Emails From Chengdu

Dearest Don ****,

You have your own style, darling ~ a casual attitude; no fucks given; all the lols.
My old New York room mate is a professional accordion player; when I hear accordion music, I think of him and his Tinder dates and his women, his cigarettes and Groucho Marx face; I think of New York, and his accordion music echoing in the subway, playing to himself and whatever mysteriously lucky red-headed devil leaning against the wall around the corner, getting sick from nostalgia as he reads tender emails from China.
I miss New York very much. I miss my friends. I miss being able to go to things I know I’ll have fun at, I miss the art & DIY scene..
New life with ***: *** is a monogamous person, so exploring that kind of intimacy is pretty new to me … he continually shows me what it looks, smells, and feels like to be in a healthy relationship; calls me out on my bullshit, down for bike adventures, and most romantically he’s been consistent in helping me find a good place to climb. The gyms here that are closest to me are are abysmal: dusty, grime-slicked holds that probably hold fossilized skin cells in the resin of pollution air that wafts in (the place is a cement shack on top of a roof top). What’s funny are the tires outside in front of the top-roping walls for people and (there are mostly pre pubescent boys taking climbing classes there) the kids to work out with. What is this, Rocky?
Many of the bouldering walls have no routes marked at all– it’s a haphazard mix of holds, and teachers use long pointer sticks to indicate which hold you’re supposed to try and grab next. The only clean/nicely matted bouldering walls we found are on the top floor of a mall, and pretty challenging for someone who hasn’t climbed in half a year. I feel like a blob. I am a blob. I am blobbified.
In any case, *** is the only thing between me and a blob drain. It surprises me how supportive he is in this search; sometimes, I feel like he’s doing so much for me to feel at home in Chengdu, which gives me a great ambivalent feeling balancing between love and fear.
In other news, Chinese clubs: you’ll be a star. There are plenty of clubs who give promotional table service to WHITE PEOPLE just for showing up. Because where there are white people, there comes expendable money. There is also a circle of young to older women: “Lao Wai Hunters”, which literally translated means “Foreign People Hunters”, but REALLY means “White Men Hunters”. It is not hard (*for white men) to get laid at one of these ex-pat clubs; in Sichuan the men tend to be a slim, willowy, short build, so the physical change is welcome and exotified to the spicy ladies of Chengdu. And they are certainly spicy: a common thing you might see on the street (day or night) is a girl verbally or physically abusing her boyfriend. They call this kind of man a “soft ear”: emasculated from the rest of his body, all he becomes is a funnel for abuse.
Just give me an overview of you cracking the whip at ****. Also, how is your own monogamous relationship with ****? Are you going to be a newly minted CEO with a newly minted fiancee? Are you terrified? What’s next in 2017 for THE **** ****?

Love you, miss you,


Emails From Chengdu

Hi Lady Lady Baby baby,

China is strange and familiar all at the same time.
People have been asking about if I’ve ‘freaked out’ yet. To give you a bit of racist background, mainland Chinese people are comparatively known to be loud, obnoxious, with no sense of private space, traditionally western ‘politeness’ (an example: there are no lines, there’s just light to medium to heavy jostling by mothers, fathers, men, woman, old men, old women, babies, etc.). Chinese people hawk loogies on the ground, they throw trash on the street because in both restaurants and public, there are hired people sweeping up their garbage.
As I’ve been saying to some snooty (of course western) ex-pats (being Taiwanese has this snooty influence– we are a more Japanese- leaning anal retentive shame-oriented society): since I’ve come with these fears and expectations, it’s been a bit easier than I thought it would be to let go of those visceral reactions of disgust and horror. Also, because I came with those fears in mind, it’s been sort of cathartic to see them and consciously open myself up to recognizing WHY these behaviors are the norm. The perspective of being Chinese in China is pretty different– stability over individuality, and less individualism leads to a different way of seeing ‘privacy’– from bodily functions (babies shitting in crotchless pants on the street) to spitting bones.
Anyway, the more fascinating thing for me is diving into the ex-pat scene. Who are these people? What does China hold for them? Where do they see themselves?
Much like the myths and folklore and projected desires surrounding New York City, living in China holds its own magic for these ex pats. Some still don’t see their privilege, and wield it like a big, inflated penis across the globe. It’s astounding. Johnny (the donut shop owner) told me about this lady who came in — super nice, and very Christian – who openly denounced immigrants as people who steal jobs. This is hard to hear, as ex-pats get paid at least twice as much as a Chinese citizen for any job they can find here.
So: despite being an ocean away, the election provoked a lot of very visceral thoughts and conflicts within me. And I have realized more and more how Americanized I am, and I’m sure I still have a long journey to go…
I’m reminding myself of why I came to China: to not get stuck in the same professional and personal behavioral loops. Funny how making some choices is a perpetual thing, not really a moment of clarity, but a moment of clarity followed by the struggle to remember the clarity I had once felt. Does that make sense?

Hope this finds you well, and I wish I could teleport over there for an afternoon of ice cream and chowder.


PS: I say ‘ex-pats’ like I’m not one. I suppose I’m looking to explore more about what life is like between being an ex-pat of color and a white ex-pat from a Western country.