And from the beginning there was Harmony

My mood is somewhat better today, as I am able to write next to a towering tree full in the throes of belatedly changing its colors for FALL.  The leaves are a mix of orange and red, with rapidly fading green and yellow.  Within my subdivision I would imagine it is always the last tree to lose its green color as well as the last to regain its Spring finery.  Our American Thanksgiving Holiday is winding down and as such I now have time to write.

As such, writing next to this beautiful scenery of peace and tranquility only dims somewhat the passion I had for this post.  

My competitive zeal in Youth without question colored my judgement towards marriage.  I’ve written extensively as to what a laowai must look for when marrying a Chinese Woman.  When one ignores the warning signs one must all the same make another internal decision;  to “carry on!” or simply to quit when one still has a chance.   I chose the former, and it of course has made all the difference in the world.

Below are some of the more comedic episodes, (in chronological order) that took place very early on within my marriage to 80’s China Girl.  A few of which I’ve perhaps already touched upon.

When I first left China in the early nineties I moved to Tokyo.  I figured I’d never really be this way again anytime soon, and I was keen on learning Japanese, as I felt it might be of some use to my career in the future. (quick note to everyone out there;  learning a foreign language is highly overrated for one’s career, and I will once again expound upon this in a post later)

While in Tokyo I taught some English and worked in a pharmaceutical trading company as well.   As I’ve insinuated in the past, I’m not a big fan of Japan.  I just don’t have the personality for it.  Maybe if I had a better job and was an expat with money to spare it would’ve been more enjoyable, but alas I was a newlywed with school loans to pay off, and eventually the opaqueness of Japanese Society very quickly got to me.  Japan was very different from China, and having to learn the subways was a shock all unto itself.

While in Japan I lived in what was derisively called a “gaijin house”.  Gaijin is simply the Chinese word for laowai.   Only partially tongue in cheek, I’m sure it’s quite normal for ethnically homogenous countries to still have openly derisive terms for outsiders ie foreigners.  

Our gaijin house was the eyesore of the neighborhood and I’ve been told it has since been torn down.  It was basically a medium sized house with a sliding door for an entrance that housed probably ten of us, with a communal toilet and shower, and kitchen.  We had one TV.  We had a Korean and Chinese girl, along with several Western men. 

But as regards Japan itself even twenty years ago, Chinese were everywhere.  Imagine the Africans in Guangzhou and you’d get the picture. As soon as I was able to process my wife’s paperwork she arrived.  During this time period I had my own room, which I paid roughly $750 A month for.  I had a bed and a desk, along with a tatami mat wide enough for exercise.

Eventually I was able to upgrade to a substantially larger room upstairs with a rent that took around 30% of my monthly income.  There was no bed and I slept on the tatami like most Japanese do.  I did this for several years. 

At night the place became relatively silent as everyone had a job.  Yet not one month into my wife’s arrival we apparently had an argument about something.   I say “apparently” because I have no earthly recollection of what it was about.  But I do clearly recall this:  she locked me out of our bedroom.  

Not in Tokyo one month and she is already locking me out!  Crazy!  Except our house was deathly quiet at night and thus hearing a knock on the door would be a sound well travelled throughout the house.  I would knock intermittently and each time was met with silence.  As such I steeled myself to sleep on the stairs that night.  Hoping none of the other gaijin would see me there.   Too embarrassed to let everyone know just how immature my wife was.   By the way, we were the only married couple in the house.  Finely after what seemed like an eternity she unlocked the door and inside I went.  Happy to not have to sleep on the stairs that night.  My wife was 24.  I was 26.

As I alluded to above I pretty much hated my time in Japan.  Japan was a society that was just hard, plain hard to “slide into”.   I found the Japanese stand offish.  The men stared at me far more than the women did.  Japan thought it was still at its peak in the early 90’s, while it had actually already started its decline.  Yet the last thing to fall is Pride, and it took the Japanese several more years to realize their country was fucked, long after Japan had actually begun its long slide from the peak of its power and influence.  When I was a college student Samuel Huntington once famously said Japan’s GDP would surpass America’s within the next few years.  Today I believe their GDP is half of America’s.

