Here’s the Rub (#2)

In which a reserved white girl encounters unexpectedly earthy Cantonese humor.

Andy is a first-generation American, born in Hawaii. His parents are Chinese.

Having majored in dating along with history, you’d think I’d have been more aware of cultural differences. My first boyfriend was Sri Lankan. I’d dated several African-Americans, Latinos, a Brit, a Korean-American, a Hawaiian, a bunch of white Catholics, a Filipino, a Mormon, a few Jewish men, way too many military officers, and a Baptist. I think the only ethnicity and religion I missed was Middle-Eastern/ Muslim, unless you want to count the Moroccan at the Fairfax Holiday Inn who kept inviting me up to his room when I was sixteen. (Said Moroccan skipped reading Morocco’s own diplomatic research packet, which undoubtedly have told him that girls in Washington D.C. who wear miniskirts and red shoes ARE NOT NECESSARILY PROSTITUTES. Seriously, did he think the metal on my teeth implied dominatrix rather than orthodontics?)

But I shouldn’t make fun of the hapless Moroccan. I lumped Andy’s Chinese parents in with the nodding, respectful, quiet mother of my Korean-American boyfriend. So when Andy invited me to his high school friend’s wedding back on Oahu and told me we could stay with his parents, I was thrilled. I was going to Hawaii! On the cheap!

I knew Andy’s dad was a retired engineer. His mom still worked reception in a very nice hotel. That was it. Andy doesn’t volunteer much about his family. But then, Andy doesn’t volunteer information in general. When he met my enormous, enormously verbose family over Christmas, he observed rather than joining in the political debates, teasing, and lecturing. I love my family (mostly), but Andy is easier to talk to. He always listens attentively, thinks my opinions are interesting, and never interrupts. I stepped off the plane in Honolulu thinking his family was just like him.

On our way to the baggage carousel, I noticed an Asian man with a video camera, filming everyone as they came down the escalator. But he didn’t smile or wave, and Andy ignored him. So I did, too, and concentrated on Andy’s smiling mother as she put leis over our necks and hugged us. Sunny told Andy he looked too skinny, worked too hard, and reminded him that he should have tried for a government job where he’d have more job security and better hours. When she paused for a breath, I squeezed in a question. “Your husband couldn’t make it?”

Sunny looked at me like I was an idiot. “He’s right there.” She waved her hand at the Asian man with the video camera.

I shot Andy an incredulous look. “That’s your dad? Aren’t you going to say hi? Give him a hug?”

Determined to show these crazy people I had manners, I spun toward his father, holding out my hand. “Hi, Jay, I’m Autumn, I’m so glad to –”

Andy’s father interrupted me with horrified “No!” He shooed me away with his free hand. I retreated back to Andy’s side.

Andy patted my arm and whispered, “He wasn’t ready for your close up.” Andy turned his attention back to his mother. Sunny lectured Andy about the importance of meat and rice in his diet while I snuck surreptitious glances at Jay. The man kept filming. No one thought it was weird but me. Our luggage finally arrived, which was apparently the climax of Jay’s documentary. He put the camera away and marched out of the terminal.

As we followed, I whispered to Andy, “Your father hates me.”

Andy asked, “Why do you think that?”

“He hasn’t even spoken to me. He won’t look at me. Clearly he can’t stand the sight of me. Did you forget to tell him I was white?”

“Oh, he’s always like that.  He doesn’t talk to anyone. I told you he was weird.”

“You did not tell me he was weird. You told me he was an engineer.”

“Same thing.”

“You mean to tell me that your father is ALWAYS like this?”

“Yeah, he never says anything.”

“Are you serious???”

Andy put his arm around my shoulders, grinned at me, and said, “I know that sort of silence is hard for you to imagine…”

I mock-punched him and shook my head in disbelief. “Wow.  Being around my family must have been a shock for you, huh?  The way we all are constantly talking!”

Andy paused for one second. Then another. “Yes. It was.”

Once at the car, another surprise. Sunny handed the car keys to Andy while she and Jay climbed into the backseat.

