I've been feeling an awful lot like Donald Draper lately. Maybe all of this incessant Mad Men watching has gone to my head, or maybe I'm just inventing a more exciting life for myself to escape the Taigu grind, but either way, the drama is quickly becoming the biggest thing since Desperate Housewives. It's been interesting watching the men from the show in action—irresistible and yet simultaneously nonchalant in all of their sexual dealings, wielding incredible power due to their status, and, most of all, completely unaffected by how their actions complicate and oftentimes hurt the lives of the people closest to them. I can't say that I've exactly taken up these character traits myself, but they've certainly been wearing away at my mental defenses.
For one thing, I've been reveling in being the target of a woman’s desire. In China, as in most of East Asia, simply being foreign is enough. No longer is there the explicit need to be savvy, smart, good-looking, or even well-off (that one they assume about you from the get-go). If you are vaguely white and speak English, you are the proverbial golden ticket. Not surprisingly, though, this fills me with equal parts dread and disgust, in the same way that “yellow fever” makes me want to take out my trusty Oberlin CAS lens and analyze it to pieces. It's not to say that these kind of relationships can't be valid in their own way, and there is certainly the argument that a few otakus in Japan ruined it for foreigners everywhere, but any relationship based solely around the projecting of one's own stereotypes and preconceptions on another culture seems to me inherently flawed.
What would Donald Draper say about all of this? Frankly, probably not a whole lot (photo courtesy of TV Fanatic).
As far as I can tell, relationships are tricky enough in Taigu as it is. Students barely have enough privacy to use the bathroom, let alone try to have an intimate, physical relationship with another person. Most of the time, those sexual urges manifest themselves in chilly late-night make-out sessions in the so-called “Lover's Forest,” where shining a light to navigate the darkness sometimes means silently agreeing to a manage-a-trios. If we were all to believe the stereotypes about China, young people get together for the sole purpose of constituting a marriage, family plays a central role when choosing a potential mate, love is weighed as equally as money, and divorce might as well be social suicide. But like all things, the reality of the situation is much more nuanced. A lot of students I've talked to are just as apprehensive about marriage as I am, believe that it is preferable to live together with your partner before taking your nuptials, and—get this—have no interest in marrying a foreigner.
Nevertheless, I feel in Taigu that because of my “exoticism” as a halfie—making me just familiar and just foreign enough—I get a lot of unsolicited attention—attention that I am not ashamed to have doted on me. It all goes to your head sometimes. But for me, that's as far as it gets. As tiring as it is getting called “handsome” on a daily basis by at least a couple of young, attractive females, I know that a year from now when I'm basking in re-entry culture shock, that salutation will be sorely missed. So for now, I am giving them my best Don Draper—the smooth, silent-type who can manage a board room in his sleep, incite pangs of envy everywhere he walks, and drive the women wild with his smile. Taigu, eat your heart out.