On Holiday with the Wife
Travelling with the Mrs…..
Recently, we went on a trip down to the southeastern coast. We’d been up and down this part of the American coast many times. Lots of great weather, golfing….and one hell of a lot of brown water.
This recent trip was no different.
Some Chinese, when visiting the coastal Southeast, upon seeing brown surf, tend to jump to the immediate conclusion that the water is polluted. I sometimes think my wife says this just to annoy me. The water is brown, therefore it must be dirty….(right?)
While not happy the water is brown, being so near the delta, low lying marshes, and the accompanying silt, I all the same do disdain the quick jump in logic.
So I say to thee….go to Florida BABY. Because brown surf just sucks. I mean, it’s a pinprick in my balloon.
One learns a lot when travelling with the Chinese. I’ve done my fair share. I’ve done more than my fair share. ( A Chinese lady I was travelling with once saved my life off the coast of Hainan in the Winter of 90-91. A long vast beach, with maybe ten people on it.)
Travelling with the Chinese is fun, annoying…educational.
Yet one learns more when travelling with the inlaws. Over these few decades when travelling with the mother in law, I’ve been amused at the comments she inevitably makes when we come to a museum, or see something of beauty. (I’ll get to these in a moment.)
In sum, there is a great propensity to think everything is either Fake, or when shopping, Negotiable.
But first I need to get this story out of the way.
I remember when I introduced her to Star Wars about 15 years ago. I just thought she’d like to see the movie. (I mean, it’s Star Wars, right?)
Upon completion of the movie, and telling her it was made circa 1976, she refused to believe such technology existed than. She insisted this was a new film and I was just trying to impress upon her how great the West is, vis a vis the Heavenly Kingdom. (Me? Not all…)
(Actually, if one does think about it, the differences in lifestyles between China and say, America in 1976 were simply mind blowing…..still the advent of the internet, etc has in my view allowed China to greatly close the gap, and skip over many stages of development that the West itself had to endure.)
So fast forward now, and…..whaddya know, like mother, like daughter.
“Are these flowers real?”
Unbeknownst to me, our restaurant had a dress code for dinner; white tshirts and cargo shorts would not be cutting it. (Unperturbed, I asked if my changing into a blue tshirt would suffice. They said “NO”.)
Still, money is money to the Capitalist, and even money coming from a sweaty dude with a mildly sweaty white tshirt will be accepted. They escort us to a side room, with a great view of the swimming pool.
My wife notices the flower on the table.
“You mean the white rose on our and everybody else’s dinner table at this fancy resort hotel?”
Yes, dear, it’s real. Please don’t pull at it, a petal will simply come off. It will be obvious to our server. No it’s not cool to blame it on the kids. And yes, the server will know it was pulled off.
(A fake flower at a resort?? Really???)
Choose a museum, any museum, any country…..
“Yes the painting is real. No it is not fake. Museum’s cannot charge an entry fee than place a fake on the wall.” Don’t ask me how I know this, it’s just not…cool. And if it is “fake”, it will say “replica”. That is, they will admit it’s “Fake”.
Ok, ok, in a language you understand then.
Seriously, is there anything Chinese think is real? I reflect again on the very poor quality of Chinese life. Quite often the quality of one’s existence comes down to the intangible things. Like the tranquility of enjoying genuine, real things that cannot be faked;
A blue sky.
Red cardinals chirping in the background.
Rabbits eating the peppers I just planted.
It is not that Chinese do not believe a museum would deliberately try and “fool” an art lover, as much as they do not trust that a multi million dollar piece of art could possibly survive unscathed, within the museum itself.
Let’s ponder that for a moment? Why would a museum only display fakes? And why would the Chinese only assume such a thing?
Many people would be surprised that in the early days of Communist Ruled China, there were indeed capitalist “art lovers”. Ironically enough, one of the great despots of that time, Kang Sheng, was probably China’s greatest collector of art. All confiscated, stolen, of course. Where is it now? Don’t know. But it would be nice of China to display it sometime. (Of course if it was put on display, the victims would probably want compensation, and embarrass the Party in the process.)
