More Stories from the Battleground

Struggling to maintain my identity in my own country, with a Chinese spouse, can be a challenge at times.  I find my ability to maintain who I am….an American, difficult even in America, when my wife is Chinese.  This is probably an individual problem.  I’m sure not every Chinese speaking husband has the same issues I find myself having.   But it’s weird when I find myself wanting to go back to China in order to eat more Western I cannot get any back home.

I’m sure it’s all my fault.  My tolerance level is probably too high for my own piece of mind.   An example:

The fish head

Typical Chinese, my wife will buy the whole fish, tail, head and all, and bring it back to clean it, and eat.  One of my daughters does not like fish with bones.  The younger one does.   Lately, for some reason, I’ve seen her saving the head, however, and to my chagrin, keeping it in our fridge for extended periods of time. 

Now, right here I’ll pause for a moment and mention what every laowai that is married to a Chinese goes through; the “smell hunt”.   How many, many times have we opened the fridge in our house, only to detect a strange odor, hidden somewhere within?   If I only had a penny….

Usually it’s some strange meat or shellfish she has inside.  The funny thing is once I bring it up, she either knows right away what it is….or she has to herself spend several seconds finding it as well.   

The same goes for fish head.

Why can’t my wife just eat the damn thing the day that’s she’s bought it back from the market?  Why must she keep the fish head in the fridge?   Eat the damn fish head!
Instead over the past several days as I look for normal things like butter…..and cheese… I find myself again and again pulling out the same fish head, in a Tupperware container…eyes and all.  This pristine little fish head. 

“Pls eat your fish head, dear”, I ask gently.

 My wife cooks fish once or twice a week.   She and I are different.  She wants to be like her dad and live to a 100.  Yet I know better.  I know damn well I won’t have a single happy day after 70.

No more sex.

No more walks.

God only knows how many ailments I’ll have by then.  I figure I’ll see my grandkids as children.  That’s fine by me.   But I don’t want to spend the last years of my life going to the doctor every week either.

The invitations have ceased.
The wife finally hinted to me that she’s missing out on activities with other Chinese families because of yours truly.   I don’t get it.  Yes, I ‘m gone quite a bit, but I’ve been a good sport when I’m around.  We took a big multi Chinese family skiing holiday last year….great fun.   She hints I’m a hassle.   WTF?  Me? I guess I just don’t “fit in”…

For one thing I lack the appropriate religious fervor.  I don’t go to Church, nor will I ever go to Church.  And that’s held against me.   Her friends are all a bit heavy into that.   True, last time we went to a Chinese friends’ house for dinner, they had an impromptu Service that kept me in the basement for an hour and a half with the kids.  

Still, to have China’s most talented, sophisticated and hardest working generation act such a way is a bit surprising.  Do the Chinese just “stress” when in my presence?  I dunno….

I continue to lose weight

Even in America, the Chinese food is taking it’s toll.  Doufu and Shrimp, Sauteed green beans…..Soup “this” and Soup “that”….healthy though it is, my body breaks down and I need to eat proper “American” food promptly or I go into withdrawals…..and this is in America!

So we went for “Italian” the next day.    

Another house paid in cash   

The real estate mkt in America is notoriously cheap everywhere but maybe California and NY.   Another one of my wife’s friends bought a 10,000 sq foot house, with 9 bathrooms and 2 acres of land for the “princely sum” of $700,000.  In cash.    (can you say tax audit?)  The Chinese continue to do wonders for housing in America.   Though the husband has a very good job, they are keeping their original house all the same.   The new house is cheap because it is both a foreclosure and a in a subpar school district.  Still, we all continue to wonder “where the money comes from”….?

