There’s an old piece of lore that you can get your way with any woman by being persistent. “Don’t give up” and “just keep on trying” was the regular advice I received to help me along the Sisyphean task of getting female classmates in bed back in high school. In China they prosecute this advice more rigorously than we do, as I have learned from numerous encounters with Chinese women applying it on me. It has to do, I believe, with the quantitative rather than qualitative-based mindset endemic to the culture: the more of something the better. We would call it banging your head against the wall. From the Chinese standpoint, the incessant bam, bam, bam works because people are softer than walls; they inevitably crumble if you wear them down long enough. It’s also understood that with such a huge population scrambling for fewer resources, relentlessly hammering away at something is often the only way to get it.
Grace never succeeded with me, a particularly hard-hearted and jaded foreign male, wiser in years or at least more resistant than most to pressure and therefore not the best candidate for this approach. But not for lack of trying. We met as fellow patients in a Beijing hospital. On my evening walks around the hospital grounds I began to notice, several weeks into my sojourn, the burning eyes of a woman walking in the opposite direction, piercing me through the darkness like a cat’s on each pass. A few more nights later, we stopped and talked.
The next day after lunch she visited my hospital room, in a different wing of the building, bearing an elaborate platter of fresh fruit. She came back again in the evening and planted herself in the armchair at the side of my bed, as I sat up on the bed directly across from her. She had made herself up to look like a visitor rather than a patient, quite the elegant lady in a white blouse, business skirt and nylon stockings and hair tied primly in a bun. She took off her shoes. The armchair was close enough to the bed that we were able to wedge our feet under each other’s thighs. I could see she was breathing quickly. My elderly roommate had returned. If he was curious as to what we were up to, the height of my bed blocked our footsying from his view. I told her to come back again the next day after lunch, as he was regularly out at that time.
This time I lay on the bed in my hospital wear. When she arrived I asked her to come closer and massage me. She gave my chest one or two swipes of her hand before reaching for my cock. She took it out of my pajamas and was about to put it in her mouth, when she noticed we were in the sightline of the medicine window that opened onto the hallway – and the sharp eyes of any nurse passing by. Not that what we were doing was necessarily violating any rules – decorum, to sure, but as for rules and laws, they don’t exist in China unless there is a need to apply them. Any nurse who happened to catch sight of us would probably have left it alone and saved the gossip for later. We moved into the room’s toilet and locked the door. She straddled me on the toilet seat, which I discovered to serve more than adequately as a lovemaking device, and we were soon finished and back in place.
She was discharged a few days before me and quickly set about finalizing divorce proceedings she claimed she had begun before being hospitalized. I hoped the process wasn’t being sped up for my sake, a scenario guaranteed to set off serious alarm bells, no matter how gorgeous a woman. Grace was not exactly gorgeous but passable enough on closer inspection – long thick shiny black hair, smooth swarthy complexion, cuddly black eyes, a figure too dainty for my tastes, in her mid 30s, with a college degree and a job in a bank, from Anhui Province.
When I hear “Anhui” I think countryside, being one of the poorer provinces, with more than its share of females clawing their way out of the economic barrel. I think prostitute. She obviously wasn’t one, nor did she seem to be a gold digger. For the telltale reason her month-long hospital stay hadn’t gotten her fired from her job, I was confident she was financially secure, even “middle class” and civilized to boot, suppressing any open propensity to materialistic gain amidst her country’s current paroxysm of greed. It was simply a matter of being just really into me, whom she hardly knew of course, but sheer hormonal compatibility is always its own justification. I was attracted enough to sleep with her once or twice, but no more than that.
I succumbed to her pleas and let her come over for a final mercy fuck. A few weeks later, she announced with excitement that she was now divorced. She invited me over to the new home she had just bought in the suburbs. Expecting the usual gloomy Spartan interior, cement floor and tacky furnishings so many Chinese homes, I was pleasantly surprised. The residential complex was solid looking (most buildings in China being designed to last only 25-30 years), and the apartment small but clean and tastefully decorated, with plush brown bedding covering a queen-sized bed (king-sized beds are preferred by the ostentatious). And much to her credit, there were no blown-up framed studio portraits of herself on the walls, plastic china in the cabinets or stuffed animals on the bed. Still, it wasn’t going to work. She was a normal person, her life organized around the television set; I was an eccentric and intellectual, my life organized around books. After settling down together, we could only ever be implacable enemies.
As soon as I forgot about her, she sprung into action. When I ignored her messages, she called nonstop, before finally notifying me in a highly annoying text message that she was coming over.
Now, nobody invites oneself over without the host’s assent. It’s a question of politeness of the most momentous sort, and it must be framed thus, in the form of a question or a hedge: “When will you be free?” or “May I visit you tonight?” But there was another problem: on this evening I was already entertaining a woman in my apartment. “It’s impossible to see you tonight,” I told Grace. I didn’t mention the woman I was with, as a matter of principle.
“I want to see you, and I’m coming over.”
“No, not tonight!”
“I’ve already left my apartment and I’m heading for the Line 1 subway. I’ll be there in an hour and a half.”
This was crossing a line. She was starting to fuck with my emotions, and my blood began to boil. Looks like she would be my latest addition to the list. “The list” being the string of female nutcases I had the talent for accumulating over the years in China. But they fell into different categories, and I had to try to place Grace. She didn’t belong to the basket-case variety, like the bipolar Lulu, who in one of her lighter moments had squeezed herself into a cupboard while I was out and attached post-it notes all over my apartment with clues to finding her; in a darker moment she copied the addresses of a mass email I had sent out to my circle of predominantly female friends and warned them all to stay away from me.