My point to all this is if one is an English teacher, which I was, you felt the stinging edge of the blade of early decline before anyone else.  English classes were a luxury, and when things got tight, luxuries such as English classes were the first things to go.  And as such my company went bankrupt owing me a shitload of money.   Luckily for me, this company also owned an apartment building in a very prime area of Tokyo.  A place called Shinjuku.  I would take the East Shinjuku exit every day, and maybe 5 minutes later I was back in my apartment.   

It turns out this company’s creditors promptly tried to seize the building I had just moved into.  But Japan being Japan, the wheels of justice turned very, very slow.  Though the creditors had seized the building they had no way of forcing me out.  So I stayed there for 6 months’ rent free, until the money owed me was “paid up”.    I had gone from a rent of 70,000 yen to a place with a market value of at least 200,000 yen, and I wasn’t paying a penny.

Things eventually worked out for me in Tokyo.  I paid off my student debt, and saved more than enough for graduate school.  My wife had a good job.  She spoke excellent Japanese.  In short, she loved Japan. 

Alas, I was several more years away from graduate school, I just didn’t know it yet.   What I did know is I was stuck with an immature wife, who quite frankly, wasn’t ready to be a wife.   Nor I perhaps a husband.

While at work I had met a co-worker that loved chess.  When he wasn’t screwing his students he was playing chess. (I can’t tell you how much sex I passed on having been married while in Tokyo)
One night he invited me over to his apartment for chess.  His station was at a small stop, on a line a bit out of the way.  It was Sunday night.   I had told the wife I would be back by 10pm.  While at my co-workers apartment I would listen to his stories of conquest mixed in with his plans for the future.   

We played a few games of chess and I found it quite mentally fulfilling.  It felt good, in the days before the internet, to use one’s mind on something aside from work.  Alas, I had no clear timetable for leaving Japan, but knew it wouldn’t be that year.

My co-worker was quite good at chess and beat me quite easily.   It was time to go.  Realizing I was a few minutes behind schedule I was out the door racing to the station.  Today, with the mortgage, the kids, the expectations not only I, but China Wife and “mother in law from hell” place upon myself, looking back at how I so earnestly raced to the train station to get back to Shinjuku seems like a silly, silly thing to have stressed over whatsoever.  But stress I did.  I had promised China Wife I’d be home by ten.

Tokyo has the world’s greatest subway system, bar none.  Trains sometimes whisk in every 30 seconds.  Every time I hear of yet another Amtrak disaster I cringe.   I can hear the Japanese laughing at us from 7000 miles away.   The US could have a great train network.  We simply choose not to invest in one.  The Japanese rightfully consider a train network the beating heart of their economy.   

We do not. 

But when it is Sunday night, and you are at a peripheral station, the trains simply don’t run every 30 seconds.  Even on a Sunday night a main line might run every 3-5 minutes.   But the kiss of death is missing the last train of the night.  Which depending on the station can be 11pm to later.  Something one never hopes to do.  Because than you are at the mercy of the taxi driver.   And another thing one doesn’t want to do on a Sunday night is just miss the train that just left.  I mean, you can still see the lights of the train in the tunnel.

And that is exactly what I did.  

Upon seeing the trains light vanish in the darkness the first thing I did was look at the schedule posted on the wall.  The next train wouldn’t be for another 20 minutes!  I couldn’t believe my bad luck.

My platform was empty.  But over the next 20 minutes it slowly filled up.  Even with the delay I only managed to be 10 minutes late getting home.  It was 10:10.

But you guessed it.  To my dismay the damn door was locked!   As our doors were composed of a hollow aluminum shell, the noise of my knock reverberated into the other surrounding apartments.    

We all have peepholes in our doors, and we are all nosey people.   When someone repeatedly knocks I’d find myself looking to see who it was as well.  And with each knock on my own damn door I could feel the eyes of my neighbors staring through me, wondering just why I couldn’t get in to my own apartment?

My neighbors were all Japanese, save for the Chinese KTV girl that lived next door.  None of them were friendly, and all of them probably wondered what the hell I was doing living there?  I’m sure none of them would miss me when I eventually left. 

Still, I just couldn’t believe the silly immaturity of this woman.  Locking me out of my own apartment?  Again?  Because I’m a measly ten minutes late?  As if I can control the Japanese subway system?  What kind of crazy Chinese Woman is this?