And maybe that describes in a nutshell the problem with America…ie as a family unit, most of us just don’t have that much cash to spare.  We’re saving for our retirements.  (we think)   Who in his right mind is gonna pay for a house in cash?  (answer: either a “flipper” or a Chinese)

Yet it gets worse when your wife’s “friend” wants to show it off.   Here we tread a narrow line;  the jealousy in us comes out.  We don’t want to go “gawk” at a house that was so obviously bought with “ill gotten gains” from China… we?   An American would feign indifference.  We’d play it cool.   We wouldn’t want “those people” to think their better than us.    So we punish them, and temper their wholly imagined “arrogance” by simply pretending to be just too busy to go take a look.

The particular wife of this Chinese couple is a crazy woman.  Nary a friend.  She threatened to sue the local Chinese community when her young son was bullied in Chinese school.  (a weekend cultural program) He’s two years ahead of his actual junior high class and is now in high school.   A big fat Chinese kid that can barely stand up, two years ahead of his class, ie 2 years younger than everyone else in his current class, he is constantly bullied in school.  Suspended.  Made fun of.  ( I’m sure he will look back on his school years fondly.)  Meanwhile his mom brags about her kids intelligence.   (The bullying is worth it as long as he stays 2 years ahead of everybody else and she can keep on bragging..)

It’s easy to tell the mom herself has no friends either.  And one can already see the future emotional problems this poor kid will have, thx to mom’s pride.  However, should she come to her senses and focus on the child’s emotional development, and maybe bring him down a year, is she’ll lose face.  And well, quite frankly, her FACE is just more important than that of her own child’s emotional well- being.

So no, I don’t want to go see your house.  I don’t like you and I can care less how big your damn house is.  And I will express my disdain for you, by not visiting your new house.  But my wife is different….or should I say normal?  The curiosity gets the best of her.  And she has this nasty trait of getting along with everyone.  People that can’t find a friend cling to her.  She’s that type of person.  

So my wife goes and sees that house, and comes back in her usual damn bubbly voice about “how big their house is!”, and I can’t help but feel she’s insinuating our house isn’t big enough, and well quite frankly, I need to pick up the pace.(she want’s a million dollar hse, remember?)

Than my studied indifference is all blown to hell because this crazy Chinese Mom, with only one friend, is determined to invite us over for dinner sometime to show off her new house!  That means I’ll have to go (and paste a smile on my face before I walk in), and as earnestly as I can, give Face to Crazy Woman by telling her how damn big and pretty and impressive her house is.   Because my wife wouldn’t have it any other way.

The grill

My wife likes to clean.  She cleans for relaxation.  She cleans to get away from me.  She cleans to contemplate.  She cleans to make me feel guilty. 

And now she’s cleaned my grill.

While away in Shenzhen for 3 weeks I came home to a clean grill.  I don’t know how to react. 

Is she playing mind games with me?

Is she playing the guilt card?

Is this her way of telling me I’m lazy and slovenly?(partially)

I’ve no problems when my wife cleans the dishes…..but I almost feel she is playing mind games with me when she cleaned the grill.  I must say I’m not at all happy about it.  I think she’s crossed the line.  Yeah, I know what you are thinking…..(lucky you!  What are you complaining about!)

I now know that if I could have a wife with two qualities,(beyond the obvious gents) I would choose the following:

A wife that likes to watch movies.

A wife that likes to watch football.

I can say with a straight face I do not place great emphasis on a wife that cleans until 10pm at night.  I just don’t.   I want a wife that will let me fold the clothes once in a while.   Let me even put the laundry in the washer(I was banned from even doing that years ago)

Selfish me doesn’t want a wife that cleans my grill.  Or folds my underwear.

I have a friend with a younger Chinese gf.  She’s terrible at housecleaning.  And you know what?  He loves it!   She’s great in bed and has multiple orgasms.  He can’t get enough.  They take long walks.  They frequently go out and watch movies together.  But she can’t wash a damn dish, and he’s never seen her do laundry, and he can care less.  

