So I realized my blog was posted under Jocelyn Eikenburg’s blogroll “Chinese Men + Western Women Personal Stories” and figured a post on my cross-cultural relationship was long overdue. In other words, I felt like I needed to justify my spot on that blogroll.
My boyfriend has said more than once that he thinks he’s just pu tong, or that there’s nothing special about him. I think he wonders why someone so beautiful, intelligent, and kind would choose him (his words, not mine). We disagree on his pu-tongness for several reasons. The first is that I think we have different meanings of the word. I think that in his eyes, his education, though the same level as mine, was perhaps not of as good quality as mine was. He also doesn’t think he is particularly good-looking (trust me, that is definitely untrue, but his modesty is one of the things I love about him). I think part of it is Chinese modesty, not boasting about your qualities to others, or putting yourself down but not really meaning it. Like when your hostess serves you an incredible meal and then spends half the meal criticizing her own cooking.
For me, his looks are far from pu tong and were actually the first thing I noticed about him at the hotel we both worked at. I had seen him in the staff canteen and wondered who this handsome guy was. Needless to say, when I found out he worked at the western restaurant, I pulled strings in HR so that I ended up spending one month training there instead of the two weeks I was supposed to train. Call it what you want, but I was merely “creating opportunity.”
In China, a LOT, and I mean A LOT of emphasis is put on testing. From elementary school, students are pressured to get good exam results for middle school. From middle school, parents expect stellar results for high school. And high school is the worst, with students studying nonstop for a year in order to pass their gao kao, the college entrance exam. As a result, I think that many Chinese people measure intelligence by which school you were able to test into. Maybe I don’t completely agree because I’ve always been a horrible test-taker. I mean, grades in college were based on three tests per quarter. How unfair is that?! But I digress. While my boyfriend did not go to Beijing University or Tsinghua University, what he has, and what’s more important to me than a name, is that he teaches me so many things. In fact, I’m often shamed by the fact that he knows more about my country’s history than I do. And there are times when he’ll say something about China’s history and I look at him with a slightly confused expression, and he asks “Didn’t you guys learn about Chinese history in school?” I’d almost rather he think I didn’t study it than know that I barely remember anything I learned. But I guess that wouldn’t do much good for US-China relations. He keeps up with current news, and we often have discussions about things going on in the world. More times than I’d like to count, I’ve called him with a particularly interesting news story that just broke and exclaimed, “Did you hear about….?” and he says “Yeah I did,” which totally undermines my coolness factor in being the first to know. I guess that’s called ‘arrogance’ on my part.