Shanghai Installation to Starlight’s China Travelogue: Finding Yourself a Chinese Lover – What Not To Do
Shanghai Installation of Starlight’s China Travelogue
Finding Yourself a Chinese Lover – What Not To Do
Now I’m in Shanghai, overlooking this most impressive city from Carbeau’s sick apartment in Pudong. Big shot out to Carbeau for letting me crash here for a while before I complete my move to Beijing!
In China, things are changing very very fast. The city is markedly different than my first arrival not even two years ago, when Eskay brought Mr M and myself to Shanghai on a whim, introducing us to his former home and opening my eyes to a country that will only play an increasingly larger role on the world stage.
Now the World Expo is going on and Shanghai has completed a very major facelift to the central part of the city, effectively relocating a huge main road underground to make room for the Expo grounds and clear up some serious traffic congestion. Standing on Pudong side of The Bund as evening falls, it’s hard not to think that this is THE most impressive city I’ve ever seen. Well done China, well done.
But more to the point of this post, I want to share some highlights from a few very candid conversations I’ve had in the last couple days. I have a girlfriend here in Shanghai, let’s call her Yi Wan Nan…which loosely translates to “Desire of Ten Thousand Men,” a title I’m sure she wouldn’t argue against, and which I’ve found to be pretty fitting. She is the daughter of a Chinese military officer and grew up in Shanghai, which essentially places her above 95% of the population in terms of lifestyle, access to opportunity and privilege. Not least of which is speaking perfect English at a relatively young age, having never left China.
China is a very big place in just about every regard, geographically, population wise, and economically. Yi Wan Nan doesn’t think Shanghai is a part of China. And she makes a pretty good point. Prior to the Communist Revolution in 1949, Shanghai was occupied by a number of colonial powers, with the French and British being chief among them. This city, perhaps more so than any other in China, is a cultural hot pot and international playground. Driving 100 miles in any direction would give a vastly different perspective on what it means to be Chinese. One which bears zero semblance to this bustling megatropolis, which sports the world’s tallest building and World Expo on the same street. So I see her point.
Shanghai is synonymous with money and commerce. This is not the political seat of power, and historically Shanghai has enjoyed a special status in the Chinese pecking order, having been granted the privilege to send a fixed amount of tax receipts to the Central Government and keep the rest to reinvest, build and prosper. So, naturally this is the first stop for most entrepreneurs, moneymen and thrill seekers.
All to often, those with financial success find themselves lacking in the Love department. And, perhaps because they have found money a solution to myriad other obstacles in life, they believe that money alone can buy love. Or at least companionship.
Let’s Learn a New Word: Ernai
Ernai: 二奶 [èrnǎi] – kept woman; second wife; mistress
It is pretty common here for married Chinese businessman to take on a mistress, which is called an “Ernai” or “second wife.” The benefits are pretty good. The ernai receives a salary that can amount to thousands of US dollars per month, her own apartment, and shopping privileges in exchange for cooking, cleaning and “servicing” the businessman whenever he wants. The ernai can also become a social fixture that the businessman uses to impress colleagues.
Her beauty alone becomes something of a “social bargaining chip” that gives the businessman “face” in social situations. Others are impressed that this guy has such a beautiful girl by his side and infer that doing business with him will bring them good fortune (and perhaps beautiful girls) as well. Thus, a somewhat perverse cycle is perpetuated, and girls of great beauty internalize the lesson that they can earn 10x the amount they would with a college education by being subservient and retaining their youthful charms so long as nature allows.
What this looks like in practice, and why you should never be that guy
Well, a couple years ago Yi Wan Nan was leaving a nightlife hotspot in Shanghai. In the lobby a well-dressed German man approached her in the lobby and asked her to come back upstairs and have a drink with him. Let’s call him Schnitzel. By her account, it went something like this:
Schnitzel: “Hey, you’re beautiful, why are you leaving?”
Yi Wan Nan: “I’m tired.”
Schnitzel: “Come back upstairs and have a drink with me”
Yi Wan Nan: “No, I’m tired, I’m going home”
Schnitzel: “Please, just one drink, come upstairs for a little bit”
Yi Wan Nan: “No, I’m leaving, stop asking me.”
Schnitzel: “Well here, at least take my business card. Let me call you”
Yi Wan Nan: “Fine, whatever…”
Schnitzel: “OK, I’ll call you, let’s get together, I want to take you out”
Literally, probably one of the lamest pickup attempts ever right? But, with little more than this to go on, Schnitzel proceeded to write emails and send text messages for over a year. Yi Wan Nan claims to have responded to maybe 1 out of every 15 attempts to contact her, and with the briefest responses possible.
Then, perhaps just out of sheer curiosity, Yi Wan Nan agreed to have dinner with Schnitzel after literally 14 months of him badgering her no end. Recognizing that it was “now or never” Schnitzel pulled out the Big Guns and told her to meet him at the Shangri-La hotel, one of Shanghai’s finest, overlooking The Bund in the heart of central Pudong district.
