My Friend Peter


Special Focus - - Contents - Wang Lulu 王露露

Bor­row­ing Books

Thirty years ago, I was a teacher in a univer­sity lo­cated in the south­ern Nether­lands. And I al­ways loved go­ing to the li­brary. At this par­tic­u­lar one, most of the books were stored on open shelves; there was no need to check the in­dex and no need to fill out a slip.

It felt like all sorts of books were wel­com­ing me with open arms. The only prob­lem was, since Dutch peo­ple boasted the world’s high­est av­er­age height, their book shelves were also as high as their peo­ple. And the books I wanted to bor­row were very of­ten stored on the mid to up­per part of the shelves, beyond my reach, so I had no choice but to look around and try to find some­one to help me.

There stood a typ­i­cal Dutch guy with big mus­cles, straw­ber­ry­blonde hair and green eyes lean­ing against a book­shelf leaf­ing through a magazine, who was so tall that I had to look up to him. If I looked straight ahead I could only see up to the third but­ton of his jacket. The tim­ing was per­fect when he closed the magazine in his hand to reach for a new one. I seized this op­por­tu­nity and asked him to come help me by fetch­ing sev­eral books from the book­shelf in the next hall.

He was a bit taken aback be­fore he fol­lowed cheer­fully and helped me solve my book prob­lem.


That’s how we got to know each other. The sec­ond time we met, he said his name was Peter, and asked me my name, and which univer­sity I was studying in.

I said my name was Lulu, and that he should have asked at which univer­sity I taught.

As it turned out he was a sec­ond-year stu­dent of Univer­sity of Lim­burg, Nether­lands, ma­jor­ing in eco­nom­ics. That’s why he thought I was a stu­dent as well. Only af­ter know­ing him for a while did I dis­cover that there was a good rea­son why he thought I didn’t look like a univer­sity teacher.

Ac­cord­ing to Peter’s ac­count of when we first met, I looked like a hun­gry baby cry­ing for milk as I asked him to get a book from the shelf. He didn’t un­der­stand why I had to sit there pout­ing my lips and didn’t just come out with it di­rectly.

This was re­ally in­sult­ing, so I re­torted, “Well, you were all ab­sorbed in your magazine at that mo­ment in the read­ing room, while I, a stranger and for­eigner, needed to drag you away to an­other hall to help me get a book. If I didn’t play cute and act all flirty what would make you will­ing help me?

Peter replied, “I see. But LuLu, what you did might have had the op­po­site ef­fect.”

So I asked him mod­estly what else I could have done.

Peter said he was ac­tu­ally not a typ­i­cal Dutch­man, who might have agreed to help me that day sim­ply out of the good­ness of his heart, but def­i­nitely would not have had any­thing to do with me after­wards. Peter’s fa­ther once

ran a sug­ar­cane farm in the Dutch colony of In­done­sia, and fell in love with an In­done­sian Chi­nese, so his fa­ther knew quite a lot about Chi­nese women’s habits and had passed his knowl­edge on to Peter. If a Dutch­man not in the know like he was saw me act­ing girly, he would def­i­nitely ask me se­ri­ously, “Are you two years old? What’s with the lit­tle girly- girl act?”

Bicycle Re­pairs

One day I went to the li­brary to bor­row a book and had a flat tire on the way. I called Peter and asked him to come help me right away.

Be­fore long he came to the scene with a small box in his hand. He asked me to move my bike to a quiet place away from traf­fic and peo­ple, then handed me the box on which was writ­ten “tire re­pair kit,” and turned to leave.

I called af­ter him: “Where are you go­ing? Why aren’t you help­ing me re­pair the flat tire?”

He turned around sur­prised, “LuLu, aren’t the Chi­nese peo­ple fa­mous for bike rid­ing?” I replied “Yes.” Then he was even more sur­prised, “If you can ride a bike, why can’t you re­pair a tire?” I said, “Well, I spent seven years in Bei­jing Univer­sity and wore out two Pheonix bi­cy­cles. I’ve had dropped bicycle chains and flat tires many times, and ev­ery time the bike broke down, all I needed to do was stand on road­side curb and wait. Be­fore two min­utes passed some stranger of the male per­sua­sion would magic ally ap­pear and stoop down to fix my bike for me with­out any com­plaints. So, I never needed to learn how to fix a bike.”

Peter shook his head with a sigh. He opened the box in his hand and told me, “As long as you fol­low the in­struc­tions, you can’t go wrong.”

I was about to have a hissy fit, but he stayed cool as a cu­cum­ber, and re­as­sured me, “Lulu, it’s no use play­ing the damsel in dis­tress. I’m not go­ing to fall for that. Although I’m not a typ­i­cal Dutch man, I won’t be at your beck and call any­time you want me to come fix this or that for you ei­ther. Can I ask you a ques­tion? Do you see me as a good friend, or as a lad­der to get your books, or as your bicycle re­pair­man? To think that you are a univer­sity teacher. If any­one should get all pouty and cutesy­cutesy, it should be some naïve young chick, not a univer­sity teacher like you.”

Af­ter Peter grad­u­ated from univer­sity, he went to South­east Asia to de­velop his ca­reer. We lost con­tact af­ter that. But he was the first per­son who ever taught me about Eu­ro­pean cul­ture. Since then, I’ve tried to strad­dle the line. To not only ex­ude fe­male beauty in its Chi­nese man­i­fes­ta­tion, but also ex­plore the fem­i­nine ap­peal from the Eu­ro­pean per­spec­tive.

I came to re­al­ize that, when I acted cute to get Peter to fix my bike, I was mak­ing a fool of myself. Be­cause by do­ing this, I was low­er­ing myself be­fore him, and I was act­ing like a weak, cod­dled baby de­mand­ing ev­ery­thing to be handed to me on a sil­ver platter. Ob­vi­ously, Peter and I are both adults, why couldn’t I learn to do what he could? Why did I have to rely on Peter’s kind­ness? In other words, by be­ing a de­pen­dent fol­lower, how could I win Peter’s re­spect? Where was the gen­der equal­ity? With­out equal­ity, how could we talk about mu­tual re­spect, val­ues, love and ad­mi­ra­tion? Isn’t that where women’s charm comes from?

Dutch peo­ple, on see­ing a woman act­ing girly, may ask them, “How old are you that you are cry­ing like a hun­gry lit­tle baby?” French peo­ple fa­vor ma­ture women over young girls. Those dif­fer­ent ways of ex­pres­sion show how Eu­ro­pean peo­ple view fe­male charm. In their view, for­bear­ance, no­bil­ity, ma­tu­rity, wis­dom, valiance and self- re­liance are where the real beauty lies. (From World

Knowl­edge , Fe­bru­ary 2018. Trans­la­tion: Lu Qiongyao)

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