been quick with the wit and as engaging as anyone can be over WeChat. I was enjoying myself, and figured odds were high that that would translate to an in-person meeting. We picked a subway station, and I took off after work looking forward to a night out.

As it were, it actually took me a moment to find him. Unsurprisingly, it’s common for folks to use vague photos on dating app profiles, leaving the one you’re meeting unaware of what you *actually* look like.

In this case, there was little to no resemblance.

Already off to a poor start, we walked around, making our way through the typical chit-chat. He presented me with a kitschy gift – something he thought I’d like – in the form of a children’s toy. Unsure what to think, I smiled and accepted it, sliding it into my purse. Thrilled, he launched into a story about himself – one of many that evening. Though we didn’t have any plan, it soon became clear he had an idea what we’d be doing. Soon we were inside a bookstore. “You like books, right?”

“Well, yes, of course, but …”

“Yes, I thought so! See how much I already know about you?”

And off he went, directing me to section after section of all those topics he was oh-so-knowledgable about. Art, art history, architecture, Chinese culture – was there anything he didn’t know? Was there any book that his great and glorious mind hadn’t absorbed?

After nearly two hours of this, it was off to a bar nearby, where his friend was hosting her farewell party. I was soon sidled next to a few of his friends, and he was absorbed in a conversation with the other end of the table. I did my best to keep up, but their in-depth discussions on Japanese art and complex photography techniques weren’t easy topics to engage in. So I sipped my drink and listened politely.

“Want to split some food?” my date asked, remembering I was there. “Uh, no I’m OK. I’ll just stick with this drink.” “Well OK. Don’t worry, by the way. Drink’s on me.”

None of my protests and insistence that I pick up my own drink worked, so I finally accepted and thanked him profusely. Another hour passed, and I made my way to the subway. He hugged me goodbye. I told him it was nice to meet him. For me, well, it wasn’t a great evening, but he was nice and had been kind in treating me to a drink. I appreciated it, and went home happy to have given it a go.

Days passed and we didn’t say much. Then suddenly, there was his name. “Long time no chat, pretty lady!” We exchanged the pleasantries, and there it was. The inquiry for a second date, but in a way I’d never been asked before.

“So since I picked up your drink the other night, it looks like you owe me!”

“Uh, yea… lol Thanks again for that.”

“No. Really. You owe me a drink. I’ll be free this weekend, we can meet up and you can get that for me.”

As it turns out, he wasn’t playing a bit. I owed him 35 kuai, and he was calling to collect. A few more messages later – “So, about that drink …” – and my subsequent silence, he abandoned the chase. Seems he didn’t think the money was well spent. Needless to say, it took me a few dates before I’d accept a drink again.

– United States of America, 27

 

Previous instalments:

Learning that an ex is married. Walking away from a Tinder date. Getting set up by your boyfriend. [part 1]

Humiliation by comedy in a Beijing bar. Parents say, “break up with him” because boyfriend is not Chinese. [part 2]

A Chinese first boyfriend who ruined dating for years. Suffering through sleep apnea on a first date. Offered money for sex with a stranger. [part 3]

Guy uses Chinese whispers to ask for a date. Remedies for dating in inauspicious circumstances. [part 4]

These stories are shared by the women who experienced them in their own words. All stories took place in Beijing, China, unless otherwise stated. Identities are kept secret out of respect for the individuals in the stories.

Words and Women: Louisa May Alcott

louisa-may-alcott-3293545x1
image from: womenshistory

The emerging woman … will be strong-minded, strong-hearted, strong-souled, and strong-bodied … strength and beauty must go together.

― Louisa May Alcott, from her 1869 novel An Old-Fashioned Girl. Alcott is best-known for her novel Little Women, which was published in 1868. Some of Alcott’s works were published under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. If she were still alive, today would be her 184th birthday.


Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.

Ladies are Prohibited

ladies-are-prohibited
Display before an altar in a rural temple on Inle Lake, Shan State, Burma (Myanmar), August 2015 © Cas Sutherland

Women’s access to religious sites, idols and alters is heavily restricted in many locations across Burma (Myanmar). At Mount Kyaiktiyo, among the country’s holiest sites of worship, only male pilgrims are allowed to approach the summit. Women must watch at a distance from the huge golden rock and are thus prevented from pasting squares of gold leaf onto the rock-face in the utmost sign of Buddhist devotion.