Dinner for two came out to be around 20,000RMB (which is like $3,000!), and consisted of blueberry champagne, imported beluga caviar and the most exclusive Wagyu steak on the market. Yi Wan Nan told me that she had to pinch herself to see if she was dreaming…all the while not feeling the least bit of attraction towards Schnitzel, who seems to have nothing going for him other than an endless bankroll.
But the real kicker came after dessert, when Schnitzel busted out a pair of 200,000RMB Tiffany diamond earrings in a plush velvet box and asked Yi Wan Nan to be his ernai in Hong Kong.
Schnitzel: “I want you to have these, please try them on”
Yi Wan Nan: “I can’t take them, I barely even know you”
Schnitzel: “A beautiful women deserves a rich guy. Take them. I want you to come be with me to Hong Kong”
Yi Wan Nan: “What do you mean? Move to Hong Kong with you?!”
Schnitzel: “Yes, you can have your own apartment and credit card with no limit… my assistant will take care of anything you need”
Yi Wan Nan: “You want me to just sit around and do nothing all day, what if I want to go somewhere?”
Schnitzel: “You can do as you please. A beautiful girl deserves a rich man. Come with me”
Yi Wan Nan: “No. And I can’t accept these earrings”
Schnitzel: “Why? Please take them. Here is the card for my assistant. She can arrange everything”
Yi Wan Nan: “You are not listening. I’m not a trophy to sit on your mantle. And you don’t know the first thing about me. Thank you for dinner. Goodbye”
Schnitzel: “Wait…let me walk you out”
Yi Wan Nan: “Fine.”
And then he tried to kiss her repeatedly in the elevator down. She turned away each time, and was spared further embarrassment when a Japanese couple entered the elevator halfway down. At the ground floor, she got in a taxi and left. The End.
Epilogue and Moral to The Story
I’ve read about things like this in books, but honestly that was the first time I’ve heard a first-hand account of so brazen an entreaty. Despite laughing a few times throughout the story, my jaw just dropped out of amazement.
Perhaps to some Chinese girls this would have been the pinnacle moment of their life. Elevated from humble origins to the bourgeois by virtue of money alone, like some Asian rehashing of Cinderella. Yi Wan Nan is not that girl. And quite frankly I’d lose all respect for her if she considered the option for more than 10 seconds. Not that I’d blame her really, but that would run counter to everything I admire about her.
…and, in fact, the story only reinforced my attraction to her; for her individuality in a country of conformists. For choosing to work at her fashion boutique and make her own way in the world, as opposed to sitting in a penthouse somewhere in Hong Kong bored out of her mind with Schnitzel kowtowing to whatever whim fit her fancy.
So, whereas she recounted these events whilst laying by my side, and whereas we essentially fell for each other the first night we met, I took the chance to ask her what it was that she saw in me.
“You are good at communicating. You have interesting conversation, and want to know who I am as a person. Plus you are interested in my country’s language and culture. But really, being good at communicating is the big thing. That guy didn’t see past my surface, and thought that he could buy me to…be his pet…or worse. It was gross.”
Putting The Story in Context – The Emotional Progression Model
I’m not just going to sit here and pat myself on the back for being a good conversationalist. From my perspective, that comes secondary to the circumstances under which we met, and the resulting first impressions she formed of me.
It was my first night in Shanghai. Eskay had brought Mr M and I to this awesome city and got a table at Bar Rouge on The Bund with about 15 other friends. Champagne was flowing, and we were dancing on the tables. A friend of a Eskay’s introduced me to Yi Wan Nan as I lounged on a velvet sofa with a flute of champagne in my hand and smile on my face.
We talked for a moment and I tried (and failed) to say something to her in Chinese. Then I went and danced some more with everyone in our group. A little later on we bumped into each other and we went out to the balcony to talk some more in a quieter place. Overlooking the glowing neon spectacle, which is Shanghai, we talked at length and I conveyed my enthusiasm at being in China for the first time with friends both new and old.
While the old maxim holds true: “In order to be interesting, one must be interested,” let’s not sugarcoat the reality of the situation. Had I just approached her in the lobby, alone, asking her to come back upstairs and have drink with me, it would have gone nowhere. The fact that we met through friend-of-a-friend, while at a table in a nice club, surrounded my people all enjoying ourselves counts for A LOT when it comes to first impressions.
This triggers three very powerful Attraction Switches, which are Preselection, Social Savvy and Indifference. Ironically, the fact that I was caught up in my own world, having a good time (as opposed to desperately looking for companionship by myself at a bar) is what caused Yi Wan Nan to be intrigued enough to have that conversation on the balcony with me in the first place.
So, while I won’t discount Yi Wan Nan’s reasons for liking me and kicking Schnitzel to the curb, I would add to it by saying that if she was not attracted to me in some way first, any conversation we had would have significantly less impact. And quite likely that would just lump me into the “Let’s Just Be Friends” category, instead of building comfort leading towards intimacy.
Until next time. Stay classy Shanghai,
~ Jesse Starlight ~
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