Breaking the mould: on being outspoken for a Chinese.

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.





5 thoughts on “Breaking the mould: on being outspoken for a Chinese.

  1. Your defining virtue is definitely your frankness.

    By the way, it is wēnróu (tender, gentle and soft). I would prefer a tǐtiē (considerate) wife…:)

  2. Right you are. Wan yow is in Cantonese. Sorry, I was thinking with my Canto cap on when I wrote that down. How do you get your computer to put the little lines above the letters? What am I talking about? I’ve never really paid attention to what number sounds are. How’s your Mando classes coming along? I get the chance to practise every time I run into China Chinese at school. Sometimes I know how things should sound but I can’t get my tongue to make the right tones. It’s frustrating.

    I’d like to think I’m a considerate wife, just rather unconventional for a Chinese. I always tell my husband that if he wanted a woman from ancient China, he should have married one.

  3. I’m totally behind you Estella. I prefer direct and not hiding behind those bushes than supercially glossed conversation. I have just experienced that in HK and by listening carefully and in between the lines, it is even more hurtful than being told bluntly.

  4. It hurts because we know what is being said even when no one says a thing. The kwai los are blissfully unaware of what the non-verbal cues mean and so go away happy.

  5. Pingback: Viva la freedom: my personal anthem | By Estella

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