My brain was overwhelmed with scary thoughts of the future.  Is this the way my life is gonna be?  Is this silliness ever gonna stop?  Is this worthy of sending her ass back to China?  As is, she was still on a dependent visa.   She needed me in order to be here. 

Yet I was caught between disbelief and yet again embarrassment as I knocked one more time, hoping none of my “friendly” Japanese neighbors would come out and openly scold me.

I could hear the lock “click”.  I opened and snuck in.  My relief of simply getting back into my own apartment before facing the wrath of my neighbors making me momentarily forget anything else.

What was China Wife’s excuse?

“you were late” of course.

While living in Hong Kong in the mid 90’s we had a CNY KTV moment.  A Hong Kong co-worker of mine, along with her British boyfriend, a Japanese co-worker along with his Turkish wife, and me with you know who all went to karaoke.  There may have been a few other Hong Kong co-workers of mine, as well.  It is the only time I’ve ever been to KTV in HKG(I’ve missed out on nothing).

Well….I can’t sing.  I cannot carry a tune.  Which is another proper reason I don’t like to go to KTV. But after awhile the alcohol began to have its desired effects and I decided to sing an Elvis tune.  Now, as most folks know and understand singing an Elvis tune with an ‘Elvis voice’ is part of the fun.   I had a pretty good Elvis voice and with a few glasses of whatever we were drinking I sang.  I had our small group clapping in unison, everybody in a good mood.  Great stuff!  Right?

Shortly after with only a slight buzz going, we wrapped things up and I was back in the January Hong Kong sunshine.  Did I neglect to mention we went to KTC in the middle of the fucking day?

While everyone gives their hearty goodbyes I find myself sitting on the curb, when, well within ear distance of everyone else my wife begins to berate me for not taking KTV “seriously”.  Yep, guilty as charged, I was lectured for not singing properly.  I simply kept my head down while this “berating” took place.  It lasted all of 20-30 seconds but I could easily sense the other Hong Kong ladies that had gone with us silently observing the situation.  I’m sure they felt for me.  If ever I could give an example of the difference between “them” and “us” this is it.  This is The One.

And not for the last time, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.   Laugh at the absurdity of it all, or cry for what I had gotten myself into.

One day we were on the “Hong Kong” side of Hong Kong.  The island side.  It was a warm spring day.  By that I mean it was around 80 degrees with humidity.  A great day for taking pix.   I had managed to get a job in Hong Kong, my life back in America still a few years away.

We had come across a manmade pond in a park.  It was great background for a simple pic.  However, there at the moment was a wedding party with the same idea in mind.  Knowing they would probably be there awhile I gestured to China Wife for us to move along.  She resisted.  Not clear what she was thinking, I gestured again.  After all, we couldn’t possibly take pix with the pond in the backdrop, while a weeding party was there…..right?

Suddenly, China Wife yelled.  I mean, she literally yelled.  The wedding party stopped and turned our way.   China Wife had blurted out in Chinese “我要这里拍照片!”

I could feel my face flush with red at embarrassment, but also with anger at the selfishness of China Wife.  For some reason she felt she was in competition with the wedding party.  It had never occurred to her we could simply come back later, perhaps only within several minutes, to take the silly pic with the man made pond in the background.   Somehow some way, she was apparently losing face having to wait for someone else’s pix to be completed before she could take hers.  And she had internally made the decision not to wait. 

Well I certainly wasn’t going to ask a wedding party to step aside.  No way.  So I simply walked away.  I was just speechless at what I had just witnessed.  Nothing in my upbringing had prepared me for this situation.  Thus the delay in my reaction.  

We later got the pic. 

There are others. I could go on.  A few decades later I look back upon these events and I know it was youth and immaturity more than anything.  I’m sure I’m just as guilty.  And I’m convinced China Girl from the 80’s simply was wired differently from Modern China Girl.  But I have to wonder also what the effect of being an only child had to do with anything?  You are all well versed on my thoughts regarding this in particular.


  1. You have many interesting stories from the older days. You should share more.
    The more you write about your wife the more she sounds like a spoiled brat, whose parents never said no to her as a kid. I don't think these incidents are that Chinese-specific. I have friends in the States and in Europe who are married to Chinese women and they are not all like your wife.