There are a number of possible reasons for this gender segregation. Women’s traditional dress can make accessing certain religious sites more difficult, so traditions developed, and have continued, based on men’s higher agility levels due to fashion. Some religious areas are controlled by a male-only monasteries where access by the opposite sex is considered sacrilegious, and long-established traditions still go unchallenged despite, and undoubtedly because of, the majority of religious figures in Burma (Myanmar) being male. Finally, women’s bodies and related items, such as clothing, are often believed to contaminate spaces and surroundings. Thus women’s belongings are kept separate from men’s belongings (during laundry, for example) and women themselves excluded from the holiest spaces and restricted from religious rituals.

Read on:

More about the people of Burma (Myanmar) in the Burma Voices Project

 

May Thant on gender roles in sex and marriage in contemporary Burma (interview: part 2)

Social taboos restrict essential elements of healthcare. Sex education, contraception, and abortion are not available from official institutions like schools and hospitals. Most families are unable to discuss such things, assuming such knowledge is unnecessary until learnt within a marriage. Young people must teach themselves about sex, turning to simple pamphlets for education and unofficial clinics for healthcare. Misconceptions about contraception and diseases prevail, and young women lie to doctors about medical issues resulting from botched back-street abortions. This is sex and marriage in contemporary Burma (Myanmar) from May Thant’s perspective.

Is sex education available before marriage? 

Yes. Not at school but outside, from medical centres. Some girls don’t know about sex exactly, and some girls read a lot and they know about it. These girls find the information in books we have about it in our language [Burmese], published by medical centres. We can buy them easily, at the bookshop. But most Myanmar girls are too shy to talk about sex.

Do parents talk about sex with their daughters or sons?

Here that would be very strange. That’s like an open type of relationship between parents and their children. But most Myanmar children don’t talk about this with their parents. They would never ask them about it. The thing is [there is no need to learn about sex before marriage because] we will know after we are married.

Is there pressure to get married?

Here, people usually get married under thirty. Some girls over thirty don’t get married, they just live with their parents and they don’t get married. There are women who never get married, who never know about sex, never have children.

They will live with their parents or family until old age.

In other countries, you can live alone when you are over 18. But here, we cannot live alone before we are married. After we are married, it is okay if we live by ourselves. But if we never get married, we have to live with our parents.

It is the same for boys and girls. Right now, I live with my aunt. My parents are in my hometown. If I didn’t have any family in Yangon I would have to live in a hostel, or rent an apartment with friends. Many people rent an apartment with friends, but only if there is no family to stay with.

burmese-woman-baby
Rural woman and child in Shan State, Burma (Myanmar), August 2015 © Cas Sutherland

What kind of relationships do people have before marriage? 

Right now, the cities have many [young] couples, and many couples have sex before they are married. We are facing a problem because young adults don’t know how to use condoms, so they don’t use [protection] and the girls get pregnant. They [usually] don’t want to have children before they are married.

For example, in our society, if I got pregnant [or had] children before I got married, then I would get shame. How can I say it? I would get shame, and my parents wouldn’t call me their daughter. I would be cut off from everyone, everything, and it could affect my job too. Maybe I would get fired from my job. But most of the girls [in this situation] don’t want to have the baby, so they have an abortion.

Is it easy to get an abortion?

Yes, very easy. You don’t have to go to the hospital for it. In most of the hospitals here, they don’t perform abortions. At the hospital you have to register and things like that. But there are some places you don’t have to register and it is easy to have an abortion. Some [of these] places are not safe for your health.

The places are not like clinics. It is just… how can I say? Just a house, just a nurse doing abortions for money. [They go to] a nurse’s house, with a nurse who is not working anymore – like a retired nurse, or the nurse’s daughter [who] the nurse is teaching how to make an abortion. Something like this. They don’t always know what they’re doing.

But girls get an abortion from [these places] outside, and if it is not good for their health, like there is too much bleeding, and they go to the hospital. The doctors will scold them and ask: “why did you do this?” but they don’t perform abortions [at the hospital].

The patient won’t tell the doctor she had an abortion. The patient will just say, “I have this problem.”

Do women tell anyone if they have an abortion? 

