Friday, August 31, 2012

Beijing Safari: From China with Love

Written on July 22nd, 2010. An email I wrote home while on my internship at the US Embassy in Beijing. My dating experience in China this time around has been pretty similar.

"Here's the most succinct summary of the difference between Western and Chinese dating: In the West, prior to marriage, a man may have plenty of girlfriends but after marriage, only one wife; In China, a man often struggles to find the one girlfriend before marriage but after marriage, he has many girlfriends.

Indeed, many men that I have talked to believe that it is an inherent right to have many women. One coworker even explained to me how having affairs keep the marriage fresh and interesting. To them, women are part of the trappings of power. And it seems that the younger the woman, the better. Sometimes my friends and I play the "mistress or daughter" game in restaurants. Whenever an older man with obnoxiously large rings and an over-priced suit walk in with a much younger, scantily-clad female who is wobbling on dangerously high heels, we wait to see if a wife and mother shows up. If not, then well, we know.

Perhaps it is for this reason that women in China are unusually demanding of a potential marriage partner. Apparently, they will not marry a man unless he has a (nice) car, an apartment (or two), and a sizable bank account (and stocks). As a result, the embassy is full of thirty year old single men who don't really know how to date and who still live with their mothers. My coworker dutifully hands over his paycheck to his mom (who saves it so he can get married) and then negotiates his monthly allowance.  My single coworkers’ dating lives consist of a myriad of blind dates that their second cousin twice removed have set up for them with "this really nice girl back in the ancestral village".  I once told a colleague that people should marry for love and then work together to build a life they want. Since then, I've been getting emails from thirty year old plus coworkers who randomly want to know what I'm doing after work. After figuring out that I'm Mormon ("You want so many kids and you wear too much clothes!"), some of my coworkers ask if I date people who are not Mormon. I said no. They then ask how people can join. I told them that since the Chinese government wouldn't permit proselytizing of any kind (100% true), I could not tell them. Even though I’m just following Church instructions, I feel that God is shaking his head every time I use the Church as a deterrent for dates.

It is a pity that you can't use the same excuse with the young single adults in the ward though. After an awkward date, a boy gallantly declared that he has decided to "pursue" me. When I politely said no thanks, he claimed that he would persist because it was probably divinely arranged if he randomly met somebody at the metro station in China and she turned out to be Mormon.

For those of you who are curious, so far, my dating life in Beijing mainly consists of dodging dates. Marines, thirty year-old coworkers, and overly friendly old men are very different from the average Utah boy who just wants to take you out biking and then, if he's getting fancy, ice-cream afterward. I think I figured that out a little late. But at least I now have more interesting stories to tell you!"

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Head Bashing

My little brother, Cody, made a new friend. One who had blond locks, polite mannerisms, and a crazy cool dirt bike. Or so I had heard. He didn't even need to ring the door bell. We could hear the vroom vroom from two streets away.

After an animated discussion of dirt bikes and crushed skulls, my parents laid down the law: Our trusty old moped was good enough for Cody, but he could go and pick out a new helmet for his neighborhood rides with his friend.

Cody said that he didn't want the small, "Jewish caps" helmets that we saw in Vietnam.  I'm guessing he meant these.

So, instead, he went and got this (partly because he hoped that a genuine dirt bike will eventually follow):

Even though I'm not quite sure how much protection 20 bucks could buy you, it sure was a good deal for a part-time Halloween costume slash head gear for imaginary practice rides at home.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

So Hot

My mom took me to the Chinese herbal doctor yesterday. We sat on the cold metal chairs for two hours until we realized that we could see a less popular doctor and be admitted in the next minute. Deliberately picking lower ranking doctors was probably not the best strategy, but I suppose this was at least a somewhat calculated decision as opposed to my usual practice of picking the ones with the best sounding names.

We lifted the half bed sheet curtain and peered inside. The doctor waved us in and motioned for us to sit on the rickety chairs facing her. She gestured for me to put my right arm on the arm cushion and clamped it down with her three middle fingers.

"Oh, is that a painting of the Suzhou canals?"


She bent her head down a little as if to hear my pulse better.

"Does your waist feel sore?"

I shook my head emphatically.

"Do your breasts feel enlarged?"

"If only."

She shot me a look.


"I know what is wrong with you. You're generally healthy but you suffer from hot blood."

I looked at my mom with a questioning look. My mom nodded studiously.

"So what does that mean? Like the weather being too hot? "

"No, it just means that your blood is too hot. Too much yang. No more mangoes, fried foods, or hot pots. Come back in two weeks."

Resigned, I grabbed the doctor's note and headed to the medicine room. I didn't bother looking at the prescription, preferring not to know what (sea horse? scorpion? dung?) would be in the bitter concoction I would have to drink twice a day for the next two weeks. I was praying for the milder roots and maybe even the occasional insect, but I had always kept my hopes conservative when it came to Chinese medicine.