Nor was she schizophrenic, like Angela, whom I had met online (if you’re wondering about the English names, they’re commonly adopted by the Chinese themselves as pseudonyms of a sort), mild and gentle as a lamb but soon to wind up back in the psychiatric ward, texting me fragmented messages like “here,” “birthday,” “I’m,” and “there was.” Her parents even contacted me asking if I could visit her there and do something, anything to help.
“Only 5 more stops to Wukesong,” Grace texted me again, referring to my subway station.
There was Sylvia, whose nervousness – labeled “hysteria” in an earlier era – became apparent on Day Two after sex, when she followed me after work and refused to release me from our first “serious” talk right out on the street, lasting hours, during the course of which she tugged and yanked off all the tape from her bicycle handlebar. Following turned into stalking, and to extend our stays whenever I granted her some time, she would pretend to faint and collapse, again making a scene out on the street and leaving me with little choice but to come to her rescue.
There was Kathy, whose advanced case of virginity complex at 30 – she couldn’t relax her vaginal muscles enough to let a penis inside – compelled her to adopt, appropriately enough, the persona of a six-year old, in her one-piece lace dresses, white socks, and ribbons in her hair. She was also a stalker, peering through the curtains outside my first-floor bedroom window at night, until I finally had to have her removed by campus security.
“I’m getting out of the subway and will catch a pedicab to your apartment. See you in 10 minutes.”
And then there is the painful intensity of unmarried women in their later 30s, normally kept in check by what is typically, or should be, a growing capacity for dignity and poise, unless you do something to upset it. Nicky, introduced to me by a male friend who wanted to get her off his hands, initially seemed to be of this saner brand, until I made a serious cultural gaffe. It all took place during our first date. She wasn’t an attractive or interesting person but did happen to mention a penchant for socializing in bathhouses with her female friends. This fired me up and I took her to one nearby after dinner. We gave each other massages in a rented room, and I slipped embarrassingly into sex with someone I didn’t like. I also hadn’t planned on the extra expense, and the next morning I asked if we could split the tab. She wasn’t happy about this but didn’t protest. She soon contacted me to get together again and when I balked, unleashed a hate-filled invective of diarrheic relentlessness on my telephone answering machine that went on for weeks. Thank god she didn’t know my address. But the messages were so incoherent – involving Nazis and the eye on the pyramid on the back of the US dollar bill – that no one could go on like that without winding up in a straightjacket. A Chinese friend suggested that if it was only about money I could simply deposit the bathhouse fee into her bank account to give her back her “face.” Sure enough, it worked. All was restored and I never heard from her again.
By now you probably suspect there must be something about my own personality that invites attention from such women. Perhaps. But the truth is also that foreign men in China do attract the psychos of the female population, who have nobody else to turn to after their stern reception by the parents of vulnerable Chinese males. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I’ve found that the most intriguing people tend to be mildly psycho types. Grace was one of these milder psychos, even-keeled and adept at keeping her cool. She never once showed the slightest sign of anger or impatience with me, nor resorted to the proverbial feminine wiles of deception and obfuscation in devising love traps. She was wholly unequivocal in her intentions and refreshingly straightforward: “I’m now on the elevator on the way up.”
I told my companion I had some momentary business and dashed out to meet Grace at the elevator before she came to my door. She didn’t put up any resistance when I grabbed her by the arm – which I came very close to twisting out of its socket and smacking her in the face – and escorted back down to the street and the fifteen-minute walk to the subway station. Her text messages thereafter increased geometrically, virally, with hundreds following over the next several days. I changed my cellphone number.
Cut to four years later. The English Department where I was now teaching informed me one day that a certain Grace had left her contact information for me. The secretary confirmed I was teaching there and gave her my cellphone number, which she was expressly forbidden to do was but was new and didn’t know the rules; Grace found out about my new school from people at the school where I had taught when I first met her. The secretary also told her that I lived in the Foreign Guest House on campus, where I immediately headed. The receptionists said that, yes, a woman fitting Grace’s description had come looking for me, except that she was not slim but fat and possibly pregnant.
By now the phone calls and text messages started rolling in and, ever transparent, she told me her new story. She had gotten involved with a man from her home province over the past few years who had promised the world, only to abandon her after she got pregnant. She came up with the brilliant idea of marrying me, having the baby together and moving back to the US with me. Lovely as it sounded, I wasn’t enamored of this fairy tale and told her I now had a serious girlfriend and we were in fact engaged. She said she didn’t believe me and was coming over again in the evening.
I told the receptionists that the woman was due back at seven o’clock and not to let her in; she was a mental case and stalker who had been abandoned by another man and it had nothing with me. For their part they clearly had their juiciest gossip in years, and the woman they had to assume had gotten pregnant by me would be back for the denouement that very day.
When my girlfriend (who was savvy enough to believe my account) and I arrived back at the guesthouse, Grace was there waiting in the lobby. I glanced briefly at her, now indeed in late-stage pregnancy. We ignored her. Not being allowed into my apartment, she eventually left. Hundreds of text messages followed, including demands that I wire a certain sum of money into her bank account. Days later I got an emergency text message from her that she was in labor and desperately in need of help to get to the hospital. A week or two after that, she brought a gift to my apartment when I was out: a Tissot Swiss watch. I had had enough and took the step of contacting the district police, which I knew would have zero effect: they must hear thousands of such complaints everyday and we’re all so much tiresome static.
One day upon arriving back at the guesthouse after a few weeks of hopeful silence, the receptionists said Grace was back and had left a huoji for me. The word was so out of place and incomprehensible I didn’t recognize it. “A what?”
“Huo ji” they repeated, and showed me a styrofoam box. I lifted up the lid and saw a dark mass of rustling feathers inside. “Get it out of here!” I shouted and stepped back in disgust. “I have no use for a live chicken. Please do anything you want with it but get it out of my sight!”