They don’t find out. She doesn’t tell anyone. It can be very dangerous. But mostly, her mother will know. [Young women] are scared of their father, and they talk about everything with their mother. Most girls talk to their mother every day; they talk about everything together. Some mothers help their daughters to have an abortion because it affects your reputation [if people find out about the pregnancy or abortion] and the mother worries that the daughter could be poor if it affects her reputation.

Women can talk about an abortion with their mother, but they won’t talk about sex.

Yes. [laughter]

When do married couples usually have children? 

They don’t have to. [Usually] they don’t want children for one or two years after marriage. After two years, they start to have babies. Some marriages [happen] to have a baby. For example, if a girl had sex with her boyfriend and got pregnant, then her house[hold] know she got pregnant, and they talk to her boyfriend’s house[hold] or mother, like this. They get married so they [can] have the baby after the marriage. About thirty to forty percent of marriages start like this in our country.

[May laughs when I explain the phrase ‘shotgun wedding’.]

Is contraception available for couples who don’t want to have a baby?

Condoms and pills are easy to buy and easy to get. But I think some boys don’t like to use condoms, and some girls won’t take the pills after sex, because they forget or they don’t want to.

Traditionally, the wife’s role is to make the husband’s life easy. Is that true?

Men are taught that women are for sex and cooking and children. Women think they cannot find money for their family, and they obey their husband like a king for finding money to support the family.

Men always want to be higher than their wives or their children. But women are more intelligent than men or boys. Women always treat their husband like a king, and men are proud to be themselves.

For example, my grandmother treated my grandfather like a king. For breakfast, she will ask what time he wants it, and she will make sure it is ready for him when he wants. At lunchtime, it will be ready for him when he asked for it. It is the same for many other things. They make sure everything is ready for the man.

Now, some educated women don’t think like this. They can do anything like a man and it is the same for them as a woman.

Some men will not allow their wives to use contraception because they believe contraceptives have dangerous side effects.

Yes. In our country we don’t have enough knowledge about sex. Here we’re a cultural country. Many religious people don’t know about [contraception]. Some educated people will give them knowledge of sex, but they won’t accept it. They say, “it’s a very personal problem and you don’t need to talk about it in public.” Even now, it is like this.

But times are changing. In a big town like Yangon, Mandalay, and places like this, most teenagers have enough knowledge of sex and they can accept [education]. But in a small place they don’t have enough knowledge of sex. There they look down on people who have HIV and AIDS, and [doctors] will not treat these patients. They don’t have enough knowledge of the disease to know it can be contracted by other’s blood. Most people think it is only about sex, so they look down upon it.

Read on:

May Thant on Facebook trolls, gender inequality and Burma’s first woman President (interview: part 1)

May Thant works as a receptionist at a popular backpacker’s hostel in downtown Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). She spoke to me in February 2016.

Princess of Peace

Reading this in China? Watch on youku

“Don’t tell me that all Chinese guys like skinny girls, that’s just not true!” Yuan Xiaodan’s experience tells otherwise: her high school nickname, ‘Princess of Peace’ has another meaning. In this short film, Xiaodan tells us a heartwarming story about bullying, family relationships, and lasting friendships.

Princess of Peace is the second Narrate China film, created by China Narrative Collective who aim to vividly share stories of real life experiences in China and make intimate perspectives accessible online.

Read on:

Learn more about Narrate China

Dating in China [Part 4]

Guy uses Chinese whispers to ask for a date. Remedies for dating in inauspicious circumstances. Women tell true stories of their dating experiences in China.

chinesespeeddating
image from: universia

#9

Back in high school they tell us, “you cannot date anyone, because you have to focus on school.” The moment you get admitted to undergrad they’re like, “clock’s ticking! You have to get married or at least start dating as soon as possible before you become too old.”

During my sophomore year, my parents started to introduce all these random guys to me, saying, “my friend has a son who also studies in Nanjing”, or “my co-worker’s cousin’s nephew is from Nanjing and he’s studying to be a doctor, do you want to meet him?” I kept saying “no thanks,” and “not interested.”

But in the end, I think it was junior year, my parents set me up with a guy who was like 29 years old, and I was only 22. This guy was doing a PhD in Australia and he was also from my town. The thing is, he was 29 but he had never dated anyone. For me, that was a huge signal. But my parents liked that about him. My mom said, “Oh my god, he’s never dated any girl before, that’s really good!” I thought there must be something wrong with him but my mom loved it. He’d been living in Australia for a couple of years, so it just didn’t make any sense to me. I thought maybe he was gay and couldn’t tell anyone.

