Being a foreign man in China, as Brandon Ferdig found out, is a balancing act between your human and animal sides.
I moved to Zhuhai, China a single man, a 29-year-old with goals and ideals in one hand and a combo of uncertainty mixed with instincts in the other. I was facing 11 months abroad, and for one such instinct—for romance and sex—I wanted to make a conscious effort to handle it right.
This is the testimony of my atonement.
It’s always challenging to separate our rational minds from our instinctual drives, but I knew that going halfway around the world provided an added dimension (and opportunity) to practice this discernment in my love life. China offered a whole new pool of potential partners set in a backdrop where my ideas about dating would stand out for easy examination.
Approaching my arrival, I wondered how/if I should address dating. I didn’t know whether to “be prepared,” have a plan of action, or just wait and see and go with the flow.
I did know two things: that I wanted to be responsible and that, roughly speaking, there were going to be two sides of Brandon to deal with.
My idea of “responsible” meant only getting involved in relationships that had significant meaning–ones built on common interests and a deep understanding, raising one another to higher levels of being. This was the human side of me—Brandon at his best and healthiest.
But I didn’t think it was reasonable to always be like this or expect this. See, I also acknowledged what I call my animal side, and I saw my use of its more basic satisfactions both as a necessary byproduct of being a man and as a reliance when I’m not at my best. (When the defenses are down, the animal is there to run the show.)
This animal side was alerted even before I arrived. My friend, Mary, who once lived in China, told me that Chinese women take a liking to foreign men. “You’ll have no problem getting laid,” she said. Soon after I arrived, a fellow American teacher offered this gem, said with a cheesy grin, “You ever heard of the ‘times ten’ rule?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, it’s that however hot you were in your home country, you’re ten times that here.” Animal Brandon was smirking; human Brandon was shaking his head and staying responsible.
I’d heard about this infatuation with foreigners in Asia before, so this wasn’t all that surprising to hear. What was a surprise, though, was how different it felt there, how different the culture of sex was.
Soon after arriving, I met several upstanding Western men—men whom you would trust to babysit your kids—who engaged in activities that would be frowned upon in America: namely, having many girlfriends or using prostitutes. I know it sounds bad, but do keep in mind the differences in conditions. Many men aren’t being sneaky about this. Often, their girlfriends know about the others. And the prostitution isn’t about going into dark alleys and picking up a drugged-out girl. It’s semi-respectable looking women approaching a fella at a bus stop in the daytime.
I immediately saw and felt the difference in which men and women approached the dating game in Zhuhai—and the way in which it was tilted toward the “animal” side of men. I also discovered that the morals you establish in life are a recipe made up of ingredients available in your upbringing. Not all ingredients are available everywhere. Not all recipes are the same. So what happens when you leave your kitchen? Things change; what’s right, wrong, or other are altered.
This was all very interesting to note and experience, but, damn it, to me flour is still flour. Some ingredients are always the same, and here’s where I needed to admit some universals: no matter where I travel, there I am, and my recipe for happiness for such a basic fulfillment as sex isn’t altered with the location of the kitchen.
But this created a problem. My ability to be the man I want to be and yet still satisfy my instincts was seemingly at a crossroads.
See, I had serious doubts about ever finding a relationship, as described earlier, in a place where women, for the most part, can’t speak my language or I theirs–not to mention other obvious cultural differences. And the many examples of inter-racial couples, monogamous or not, in my immediacy didn’t dissuade these assumptions. Many were a young man looking “for a good time,” and the woman wowed by this manly Westerner. Relationships of middle-aged couples I knew often appeared based on the man’s wealth. Whatever the situation, I wasn’t seeing the chemistry and relatability between partners that I desired.
But at the same time, I’m no monk. So if, practically speaking, I’m not going to be able to partake in relationships here, what does this mean? Celibacy?
[And before you go ahead and scoff at the alternatives, (ladies, I'm talking to you), just take for granted that a male’s animal side is markedly different than a woman's. It's common to hear women speak, with seemingly little sympathy, about the how men should “just learn a little self-control.” Perhaps you’re right, but appreciate the power of this instinct. Eleven months of celibacy can be kind of a big deal.]
So I went in search of a loophole.
Their names were James and Darnell, an Englishman and an African American from L.A. James waved me over to their table after spotting me watching TV at the bar. We’d met a couple nights prior. These guys were two of the more socially connected fellas in Zhuhai. Thus, I figured they had a good platform from which to speak about the local females.
I asked about the area women’s tendency to engage in the casual encounter. I thought this might be my way to avoid the “monastic” life without partaking in an ill-fit relationship. I assumed, though, that the Chinese weren’t as willing as some Western women might be for this type of activity.
Darnell reacted to this assumption with a nice big laugh, head swung back. They went on to say that women are perfectly willing, just “don’t ever tell them that you like them.” Why? Because they’ll get attached. James recalled a woman who said just hours after they met that she “loved him”.
It became clear, quite quickly (and more so afterward) that women there were quite disinterested in the casual encounter. Most want commitment. Meanwhile, these guys are busy introducing local women to the manliness of sex for sex’s sake.
Then Darnell asked me, “Are you a heart-breaker?”
“I don’t want to be,” I said.
“Well, you’re going to be,” he retorted.
This wasn’t what I was hoping for. After that night I was pretty convinced that I wasn’t going to be able to have my cake and eat it too. Then a couple nights later, as if to remove all doubt, a female friend offered a statement on an online chat that solidified my ideas about how women differ from men and how that difference is going to challenge my ability to appease the animal in me.
But it also opened my eyes and my heart to the consequences of my actions, infusing humanity into my desire. She wrote:
Every woman’s deep, healthy, all-persuasive instinct is to open and share her body ONLY with the one man she is close to, trusts, knows well, and loves–and knows she is loved by.
I thought of all those guys in relationships (in Zhuhai and elsewhere) who are in it for the sex, with no intentions on committing, and their women who are on a different page. I thought about my sex history and how I’d run against the hopes of women fulfilling this “deep, healthy, all-persuasive instinct” every time I engaged without this consideration. I realized that a man, no matter what he tells himself and no matter what his sex drive says, cannot harmlessly sleep around.
So that’s it, I thought. Sounded like an open and shut case. I don’t want to be a heartbreaker; responsible sexual activity will mean partnering with women for whom you truly care, and sex will be a statement of commitment. If I can’t make a commitment, then hands off.
Wouldn’t it be nice if this is how we’d end this piece?
But it’s not.
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