“They let you drive?” In my family, no one relinquished their car keys willingly unless they’d been drinking. Sometimes not even then. As I do not enjoy alcohol or car crashes, I’ve become an expert at appropriating the car keys of drunk persons.

“Honey, if they drove, it would take two hours to get home.”

“But we’d GET there.” I slid into the passenger’s seat of a van with relief.   It seemed like a big, safe, slow car. “There aren’t any freeways here, right?”

“Just one. On our way home. Speed limit’s 50, though.”

Andy made that van do way more than 50, weaving around tourists and muttering. I clutched the door handle. And didn’t ease my grip until the freeway ended. I sighed and patted Andy’s hand as we turned onto a side street. “Thanks for not killing us before I got to see the beach.”

Andy laughed. “You’re so funny.”

I caressed his arm. Jay barked something guttural in a foreign language. Sunny and Andy burst out laughing.

I was pretty sure Jay was making fun of me. “What did he say?”

Andy shook his head. “I’ll tell you later.”

“You will tell me now.”

Andy’s face was red. He choked back another laugh. “Later. Trust me.”

I glared at him. “I wish I’d learned Mandarin.”

Andy laughed harder. “Wouldn’t help you, honey. He’s speaking Cantonese. It’s the southern dialect.”

Great. I’d never felt more like an ignorant outsider. I leaned in and whispered at Andy, “Tell me what he said. Or I won’t unpack the stuff I got at Victoria’s Secret.”

“It’ll shock you.”

“The lingerie would shock you more. Too bad it’s going to stay in the suitcase.”

Andy caved. “It’s hard to translate exactly, but it’s along of the lines of, ‘rub my hand during the day, but in the evening, rub my…dick.’”

Jay and Sunny overheard and laughed some more. My whiter-than-WASP skin turned bright red. I retreated to the far side of my seat.

I decided I liked Andy’s dad better when he didn’t talk.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

16 thoughts on “Here’s the Rub (#2)”

  1. Oh man, I just have to say this post had me cracking up and literally laughing out loud (no offense!). It reminds me of a sitcom–you going in for the handshake, the Chinese father looking on in horror. Seriously though, you poor thing! If that were me I would have been a self-conscious wreck the entire trip. Still (after reading all the other stories about your adventures in Hawaii), from what I can gather it sounds like his folks do like you 😀 Maybe the dad was trying to get a good camera shot and you blocked his angle, and that’s why he kind of stepped away?

    And you dated a mormon guy? Good lord girl!

    1. I made someone laugh! I can live on that for a month. Thanks for being thoughtful enough to post your reaction.

      I think Jay wanted to record the moment, and he’s very single-minded. I have a few objective-oriented folks like that in my family, but we at least hug each other when we meet.

      Mormon dude. Yeah. But if you’re from Utah, you must’ve dated more of them than me!

  2. Man, I thought I had it hard with Mr. B’s family but you bring cultural clash to a whole new level! I hope it did not hurt you much. Mr. B is also a oldest son, the only son actually. Which is so not fun.

    Most of the times we visit his family I just sit in a corner, bite my tongue and try to avoid spitting out things I could regret forever.

    In my book, Chinese families always bring a hell lot of problems.

    1. I need to read more on Mr. B, Margini — how did I miss these posts?

      Yeah, there are definitely cultural differences. And all of this happened before I was smart enough to realize that I really, really should have done a little research on the Chinese family. Had no idea was I was getting into!

      But every time I DIDN’T bite my tongue, I think I regretted it.

  3. Ha! This gets better and better! It’s not a complete experience with the significant other’s family without that pervy comment. I used to live in Honolulu. Hope you like it out there.

    1. Yeah…are pervy comments the norm? Or did I just not meet enough boyfriends’ families? Or did I just meet the uptight ones? There was the one guy’s Mom who gave me Disney Princess paraphernalia…when I was 22.

      Honolulu is wrecked for me now. 😉

      1. Best way is just to try to avoid them…I try to avoid my MIL as my as possible so I don’t get too enraged all the time though her doing all those weird things when she is visiting is already enough to keep my brain occupied for nearly a year.

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