In high school, and in university, I was always a top student. And typically, Chinese guys like girls who are top students, so a lot of guys would hit on me. But the way they did it! They would just tell others they like me, and tell people to ask me out. Only after graduation would they actually talk to me, telling me how much they liked me. I told them to shut up. This guy was exactly like that.

I went out with him on one blind date and I didn’t dislike him, so we went on two or three more dates and my mom loved him. I teased my mom saying, “why don’t you go marry him?” His whole family liked me too. But the thing is, he was such a mommy’s boy. He would tell every single detail of our date to his mom, even what I said, every single sentence, he would tell his mom.

On my end, whenever my mom asked how the date went, I would only say, “it was fine.” “What did you guys do?” mom asked, “talk” I replied. “What did you talk about?” “I don’t remember,” I told her. But on his end, he told his mom every single thing.

There was another problem. Whenever this guy wanted to ask me out, he could have wechatted me, messaged me, or called me. But he didn’t. He would first tell his mom, who told her sister, who told her cousin, who knows my cousin, who told my aunt, who told my mom, who would tell me. The families are distantly connected, and that’s how he asked me out on a date. This happened twice or three times. I hated it. I hate guys who can’t take the initiative. I stopped seeing him.

After that my aunt kept trying to set me up. I only ever said no. Whenever I said no, she would say, “you’re so picky, and you’re already 25 years old. If you keep saying ‘no’ like that, you will be single forever.” Actually it was not just my aunt; it was my mother, and my grandparents on both sides, and my cousins, my parents’ cousins, even my parents’ friends, and their coworkers, people I barely know. Every time, they would say, “When are you going to start dating? You don’t want to be leftover forever!”

I really hate that phrase, ‘leftover woman’. But I’d rather be single and stay happy.

– People’s Republic of China, 25

A participant introduces herself during the recording of an episode of
image from: HuffPost

#10 

When I was studying in Beijing, I planned to spend a few days at Harbin ice festival with a guy I was dating. We weren’t even officially dating, but we didn’t know how to say, ‘we’re just sleeping together’ in Chinese. We went just before Chinese New Year, we were in our early twenties and having fun discovering China one day at a time.

When I told my boss my holiday plans, she told me there were rules: I must not let moonlight touch my skin. I had to wear red underwear on the night of the spring festival. “Do you have red underwear?” she asked. “Do you know where to buy some? Do you need my help?”

Once we’d made it to the northern city of Harbin for the ice festival, wrapped up in thick clothing and prepared for temperatures of -11 °F, we spent time chatting to locals. One day we met a group of local men, who praised our Chinese ability and asked a lot of questions about us. They asked the guy I was dating whether I was his girlfriend. He said “yes”, telling a little white lie in an attempt to avoid further clarification. This led to a bunch more questions: “why aren’t you married? How old are you? When are you getting married? You should get married this year.”

When we finally got a word in edgeways, we said “we’re both 24.” This demanded intervention: “when exactly did we turn 24?” We were both currently 23 and would turn 24 in the coming year. This was our zodiac year, the year of the Yang.

This launched a tirade of angry warnings: “you cannot get married this year!” Suddenly, we found ourselves in dangerous territory: your zodiac year is supposed to be unlucky, and you have to do as much as you can to counter your fate and appease the ancestors. Hence wearing red underwear on the night of spring festival. One man shouted at us: “curse on both your families!” Apparently, if we got married and had a child that year, our family would be cursed.

My date turned to me, taking my mittened hand gently in his own. “If I can make one promise to you this year, it’s that I will ask you to marry me.” Under the circumstances, it was the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to me.

– United States of America, 27

Previous instalments:

Learning that an ex is married. Walking away from a Tinder date. Getting set up by your boyfriend. [part 1]

Humiliation by comedy in a Beijing bar. Parents say, “break up with him” because boyfriend is not Chinese. [part 2]

A Chinese first boyfriend who ruined dating for years. Suffering through sleep apnea on a first date. Offered money for sex with a stranger. [part 3]

Date says more attractive with clothes on. Does an open relationship translate to open dates? Getting an I.O.U. for accepting a drink. [part 5]

These stories are shared by the women who experienced them in their own words. All stories took place in Beijing, China, unless otherwise stated. Identities are kept secret out of respect for the individuals in the stories.