Ugh. Hot blood.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

True Story

J always jokes and says that I "never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

Most of the time, it's because I am talking about our awkward first semi-date, which he asked me on in his excited good-interview after glow (he interviewed for an internship at our company). He mentioned that he would be in Shanghai, a neighboring city, that weekend and it was too bad that I would not be there otherwise he would love to take me out for dinner. I thanked him and accepted as I pushed the elevator button for the second time. His smile froze. He stammered. He didn't know that I normally headed to Shanghai to see my family for the weekends.

We had sushi. I suggested an exploratory walk around the colonial neighborhoods afterwards. He wanted a plan and directions for my "aimless stroll". I talked about loving visits to Kenya's Masai villages but being appalled at the female circumcisions performed. In between checking GPS for our location, he told me that he was fine with that lifestyle choice. I blanched and gave him a fiery human rights speech. He was similarly horrified when he realized that he misheard me and thought I meant women choosing to have operations to prevent having babies in the future.

His cheeks flamed under the yellow street light. I did not offer to help as he fumbled around for words. He finally mumbled that going to dinner with me was exceeding his "one date a semester" quota - his usual flimsy exercise to appease matchmaking bishops. Smirking, I asked him if I made him nervous. He avoided looking at me the rest of the night.

(That's what made his later confession so much more surprising.)


Anyways, I was thinking a lot about the truth in story telling today. I absolutely love stories. Hearing them. Reading them. Making them. Telling them. There's something special about sharing common experiences through words that, when strung together beautifully, become transformative.

If I can captivate you with the story of eating snake meat Lady and the Tramp style then later realizing it was sheep penis, does it really matter if I said it was this long or that long? Or if I made your eyes go wide at my story of being bitten by a copperhead snake and not knowing it at the time (and hence revenge through snake meat quest), who cares if I mentioned all the details of the three nights in ICU?

But today, I questioned myself. I had blogged about a dear friend and her family's move across the country, filling in the descriptive blanks with my romanticized notion of her story. Except, I shockingly found out, that there was no basis for the story at all. No moving van. No family camcorder. No pouting mother.

I sat there at my office desk, deeply confused and bothered. If I didn't hear that story from her, how on earth did I pull that from the recess of my mind? For better or worse, that story had shaped my perception of her upbringing for the longest time and now I scrambled around to "fact check" against myself on what I knew about her.

And because I could "remember" the exact spot in Beijing where I thought I had heard that fantastic story, I now doubt myself. What if all the stories I have ever told are tainted with my overly active imagination? What if I have been dressing up my truth until what's left is a darn good story and I've forgotten the original? What if my mind automatically selects the interesting, shaves off the accurate and presents the sensational?

What does that say about me as a story teller? What does that say about me?

Sunday, August 19, 2012


The Pearl. This was our cruise experience.

Our tiny rooms! The girls' room had another bed in the middle of the two beds plus a baby crib. Cozy.

When she was happy, she's like this. Lovable. 

When she was not . . . well, still lovable. Cute girls have it so good.

The Yukon. Felt like we were supposed to break out into a little Sound of Music.

The Emerald Lake. Sort of beats China's Emerald something something at Yellow Mountain.
First the Olympics, now this. At least we're good at math.

 I have a feeling that this will end up on our Christmas letter this year.

Glacier Bay!  Thunderous crashing of ice and fury. This monster moves an average of 6 feet a day.
Global warming here we go.

There was once a guy who did not pay his debts to the chief so
they carved his face into the totem pole of shame. He looked oddly like a white squirrel.
Decades later, his descendants tried to buy back his honor, but by then,
 it gained protective status as a cool tourist attraction.

We had no idea that Southern Alaska was a rain forest.
Until it rained. And rained. And rained.

The lumberjack show. 
Basically men with chainsaws, wood stumps, biceps, and
world records of climbing trees and balancing on rolling logs in the water.

Victoria at dusk.
Americans should stop 'threatening' to move to Canada
 because of Obama or the health care act.
 Just move there for the love of beautiful harbors and the lack of Republicans.
(Chelsea, I kid.)

Kiera likes J more than she likes me. 
It's probably because he's been working out.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Stereotypical Cruise

The evening shows that feature "Direct from Las Vegas" probably means "Retired from Las Vegas."

Forty year old male performers sashaying to oldies and shaking their butts on stage before singling out and serenading fifty year old women off stage. Those moms scream like little girls for Justin Bieber.

Kids order room service for eight plates of chicken tenders at midnight and then want five more plates of cookies.

Seniors inch along the hallways, blocking the restaurant entrances, with their rolling walkers somehow cruise along just fine on bingo  nights.

Seniors weaving bingo cards into garlands for their hair and wearing them to dinner.

Bingo lady in the middle. Sorry for the blur. It was a quick creeper shot.

Seniors who love the cruise so much that they don't leave the boat when we dock at ports.

Older couples, without walkers, dress up to the nines to their own theme every night. Boas. Retro glasses. Caps with little spinning helicopter blades on top. Pill hats. And they whip out awesome dance moves.

Ostentatiously classy families that sit next to the top deck window, sipping champagne, and habitually ignoring pudgy junior who is trying not to fiddle with his bow tie.

College students making out in the jacuzzi on the top deck shamelessly (best way to make sure nobody else joins you!) while everybody else is shielding his/her face in parkas from the whipping Alaskan wind.

