Most people who’ve spoken to me even once will know that I am an atypical Chinese. Firstly, there’s my undeniable fluency in English and secondly, I am neither meek nor am I mild. His Royal Highness, on reading the comments that transpired from yesterday’s post, even went so far as to call me “blatant.”
“I think you mean blunt,” I said.
Indeed, there is nothing subtle about me. Chinese are painfully subtle and much of any communication is by nuances the white man would miss. It could be as simple as the choice of phrasing, a look in the eyes or the slant of a gaze. We don’t say things like, “She can’t come because I don’t want her at my party.” Instead, we’ll say, “I have too many invited guests already. She might not have enough to eat. I’ll invite her next time.”
I, of course, will just say whatever’s on my mind, which has led to me being described as “frontal” by other Chinese. I’d rather that than to beat around the bush. Close friends consider this to be one of my finer qualities, but His Royal Highness, being a Chinaman, finds this both a source of pride and occasional embarrassment. On good days, I wield my words like a fencer does a sword, on bad days, they dribble out of me like water from a leaky tap.
I was watching my movie of the week, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, from Blockbuster video, when he suggested I emulate the two female characters on screen. The story, about lifelong friendship of two girls in modern day China who were descended from sworn sisters in the 19th century, is a Chinese version of Anne of Green Gables. It speaks of female bonding as a whole, the companionship and camaraderie we provide each other, even as it takes a retrospective look at the normative values of days gone by.
Those were the times when Chinese women still entered into arranged marriages, had bound feet, were house-bound, and were hobbled by a hundred archaic conventions. One of the 19th century characters said, “When I go home, I’m going to be a good wife.” To which the other responded, “There’s no greater calling.”
“See how lucky you are,” said His Royal Highness, still perusing my posts.
“Nah,” I said, flashing him my third finger. “No greater calling my arse.”
“Why can’t you learn to be wan yow like them?” he asked. Wan yow is only two words in mandarin, but it means so many things: to be gentle, meek, docile, obedient, subservient…
Before he met me, His Royal Highness thought he was going to marry a tall, piano playing, demure lass. All I have in common with his ideal woman is that I played the piano for a decade and am a woman. Forget the rest. I’d sooner go bungee-jumping than conform to the prevailing stereotype of Chinese, nay Asian, women.
A long time ago, I was told by a relative that I talk too much for a Chinese girl. It made no difference that the person I was caught talking to was a cousin. I swore then I’d never allow myself to be menaced by the shackles of culture or gender. This has been my manifesto.