The chal­lenges of pur­su­ing a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship across the cultural di­vide

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - REFLECT - By MAR­JORIE PERRY

In com­mem­o­ra­tion of our oneyear an­niver­sary, it seemed fit­ting to re­flect on the jour­ney of dat­ing a lo­cal Bei­jinger. Like any in­ter-cultural/in­ter-racial re­la­tion­ship, we have had our fair share of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tions and mis­un­der­stand­ings — while also putting forth our best ef­forts to make ac­com­mo­da­tions for each other’s cultural back­grounds and per­sonal quirks.

Through­out the course of my dat­ing GL, he and I have heard com­ments that my he is “li­hai” for hav­ing a for­eign girl­friend and con­versely I am “cool” for dat­ing an Asian guy. Sweep­ing these su­per­fi­cial ob­ser­va­tions aside, I’m here to tell you what it is like to be liv­ing in China and dat­ing some­one who hap­pens to be (sur­prise!) Chi­nese.

Let’s start with the tough stuff — in short, the ar­eas where I have found there to be the great­est cultural gaps. Those are 1) break­fast and 2) fam­ily obli­ga­tion (fil­ial piety sounds too corny).

No, I will not be hav­ing noo­dles for break­fast

Food is cultural ex­pe­ri­ence. The land where our an­ces­tors lived was suit­able for some crops, and not hos­pitable to oth­ers; our moth­ers fed us par­tic­u­lar foods as we grew up, and the chem­istry of our di­ges­tion has come to ex­pect these se­lect fla­vors at dif­fer­ent times of day. How­ever you care to ex­plain it, hu­mans just want to eat what they have come to know.

Prior to com­ing to China, I had not con­sid­ered my­self a picky eater, but now I em­brace be­ing per­ceived as “picky” as a reg­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. The fact that my eat­ing habits are some­thing that is ob­served and com­mented on by oth­ers is one of my least fa­vorite things about liv­ing in China.

As an ex­am­ple, ev­ery day like clock­work, I have ce­real with ba­nana slices and milk at my desk while I read the news. My col­leagues call me mai pian (wheat flakes) in recog­ni­tion of my con­sis­tency. Why do I have the same thing ev­ery day? Be­cause it is de­li­cious and I am used to it.

This kind of stead­fast ad­her­ence to eat­ing a par­tic­u­lar food at a par­tic­u­lar time of day has baf­fled my boyfriend. He in­sists that “any kind of food can be eaten at any point dur­ing the day” and be­lieves he can en­lighten me to this fact. To my ears and stom­ach, this idea seems blas­phe­mous and just down­right wrong.

While he is gen­er­ally able to ad­here this, I have seen him balk and get a lit­tle picky about his food, but only when we have been out­side of China. We were in the United States once and I had picked out an old-fash­ioned Amer­i­cana cafe for break­fast. Pan­cakes, scram­bled eggs, or­ange juice — I was in culi­nary heaven! Per­haps he was feel­ing tired that day, or we had been away from Beijing for too long, but he just wasn’t feel­ing it. Noo­dles, long and thin, was what he re­ally wanted.

Needless to say, we had an early lunch that day. When you are spend­ing a lot of time with a per­son, you

LIANG LUWEN / FOR CHINA DAILY

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