Expat Blogs | Expat Dating in Shanghai and Beijing
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After all, when a Chinese girl pouts, a million hearts melt; when I pout, I resemble a fish. So where does this leave the expat women? Gorging on crispy duck and splurging on pirated copies of Downton Abbey?
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However, unlike the majority of Western women living in China, who watch bitterly as the egos of below-average men swell from the admiring looks of Chinese girls, I took an altogether different approach and chose to date Chinese men instead. Most Western women shy away from the prospect of having a Chinese boyfriend: To me, though, these obstacles seemed like things that would make a relationship more interesting.
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But then I always have had an unusual taste in men. Even as a teen, instead of practising my snogging technique on a poster of Nick from the Backstreet Boys, I would be daydreaming of Lister Craig Charles from Red Dwarf. By my late teens, when my friends were chasing football players, I had developed a thing for men with long hair.
Having a native boyfriend was like being given a key to China. I learned so much more about the country, its people and their values during the three years we were together. It was fascinating to be with someone from whom I learned something new every day.
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Thanks to that relationship, I can speak colloquial Mandarin including the kind of swear words that one should never, ever use and prepare traditional Chinese dumplings with the speed and skill of Ken Hom. I also understand what really makes Chinese people tick. I know that when I have dinner with my boss, it is best to make sure that his cup is always filled with tea, and that the quickest way to impress someone is to ask whether they have eaten.
Give lots of gifts, pay for dinners and, oh yes, remember to acknowledge that the Chinese invented pretty much everything. However, as in any relationship, small things — which at first made our relationship unique and extraordinary — started to become exasperating after a while. His mother, although I adored her, was overbearing.
She would call him several times a day with the most useless advice, to instruct him to wear a coat because it was cold outside, or to remind him to drink more water and ask him endless questions about his health. Although I admire the strong bond people here have with their parents, being with a man whose mother plays such a fundamental part of his life undermines any sense of a mature relationship. My Chinese girlfriends often moan about their exhausting mother-in-laws, who become jealous if their son pays his wife too much attention. It was an accumulation of things I found increasingly hard to ignore, such as his criticism of Western women who he would condemn for being overweight, aggressive and too easy and my deteriorating patience with his personal habits the stomach-churning sound he made as he spat in the bathroom sink — a daily habit of most locals — or his insistence on wearing the same unwashed clothes for several days in a row.
We Brits have been brought up to consider personal hygiene and table manners as second nature.