Another Argument, Another Solution

Back from Spring Break.  Took the family to Charleston, South Carolina.  Went well.  I recommend this city to anyone as a romantic getaway.   Charleston, as a very old city by our terms(over 300 years old), has a very distinct charm, unlike most places in America.  It is very much like Boston.  The original part of the city has narrow streets and alleyways full of older houses. 

The city is full of church steeples, and extremely walkable.  It is not cheap, but as without doubt the typical readership of my blog is well educated, highly cultivated, and of above average intelligence, this will not pose a barrier to YOU.

Spring Break did not come easily. 
I always make it a point to be home for this time of the year.  Not in China.  (China can wait)

However, this year it did remind me of two things: 

How terribly spoiled my children are.

How differently my wife and I can consider something a good time.

Let’s focus on the latter.

My wife is very liberal for a Chinese, ie one that’s lived here now for at least a decade, and has no problem highlighting the negative side of her culture, when the opportunity presents itself, yet all the same, living overseas has without question brought the Little Lei Feng out of her.  At times, she can be quite nationalistic.

When I tell her that if she were to preface her comments about the “good life” in China with the phrase “Chinese living in America”, that she would be ridiculed back home by her countryman as “out of touch”, she just scowls.    If life in America (or abroad) is so bad, I’m more than sure the number of people willing to switch places with her would suffice to keep her quiet.

The problem started a few months ago.  While up to my neck in grease in China, working on a project, my wife mentioned a getaway up in the Smokey Mtns.  One house, 3 families.  I said sure, why not, and forgot about it.  She’d remind me of this a few times later, and each time I’d answer in the affirmative,

“Sure, why not.”

Finally, a few weeks ago, while waiting for my new Chinese visa found me grounded here in the States’, she brought it up yet again.

With a couple of changes.

It seems that those “3 families” had now become “30 people”.

You heard me right.

Apparently it was to be a large house with 12 or so rooms.  But only 7 bathrooms.   Not really wanting to live in a house, even for 3 nights, with 30 people, I kept my cool and asked if we’d have our own bathroom?

She said we’d have to share.

I asked her when these changes took place.  She said a few weeks earlier.  I told her we’re not going.

Sharing a bathroom would mean 8 people to a bathroom, for 3 days, and well, I wasn’t interested.  

It would be neither comfortable nor enjoyable.   Only a little to my surprise, but still to my chagrin, my wife was unhappy to hear this and started haranguing me about how “since I’m married to a laowai none of my friends invite me to anything anymore”.

Understanding fellow that I am, I told her I didn’t give a shit. 

Rather, she was being selfish and unreasonable

I’m not a college student anymore, and while not wealthy, I am certainly not poor, and I’m not roughing it for 3 days in the mountains, if it means sharing a bathroom.   My wife’s retort was simple:

“This is how we Chinese live.”

Now…this was to be an outing with people of our age, ie the older, “eat bitterness” Chinese generation.  All of these people are not only well educated, but all are also well versed in how to get along with the laowai.  They have nice houses, and nice, stable jobs.  However, the defining characteristic between them and me is they don’t take risks(I married a Chinese, remember?)  By nature, they are all rather conservative, and honestly speaking, just not that fun to be around.  

And none of them drink(that much).
(now you can argue that their originally coming to America was a risk upon itself, and I’d have to scowl back at you with a “really?”, in retort)

So yet again I was reminded that this generation comes from the generation where communal housing, and bathrooms were all too common, back in the “day”.   I remember visiting someone in Guangzhou, in the old Soviet Consulate.   The Chinese had taken it over and turned the Consulate into public housing for I can only guess was 20 families.  Sheets were hung separating each family from another.  It was a very dark place, with candles everywhere, and very unkempt. 

As university students this same generation had 6-8 students to a room.   High school classes had 50 students.   On and on…you get it.

So to them, packing 30 people into a house was nothing but a return to the “good ole times”.

And I could understand where my wife was coming from.  I honestly felt for her.   She was looking forward to the card games until the early morning hours.   The communal cooking of Chinese food, as well as breakfast.  The camaraderie.  The group activities.  The peer pressure that would force to “go along” for the ride.  (I was assured there would be hiking in these mtns).  The feeling I would have no say even in how I spent my private time. 

So I guess in the end I just didn’t give a damn.

I wasn’t going to share a house with 30 people and I wasn’t going to share a bathroom.  
The next couple of days it was a bit quiet in the house.  Plenty of awkward silence.  (There was no sex. ) Spring Break approached and we had no firm plans(though we knew we would be going somewhere.  My wife definitely wanted some face, and just wasn’t going to stay home.)

Then I offered what I thought was a fair compromise.   

“Why don’t we just go and get our own hotel?”

I thought the offer a good one.   My wife could not defend the idiocy of sharing a house with 30 other people.   I was giving her a way out. 

“We’d have dinner with them, etc,” I  put forward.

The answer came back in her categorically negative response:


I had done my best.  Unapologetic to begin with, my compromise was rejected out of hand, and I dropped it.

Still I couldn’t help but feel how her friends now thought of me.

Did they lose face, when they found I wasn’t going?   Surely, these same friends of my wife wouldn’t dare admit to their “American” co-workers the circumstances of their own vacation?

Did they look down on my wife, now?  Was she banned forever after from future dinner parties?

A couple, old or young, needs to be able to play together.  Still, when different cultures are involved, a certain give and take is required.  Was I not “giving enough”?  Was I out of line?  I thought briefly if maybe I shouldn’t just bite the bullet and endure a boorish 72 hrs up in the mountains, with boorish people?

After brief thought, I decided that maybe just maybe this wasn’t so much a gathering “like old times” as much as it was an attempt to simply make the trip as cheap as possible, to the discomfort of all involved.   Further, while no one would be comfortablehow can 8 people share a bathroom?Culture would take over and no one would be gutsy enough to say “no”.

So I convinced myself.

Meanwhile, we had a blast in Charleston.  History(to us), charming architecture, good seafood, plenty of ambiance and lots of window shopping.   Right up (mostly) my wife’s alley.   She had a great time.  Yeah, this was Spring Break, but this was also my wife convincing herself that she had gotten her face back.

During one of our nightly seafood dinners, in a different restaurant each time, my wife would use the occasion to mention that “Chinese wouldn’t come here”. 

“It’s too expensive”, she would claim. 

When I complained about how unsatisfied I was with my $24 pasta, and got a full refund, she piped up,

“That wouldn’t happen in China.  We just have too many people to care what you think.”

Upon visiting a 250 year old building, and old Southern Plantation, she added:

“We don’t go for history, and we don’t appreciate ambiance”.  

“We just want to hang out together, eat and play cards”

Was she generalizing?  Of course.   But she was right.

In this city of tourists, we didn’t see a single Mainland Chinese on our trip.


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