I remember many years ago when I was in Xian. Visiting the Terracotta Warriors, （while wondering why it is taking China so damn long to excavate Qin Shi Huangs imperial tomb）. Clear as day a sign was posted prohibiting photographs. And just as predictable were people having their pictures taken.
In retrospect can one only wonder why a museum will actually exhibit a famous work of art? Is their trust of The People that high?
Well, give China credit. Chinese know Chinese. Apparently a “real” art painting exhibited in China would simply not last the test of viewing within China itself. So we now have museums with Chinese characteristics.
At the same time, one can readily see genuine Chinese artifacts in the same museum. BC stuff. Cool stuff. Everyone is impressed with that jade comb dating back to 23 BC….except the Chinese.
Family Vacations are also full of physical activity. Walking. Lots of walking. Chinese do not like to exercise. Women that is. I’m sure when Chinese come to America and see us “walking everywhere” they have mixed feelings about the event: a country so “rich” it considers what we Chinese “have to do” everyday as exercise. A family event, even.
My wife hates the mountains. Loves the beach. I say “loves” the beach. She loves the fucking beach so much she refuses to jump in the ocean, get a suntan, or even walk on the sand. She’d prefer to sit on a chair, with a big umbrella over her.
Note to all beach loving China Chicks out there that fit the above description: you are not Fan Bing Bing. You will not be Fan Bing Bing. You do not want to be Fan Bing Bing. It annoys my wife to no end that she tans easily. (Both of my daughters do as well. I simply turn red.)
Yet like many educated Chinese ladies with a parasol glued to their hands in Summer, even a slight shade of tan causes dismay and despair. At first it was funny, but now my wife's allergy to SUN is just annoying.
I compare her to the old man I see in a decrepit lawn chair, with his feet in the surf, head down, napping away. He’s obviously not a tourist. Lives here. But at least he’s “Getting his feet wet”. I want to be that Old Man. He’ll go back to his bungalow and ESPN and his mac and cheese. I won’t see him at the bar later tonight. Or the resort restaurant. But something tells me he’s getting more out of life than China Wife is.
Finally, an hour before dinner, my wife shockingly says she wants to go on a bike ride. I am surprised by this. My wife has a perfectly good bike in the garage that I bought her 8 years ago. She’s ridden it about 8 times. We rent bikes. My China Wife obviously wants this to be a quick, hurried ride to both shut me up and to check off a box.
We hit the beach. Takes about a mile or so of riding to get there. It’s marvelous. There is nothing more powerful on this planet than the ocean. Vast. Endless. Deep. You get the picture.
My two kids and I have to constantly stop and wait for China Wife. Did China invent the bicycle? I dunno. I remember when I was dating My Woman and I’d watch those sexy legs with that flimsy summer dress in Hangzhou all try and work together on that rusty bike she had. The dress would slowly creep up her thigh and I liked it a lot. Then my eyes suddenly focused on how large her calves were. Biking Calves? Yeah, I’d already seen my China Woman in the buff, but WTF were these? I guess when we were tumbling around in my dorm room I just…..never paid attention to her calves. (remember she has other assets) We get three miles, enjoying the beach along the way, and China
Wife announces it’s time to turn back. The circumference of the island is ten miles.
But stupidly, doggedly, I refuse to turn back. My GPS says we have only “3 miles to go”. We bike on! China Wife has no choice but to follow along.
A moment later my oldest daughter comes alongside to inform me she almost ran over a raccoon.
Suddenly my GPS doubles the distance back to our hotel! WTF is this all about? What to do? My competitive juices take over. China Kids are ok. “They can take it”, I say to myself. “Too late to turn back now”, I mutter. We rumble forward. In sum, I get what I deserve, an angry, pissed off China Wife that falls half a mile behind.
I know she will call.
China Husband dutifully receives her phone call, stops his bike on the bike path to hear her tender loving Jiang Qing impersonation, and after 15 seconds of shrill screaming at me in near hysteria, I decide to just….hang up.