  2. Hi, much thx for the comment. You are correct, of course. That thought was always on my mind as I wrote this. Any nationality has the same type of women as well. She has matured alot of course. None of the above things would be an issue with her today. It's just the trip from point A to point B has been nerve wracking at times. Waiting for someone to mature is a slow process. Waiting for me to mature...ditto.

  3. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on language learning.

    1. Let me send you a few early, and I mean early posts...
      this one is from 2013 and still stands:

  4. Hi Fletcher,

    Enjoyed your comments about Tokyo. Spent a couple of hellish years there recently, after a few relatively nicer ones in Kyoto. My partner (she is Chinese) and I were both graduates from a prestigious J. grad school. We both speak fluent Japanese. She had a job with a famous foreign IT company, I was tagging along, and worked as a translator/interpreter for an animation company. We knew enough of how things are here to not expect a grand life, but the sheer grinding misery of it took us by surprise.

    On the one hand, pay rates are really terrible, the working hours excessive, and work relationships often highly abusive. It seems to me like a general break down of morality beneath the surface, with so-called "black companies" are proliferating like cancer. Exploitation of the youth coming in from the countryside with stars in their eyes is the only game in town. My partner was forced to work so much on one project I was worried she would die of a heart attack. And then you add on top of that the discrimination for her begin a working woman, and Chinese... Then of course the company stealing your overtime pay etc.

    On the other hand, many Japanese still desperately want to cling to this idea that they are superior to the Chinese (and everybody else for that matter). Funny thing? There are thousands of well educated Chinese living in Tokyo right now, smart, talented, speaking three or more languages, with plenty of family money and opportunities back home or elsewhere abroad, but they have to smile and put up with coworkers or bosses who think that they are the lucky ones for getting to be there, working in such a terrible environment. You don't have to spend much time in a developed part of China to immediately see how superior the quality of life is to Tokyo. Just in terms of floor space in your average apartment, the cost of goods, or the night life (cleanliness of the air and tap water aside). Japan has been left behind, but just still doesn't really know it, or want to admit it. Each year you can see little news snippets showing the cracks. The government relaxing the residency process for "professional foreigners", after they realized nobody is beating the door down. Exchange students up and going home without even attempting to get a job after their friends tell them about what to expect. Etc.

    So, we might have stayed longer, but two years was more than enough for us. It was clear there is no future there. Sure, if you have a high payed executive position you can probably enjoy some of the quirkiness. And for a holiday there's plenty to enjoy. But for your average educated foreigner it just doesn't make any sense to make the commitment of living there for any real length of time. Knowing Japanese to a high level got me a pay packet about equal to what I would get at home washing dishes! (our minimum wage isn't bad I'll admit, but still). So Japan lost another two people who it probably needed. And it looses more every day, the same way it looses its own work force to depression, suicide, and non-compliance (people locking themselves in their rooms and not coming out). It is like a country eating its own future out of sheer spite.

  5. Nobody escapes Darwin my friend. The Japanese are akin to a People that know they are sick, know what they have to do, and yet stubbornly refuse to take the antidote on the bedside beside them. They are a People built for an earlier time. Ironic they themselves helped speed us along to an information age they themselves are simply unable to cope with. As with China, Japan itself has no friends to speak of, no real allies(except us).

    Poor Japan. No one will attend it's funeral except an awkward Uncle Sam.

  6. Apparently many of the small craftsmen and tool and die maker businesses will shut down when the old men die. Either they don't have sons, or theirs sons don't want to carry on the business, and they would rather close their doors than pass on their knowledge to somebody outside of the family.

  7. I bet first anon post just doesn't know. I put up with my wife's immature BS for about 7 years, but everyone else thinks she's solid as a rock. Been locked out, yelled at in public, embarrassed by rude/ignorant shit she's said... Sometimes I too, wonder why the fuck I put up with it. She's more mature now, but gawd, I see the behavior in the stupid shows she watches as well.. I hate the Chinese. And i tell others, that's an informed opinion.

  8. Yeah, the "informed opinion" bit tends to end all debate. I remember once in Hong Kong on the subway, when she started scolding me in Mandarin, back before the Mandarin Wave hit. Everyone turned and gawked at her, wondering who she was criticizing. I just turned and waited silently for the next station, and when the doors opened, without saying a word, I simply sauntered off onto the platform as she continued her rant, leaving her behind.


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