But the older generation is different.  The contract is clear to them;  they will wash, and fold and cook, and follow up with the children’s homework.  I will work and bring in money.  Simple.  But this unwritten agreement is maybe a little too black and white for me.   Sometimes I think it’s all abt the housewife  and her need to maintain her sense of self worth, in the eyes of her foreign husband. 
Sometimes it’s overboard.  I was scolded the other day for attempting to help my daughter with her grammar homework. WTF?  I asked my wife tongue in cheek that maybe I should be the one assisting with that?  I was waved away.   When spelling review come though, I find my daughter can’t even pronounce half the words correctly.  

I must admit, upon marriage I was indeed prepared for the Family.  But I wasn’t prepared for such a cut and dried division of labor.   I find they are all this way, however.   The dad plays the role of docile breadwinner, and pretty much shuts the fuck up when he comes home.   I think most Western Men will agree that’s not something they are prepared to accept.    

Marriage is always a double edged sword.   But with a Chinese Wife it can become a soul sucking experience.   It’s become too much about tangible metrics as opposed to intangible abilities. 

“How big is your house?  Ahhh….your husband must have a good job!”

“Your car….aahhhhh”

As a result, I find that Chinese just don’t place much emphasis on things such as emotional fulfillment. 

Families do not compare themselves to each other, by how often dad takes Little Boy Wang to the park.  There seems to be very little focus on emotional fulfillment in Chinese families.   
The society is too goal oriented for my taste.

 In the West, it’s about the “journey”.   In China, it’s all about reaching the “destination”.   The trip itself is a nonattentive blur.

When a society is as focused, as goal oriented as China’s is, it says two things:

“We’ve been poor too damn long, and I want to live.”  And…..

There has been very little social contemplation on a national level(another future post).  At this time in Chinese History, China is recovering from 170 years of decline.   The time for real contemplation just hasn’t come yet.  There is no time for introspection.

But I would like a splash of gray in my marriage, if you please. 

The Network

My wife has little difficulty in America.  And I’m relatively confident it is the same in Australia, or Sweden, or wherever you may live.   Including Japan. 

We can all attest that our spouses, or girlfriends, simply do not need to speak the host language, even when they live abroad.   There are the supermarkets.  The Chinese salesmen at the car lots, the Chinese handyman, the Chinese Church.   We’ve already seen that Chinese like to vacation together.   I’ve never been to a single Chinese Dinner Party where One Laowai Family was invited.  

Not one.  

In short, my wife doesn’t need me. 

When she first came to America, the first thing I did was teach her to drive.  Most Americans drivers were pretty patient.   One motorcyclist did give her the finger once.   I thought that once she was on my turf though, she’d be more inclined to listen to me, for a change.   When we lived in Hangzhou, and Hong Kong and Shanghai together, I usually just followed along.  She knew the area better than I did, and that was that.

Boy was I wrong.   Once she arrived in America, and got her feet wet, she simply plugged into the “Network”.  That vast Chinese circle of acquaintances.    Soon she was telling me where we should go on vacation.   Which local restaurants were popular, and which Malls were to be frequented.   One might think this a godsend, but not always.   Quite frankly, I found her new “circle of friends”  “getting in the way”. 

To my annoyance I found her friends were actually beginning to dictate our schedules.  It’s no fun to explore a new city when you’ve already been told what to expect.  They were even dictating our travel plans!

“Why are we going to Disney, our daughter is only 4?”

“My friends said it was fun”! (and of course, I don’t want to look like an idiot by not being the only one who hasn’t gone yet, so my dear husband, you will shut the fuck up and drive us there.)
Sometimes the influence of the Network bordered on cultural bias alone:  everyone on the Eastern Seaboard knows the best time to visit the Smokies is in the fall, not the Spring.  Not the Chinese.  For some reason, they prefer the Spring…..

The Network was now my competition.   Indeed, living in my native country really gave me no leverage at all.   The Network dictated our activities.  

I must admit sometimes this is a good thing, though.  Recently the temperature reached 5 degrees(13 below), and one of our pipes froze.   Only a Chinese plumber from the Network was handy on a timely basis.

So what do I do?  I choose passive resistance.  I fight the good fight.  And that’s probably what has kept us together longer than most laowai-Chinese relationships.  


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