Originally published here at TheOdyssey on February 21, 2016.
No, not an actual disease -- a condition that causes men to be so blinded by a fantasy that they generalize an entire race
These stories are all true. I've taken the liberty of randomly assigning names to these anonymous men to acknowledge their identities and not generalize their whole race, which is more than they did for me.
1. Jared, the one I apparently had nothing in common with.
I was on a casual outing with a friend, and her date had brought a friend, we're calling him Jared, just by coincidence. It turned into an unintentional double date. I'm always up for meeting new people, so in between ordering food and waiting for its arrival, I made conversation with Jared. I began with questions about his academics and his hobbies, interjecting here and there with my own anecdotes. Not once did he comment or build upon my stories. At first chance, he asked the dreaded question, "Just curious, but where are you from?" By the hesitance and tone of his voice, he might have well just asked, "What type of Asian are you?" It would have been more straightforward.
After some back and forth, I gave him the answer he was looking for: "I'm Chinese, although I was born and raised in America." I swear that his eyes actually lit up. Finally, something he could bond with me over! He immediately began talking a bit too fast about college soccer, and how there was this one Chinese guy on his team he became friends with for a period of time and learned some phrases in Mandarin. After his anti-climatic and drawn out story, he looked at me with the same eyes puppies have when they're waiting for their reward treat after a trick. Basically, I spent the rest of the night attempting to join my friend's conversation and eating my veggie quesadilla in silence.
2. Dan, the one who loves Oriental women.
We were on the dance floor. I dancing with my friend, each of us sporadically leaving to dance with interested randoms but always coming back to each other. Dan approached me, actually introduced himself and asked to dance. This is as chivalrous as it gets at a club, so I gave him a chance. He had a great smile, not so bad dance moves and didn't exude any creep vibes. Then he leaned in and said over the house music, "I love Oriental women! Are you looking for a boyfriend?" Not in the mood to start anything and startled, I laughed and said no. Then he offered to take me on a weekend vacation to another country, and be my "temporary boyfriend" all while emphasizing his love for "my people." I'm not really sure what he expected when I stopped dancing abruptly, with probably a mixture of disgust and annoyance in my face. The encounter ended with the classic, "Take it as a compliment!" from him. Bye, Dan.
3. Byron, the one who had his breath taken away.
It's no news that women get cat called. Well, Asian women get ni hao-ed by men who genuinely think they are trying to connect with us by greeting us in the language they think we all speak. What -- you don't speak Asian? The scary thing is that it's almost an involuntary knee-jerk reaction to some men and they often really think they have good intentions.
One day, I was walking to the grocery store. I was walking towards a group of men, where Byron was, on the sidewalk. They were just chatting by a parking meter, really into whatever they were talking about. As I was walking past, Byron -- who had been really animatedly speaking, hands and all -- met my eyes and forgot how to function. I never believed in the "you take my breath away" phrase until that moment. His mouth went slack mid-sentence, and I heard him say as if on automatic, "What a beautiful China." Before he could recover and attempt communication with me -- I mean, the China -- I walked very quickly away.
4. Ethan, the one about to work in Hong Kong.
I went to this bar with a group of girls, just to have a nice night out, dance a little. I should clearly stop trying to do this. I'm not one to flirt a lot with people, it takes too much energy and I'm, honestly, just bad at it. I prefer conversations, so I was pleasantly surprised when Ethan actually began one with me without starting with a cheesy pickup line. We talked about our friends, school, and because I was studying abroad at the time, traveling.
Now, let me remind you, we've been speaking in perfect English this entire time. It was going well. He asked, "What part of Asia are you from?" I shook my head, thinking he didn't hear me, and shouted back over the music, "Not Asia, I'm from America." Then, he asked me if I was from a specific Asian country, to which I repeated, "No I'm not from there, I'm from the States."
At this point, I was becoming mildly annoyed. It was clear I wasn't fitting into the mold he had already put me in. He shrugged and asked, "Well, you're Chinese, right? I'm actually about to go work at (big name company) over in Hong Kong in a month. The women in your culture are so beautiful!" Although he assumed correctly, I had stopped talking at that point, and let him continue to ask me about Hong Kong and the next time I was going to visit my family and home country. Although I have visited Hong Kong, I had never mentioned any of this, or my ethnicity to him. Noticing my silence, he asked me what was wrong. At that point, I replied, "I'm not Chinese, and I've never heard of this Hong Kong place." Well, I might have stretched the truth a bit, but I'd do it again just to see that bewildered look on his face one more time.
These are only a few mild examples of countless interactions that I have much too often, as a Chinese woman. And while I'm not one to bite my tongue and go with the flow, it's exhausting and doesn't seem to be worth my breath most of the time. But as harmless as these conversations or statements may seem, they are the products of a deeper underlying fantasy of Asian women being no more than their demure, submissive caricature. What's even worse is that men often deflect their obvious "yellow fever" with insisting that they just have a type, or appreciate my culture. I'm sorry, but if the only thing you can talk about when you open your mouth is where I'm from, how often you get bubble tea in Chinatown, and not who I actually am, you're a part of the problem.