I’m almost there.
Meanwhile oldest daughter comes zooming by.
“I almost hit a deer”, she says. Proud of herself.
I am considerably softer the following day, and when China Wife decides she wants to check out the local luxury Ten Star Hotel, I shrug, “why not?”
One characteristic about Chinese that both live in America and have been brought up with a “money mentality” is the need to see “where the rich Americans” live…..or travel. This is just not curiosity but “a goal” as well. The root of all this is a sense of entitlement. As I’ve written about before, my wife, born a generation too early, has come at times to deeply resent her station in life. That is, she “missed out” on the development of China, and thus missed her “fair share”. The Book of Lamentations should really be written about my wife. And other Chinese who were abroad dutifully studying in some foreign graduate school, rather than staying home hustling for a slice of the free wheeling pie that was China for 15 years.
She laments that if she had stayed in China without question she’d have several luxury cars by now and would’ve married a rich man. Yet, like most Chinese in their 40’s she follows up with an honest admission that either her husband or friends would all probably “be in jail by now” as well.
Still, she wants to compare our situation to that of those who stay in the Ritz. So feeling guilty about the bicycle flub the previous day we pull in to the hotel, and I ask an attendant where parking is.
“We only have valet” he says.
“Do you have any bags, Sir”?, he asks
More than a bit awkwardly, but with a veil of confidence I reply,
“We’re here just to look around”.
To his credit he appears well versed in these types of situations, tells me to just keep it there and adds valet is “complimentary”.
He has read me well. Did my minivan give it away? Yet the fact he feels he has to tell me this I find embarrassing.
So The Family piles out of its dusty car, and like the Brady Brunch off we go. As a Political Science major in college I always maintained an air of superiority around me. Business majors were to be looked down upon. They couldn’t see how the real world operated, such was their focus on the Almighty Dollar. In short they had no context to life.
Well, those bitches are staying at the Ritz and I’m stuck wearing white tshirts to dinner. The kids and I walk the halls. We find a bathroom. It’s very nice. The wife meanwhile, has taken off on a mission. I neither ponder nor concern myself with where she is. I already know. Any laowai with a Chinese wife should know as well. Several minutes later she returns with a smile on her face:
“Staying here for one night is $549.”, she says triumphantly.
She decides it’s not worth it. (No duh). We walk around a bit more, looking at things such as the local décor, mildly curious about the people that would stay here. Our stroll through the Ritz lasts twenty minutes. We leave. Or we try to. We wind up waiting many moons for our car, outside the front entrance. Guests come and go. I feel like a mannequin.
After twenty minutes, my wife has a revelation:
“One can never tell these people are rich”, she says.
“Where are all the luxury cars?”, she continues
She was probably also wondering where the hookers were, too. No older men with younger women on their arms here? Instead the scene was much more mundane. Overweight moms in sweats, fathers with several days’ beard and kids with unkempt hair.
The money is still there, mind you. Honey, you see, it’s just not cool to “look” rich in America. It’s much more fun to keep people guessing. Obviously these people have money. It’s $550 a night, right? And I’m glad you noticed the decided lack of Maserati’s, Lamborghini’s, and German cars. I did see a Honda Accord though.
The wealth is there…it’s just not ostentatious wealth. (Remnants of our Christian Ethic?)
The thought that maybe some of these folks are also perhaps just modest people who live well within their means and “save’ like crazy never occurs to her. In her mind, one must “have money” to stay at The Ritz. And obviously if you have money, you want everyone else to know it as well. You want them to SEE you are rich. And just like that, another difference between “US” and “THEM” shines through the clouds.
We finally get our vehicle, and we drive off. Yet I feel my wife has checked off a box, and I can finally stop hearing about her desire to visit “The Ritz”. Like her previous fascination with New York, her eyes have seen what they wanted to see, and alas, the fantasy is disappointing.
I smile inside. Holiday is over. Thank God.