My recent divorce was still raw, haunting my mind and hurting my heart, even though I had finally realised that I had never loved my ex husband. Ours was just another example of a typical Chinese marriage at the time; the only acceptable route, politically correct and practically sensible. Love was not on the required list.
The ‘forced’ separation by the oceans and borders had been a real relief, although the eventual divorce was a long drowned out battle, not over financial settlement, but the urge to hurt the one we once pledged to ‘stay together forever’. Now the worst part was over, I was left with the lingering pain alone, tasting the bitterness of failure and disappointment. Surrounded by people, yet no one to confide my true feelings, or cared. Male companions did not seem to be after a platonic friendship. A couple of female friends I had, none had been in my position.
As much as I hated to admit it, the Chinese people were generally highly judgmental. They considered it their born duty to offer unsolicited advice on how their friends should live their lives. “I am here for you. I’ll support you whatever you decide to do” was not something I ever heard from my fellow countrymen or women. It was simply not in their vocabulary.
In a so-called ‘ideal’ Chinese match, even for dating, the male partner should be a few years older. The reverse would cause discomfort and disapproval from family members and social circles. The woman being five years older would have been a crime. That was China in the twentieth century, no written rules, yet rules governing everything we did. Our social behaviours were conditioned and controlled by the word of mouth and acceptance within the community.
“You’re too young for me,” I half joked, when Mo held me firmly on top of him.
“Don’t be silly. I like older women. How old are you anyway? You look at most 22 to me.” He pulled me down before I could say more.
Later, during our after-lovemaking chat, he made an uninitiated confession: “I’ve wanted you ever since our first meeting. I know of Wang’s efforts to woo you before his wife’s arrival. You don’t think that men would gossip about such things, do you?”
I didn’t, because I had expectations that the unfair gender inequalities would somehow justify that men had certain qualities, which the fairer sex perhaps lacked. From Mo’s triumphant expression, his tone of self congratulatory, I knew that ‘competition’ on the scene only gave Mo more impetus for a ‘full assault’. Chinese female students in UK Universities were like Giant Pandas, rare and sought after. We were a minority among the minority, especially the good-looking ones and the unattached. Although an “unfortunate” divorcee did not count as an advantage, in fact, seen as a incurable human flaw, I was at least considered semi-single, therefore available.
“Why did you try to avoid me? It must be a thrill to have all those admirers chasing after you. But I always knew you’d be mine.” His confidence knew no limit.
My barrier was down; surrendering to his irresistible charms and my earthy desires. Perhaps due to his exotic background, he did not seem to share the reserved approach of many Han Chinese males. He was a passionate and considerate lover. He was vocal with his desires and generous with his compliments, which traditional Chinese men would find too much of an obstacle, their pride and dignity would simply not permit it.
His deft hand stroking my breast, he spoke in a husky deep voice: “You know, the men in my flat often talked about you.”
“Oh really? What did they say?” I asked casually, not really interested in their gossip, my mind more focussed on enjoying his sensual touch on my quivering flesh. I did not want him to stop.
“They think you’re sexy, with a great body, and apparently very clever too.” He beamed with pride, the lucky guy who actually acted out their fantasies. The others would no doubt be jealous. Mo turned to face me with more probing questions.
“Now, tell me. Why did you get divorced? Was your husband not a good lover? I can’t imagine a man letting someone like you go.”
So my divorce is public knowledge then. In the insular Chinese environment, you did not have to be a celebrity to have your private life in the open. We were all fair game. I had no qualms sharing my secret, why should I? The second I was born Chinese, I had given up my rights to privacy. For centuries the term ‘privacy’ did not exist in everyday Chinese vocabulary, and the equivalent of the English translation carried a negativity associated with something to hide and shameful.
“You really want to know?” I began, quietly and briefly, relaying how I got married, why I sought divorce, a decision that most reasonable Chinese people would not choose to make.
It was sad recalling the not-so-happy recent past, but I longed for a shoulder to cry on. For the first time, Mo lost his eloquence, perhaps it was out of his depth. He started kissing and caressing me. Making love was what he did best.
Sometimes, sex was a good remedy for pain and suffering, Even I knew that.
Mo came to see me, discretely. “We don’t want anyone to find out about us, do we? You know the Chinese community. Too much gossip and words get around quickly. What’s the point?”
Yeah, he certainly had a point, I thought, with sarcasm. Before I gave in to his chase, he did not mind who saw us, and as a matter of fact, it gave him a thrill, perhaps even a hard-on, to be seen with me by his less fortunate mates. After our first night of passion, Mo’s attitude changed. He still showered praises every time we made love, yet no invitation to visit his place, and that made perfect sense to him.
“I live in a shabby flat with five other Chinese guys hovering around. You are in a safe haven, where neither ears nor cat’s eyes from the foreigners.” He reasoned.
I was tempted to respond with a sharp tongue, suggesting that he could do the same if he was prepared to pay a bit more for a bed-sit or sharing with local people, but I refrained myself. Instead, I rebuked him for a much lesser ‘crime’: “We are Foreigners here, not the Scottish people.”
The funny thing was all the Chinese still call the native Scots ‘foreigners’ even though we were aliens in Scotland. “Don’t you think Scotland is a foreign country for us Chinese? Of course they are foreigners, not us.” Mo insisted, no kidding.
“Whatever,” I said, a resigned answer. I knew my people. Debates like this could go on forever; no one would be prepared to back down or change their minds. Accepting different views were a rare quality, because every Chinese person believed that he/she knew better than the rest of the world.
Stealing moments of sensual pleasure was all Mo cared about. At the height of his desire and passion he had often told me that he loved me.
“No, it’s not love, it’s lust.” I had replied once, in a combative cold tone.
There was a difference between the two; I saw it as clear as day, but Mo seemed confused, or pretended that it was all the same. To me, physical passion would not last, had there been no other subsistence in a relationship. I became more acutely aware that our perceptions and behaviour codes were different, perhaps I had become too westernised, in his words. I witnessed and disliked his cowardice, self-centred and judgmental attitude towards others.
When my reasoning resumed, Mo’s good looks were no longer as attractive.
End of Part 2