Tourists trying to earn back their cruise money, one pound of food at a time.

"Washy washy, happy happy!!" chorus by friendly filipino staff holding anti-septic spray bottles at the restaurant entrances. It's amazing how many different ways there are to sing washy washy. Reference for future parenting.

Wife gets picked for Deal or No Deal cruise edition. Last five suitcases. She's on a winning streak. She wants to take the $532 offered her and end it. Offstage, her husband shakes his head emphatically. She hesitates and keeps playing and loses it all. Final haul: fifty cents and a frustrated couple.

Audience members that get excited by a Deal or No Deal "celebrity sighting." Oh. Good. They are talking to each other again now. Glad that the game show did not ruin their marriage.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Standing up

My three friends and I squeezed onto the train, waving our tickets above our heads to part the sea of sweaty bodies standing in the aisle, while trying not to trip over the checkered canvas bags that briefly summed up a migrant worker's life in the bruised thermos, love-worn girl calendars, and paint-splattered bundle of clothes.

This was the old-style train from Yang Shuo to Shanghai and we held in our hands tickets that would guarantee us four hard seats for the 22 hour ride. We had splurged on plane tickets to backpack in the lush, moutainous region of Southern China so we struck a compromise with our excel budget sheets and opted to train our way home.

The train rolled away from the station, groaning, as us girls tried to sweet talk strangers into switching seats with us so the four of us would not be separated. The father, green soccer shirt stuffed into worn suit pants held together with a fake Crocodile belt, and his son were slow to agree. The young girl, with dark liquid eyes, quickly nodded and moved to our seats on the other side. While the father was muttering and groping for his shoes under the seats, a slip of a woman, holding her sleeping baby, slid between the crowds in the aisle and sat down on the father's new seat that we promised him.

Mr. soccer shirt, ousted by the little woman and her baby, towered over them, incessantly tapping his fingers on the headrest. The mother had a standing only ticket and her arms ached from the weight of her child. So she avoided the glare of the father and let her body lean into the seat for momentary reprieve.

The father roared for justice and demanded that we give him his original seat back, which would not solve the seating problem because then one of us would be standing instead. We hesitated, torn by our instinctive Christian spirit to give up our paid seat for the mother, but not quite ready to endure the agony of standing for 22 hours, especially for a passenger who intentionally bought the standing only ticket.

By now, the whole car, for sheer lack of entertainment, turned to look at the foreigners who had caused such a scene. The amahs, the wrinkled old ladies with peppered hair and flabby mouths, pointed and passed judgment. The foreigners were clearly wrong. They forced the mother out. Their hearts were like dog liver. They always thought they could do whatever they wanted. Just like when the Western devils came with their armies and carved up China. Ayah!

We were clearly on the wrong side of history (or public relations) and in danger of being pushed out of our seats. So my friend stood up, arms spread to address the whole car, and explained the situation. Seven adults with seven paid seats. One mother with standing ticket. Would anybody, with a standing ticket but is now sitting on an unoccupied seat, please stand up?

Silence. Eyes looked away. Fingers fiddled with loose buttons.

Then, rustling. A fifteen year old girl, with clipped-up bangs and checkered shirt, stood up.

Faith in humanity restored. Or just in outsourced moral dilemmas.


Left to right: Good Samaritan, Madonna and child, and plenty of Pharisees

What would you have done?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Things are heating up

Gilbert, Arizona. So hot that I yelped when I tried to close the car door. We left the car windows cracked when we got out in case the windows burst from the heat.

We apparently broke a record today at 114 degrees Fahrenheit (around 47 degrees celsius). The last record was at 113 degrees in 1991. Crazy.

J took me hiking to see some petroglyphs (ancient etchings by Native American Indians) along a parched pottery-red trail, lined with equally thirsty cacti. Since I had stayed up the night before, catching up on all my work emails, J didn't wake me up till 9:00 am. We set out with J shaking his head, hardly believing that we were crazy enough to head out at this time. Aside from being a little surprised at the assaulting heat, I felt confident, determined even to show that I was well-fortified by the Hong Kong summers. Once on the trail, I was more generous with taking photos than sips of my water bottle. I wanted to save my H20, for the time when my cells actually cried out for it. I drank in the surrounding scenery instead, rattling off questions about the make up of cacti. 

So I was a little confused when my legs started missing their target rocks. My ankle buckled on narrow ledges. I was pricked by a "jumping cactus," which buried its sharp spines through my shoe into my foot. And my head felt light.

But otherwise, I felt perfectly fine. And I didn't even want any water. 

J became insistent. He kept stopping, refusing to go further until I took sips every few steps. He carefully led me down slopes with loose rocks. He hurried to head back once we saw our first petroglyphs. And he kept refilling my water bottle with his every time I turned my back. 

Later, when we were back in the car, J explained to me that I started to exhibit the symptoms of dehydration, especially the decreasing desire to drink water. Apparently, people died of dehydration in Arizona, found with all their hiking gear and full bottles of water all the time.

Hmm. I still think that J overreacted though.