Note: This is part two of a series concerning the different types of foreigners in China. To see how it started, click here to see part one.
Moving to a new area is a great opportunity to reinvent yourself. Going to a new place where nobody knows you allows you to try a new haircut, break out a new fashion style, perhaps fudge a bit about your past...Maybe in the previous city your position was "assistant manager", but in the new city it suddenly becomes "manager". I'm willing to bet that most anyone you meet that has just moved from another place has tweaked their life story just a bit. The "Alternate Reality Creator" turns this sort of tweaking into an art form.
The best way to explain the "alternate reality creator" is to just jump right in and give a few examples. Let's begin with "Bob". My wife and I had gone out one night to get a drink and watch a soccer game when we met "Bob", sitting at a table with a girl on each arm (coming up in part 3-"The Man Sluts"). If you believed everything he told you, "Bob" would be a renaissance man of sorts. "Bob" was not only a model, but also had a successful business back in Canada at the ripe old age of 26. His hobbies included traveling to NYC for photo shoots, skiing in Switzerland, and taking trips to France just for the cuisine. To top it off, his father was a member of the Canadian version of the CIA, giving him access to all the latest electronic gadgets (At the time, he had a 350 RMB=$40 cell phone). He had been in China for 2 and a half years as an English teacher by the time we met him, and was planning on staying for another 3 years. Why would such a successful man be teaching English in a second-rate (Without giving up too much detail, I'll just say that I am not in a city like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, etc.) city? To quote him, "To do a good thing and make a positive impact on the world." Right........... Upon further inspection, his story had a few cracks.
Me: "Since you have been in China for 2 and a half years, how do you run your business?"
Bob: "Well, I've got a guy that does that for me. I don't need to do anything."
Me: "I used to live in NYC. Where did you like to go when you visited?"
Bob: "Oh, all over."
Me: "Right, but which places? Bars? Restaurants? Maybe I have been there before."
Bob: "Well, you know...just everywhere."
When my wife and I couldn't take another lie without calling him out on it in front of his little "harem", we left. He gave us his business card. "Bob X, ABCD University, Assistant to the Deam". That's right, his card said "Deam". Nice.
Next up we've got "Harry" from the UK. This guy was a real piece of work. He was over 40, reeked of BO, and I am willing to bet that 90% of the things that came out of his mouth were bold faced lies. His story was that he is an ex-lawyer, teaching English in China for the adventure. He had written a book detailing his Chinese sexual escapades that was scheduled to be published in Australia in the next few weeks. Among his conquests were a CCTV9 (China's English television channel) news anchor as well as a 19 year old student of his that he was currently sleeping with. At that time he was planning on leaving China in the next 30 days to escape the backlash that his book was sure to create and was looking forward to living the high life from his book's royalties. Seriously, this guy's BO was so bad, his face so ugly, and his belly so fat, that I couldn't imagine how he could get ONE girl to sleep with him, much less enough women to fill a whole book. It must be nice to live in his alternate reality.
I've saved the best one for last. The following is the story of "Jake" and the three-year scam he pulled on a girl that lives in the same apartment complex as my wife's family.
"Jake" started to date a girl in my wife's apartment complex in 2003. They got engaged, much to the delight of her mother. When I was studying in Qinhuangdao during the summer of 2005 my wife and I ran into the mother. The conversation between that woman and my wife went something like this:
Girl's Mother: So, this is your foreigner? He is so sunburnt. Not like the one at my house. He always wears sunglasses and sunblock. His skin is so sensitive and nice. Is your foreigner rich?
My wife: Not really. (I was a student at the time, putting myself through school. Of course I wasn't rich.)
Girl's Mother: Well, my daughter's fiance is so well off....etc........
Well, "Jake" had this family going. He had told them that his parents were not only oil tycoons, but also were doctors that owned their own publishing house. "Jake" had convinced the girl that after they got married a 6 bedroom house in Miami was waiting for them, along with 2 BMW convertibles and a Mercedes SUV. The girl's mother just ate this stuff up, bragging to anyone that would listen and becoming known in my wife's city as the lady whose daughter was marrying a rich American and going to America.
As soon as I heard the full story, alarms went off in my head. First of all, this guy was working two jobs, teaching English at two different places. I can see a rich person taking a year off to teach English in China for the sake of traveling, but this guy was busting his hump for the equivalent of $1000 per month. Secondly, he was living with his fiancee and her family, eating up all their food. The son of an oil tycoon couldn't afford $300 per month to rent his own luxurious apartment in the middle of the city? Third, he kept putting off the marriage, saying that he wanted to wait until after she graduated from college. Why? Fourth, any normal potential bride would want to see proof of their future husband's alleged fortune, right? Guess what he provided as proof: pictures of a house and a few cars! He was nowhere to be seen in the photos. I'm guessing that they were just photos that he found on the internet. Also, a wife-to-be usually wants to talk to the future in-laws sometime before the marriage. All the poor girl got was an email that could have easily been written by "Jake". What about the fiancee's visa to the US? "Jake" assured her that he "saved her place in line at the American Embassy" and all they had to do was go and pick it up when they were ready. Oh, just as a side note, "Jake" also had bad BO like "Harry".
Any rational person would tear "Jake's" story to shreds, but for some reason the victim and her family didn't catch on. Maybe they were simply blinded by his beautiful, creamy, milky white skin. After meeting the girl's mother in the summer of 2005 and hearing her story, I hypothesized that "Jake" had no intentions to marry the girl and would be long gone within the year. Sure enough, he was gone within the next few months. After he left, the poor girl he victimized had to have an extended stay in the loony bin and after she got out she relocated to another city for a long time.** Naturally, her boastful mother severely lost face and is now as quiet as a mouse.
The effect that these lying foreigners have on the Chinese opinion of foreigners is obvious. The State media already instills a dash of mistrust towards the outside world and these foreigners only validate that message. I'll offer up my own experience as anecdotal evidence. When word got out that my wife and I were engaged to be married, there certainly was no shortage of people advising against it. "He'll probably just run away!" "He's just cheating you!" "He probably has AIDS!!!" "Jake" had effectively poisoned the community against me. I had to "prove" that I wasn't a prick because the people in the community automatically assumed that I was due to their previous interactions with an American. It was nice to prove them wrong, but I would rather have not had to climb that hill.
"Alternate Reality Creators", we salute you.
**Just as an aside, it seems to me that it is quite common in Chinese people to have their sorrow over being dumped or shame over losing face manifest itself in physical or mental illness. In addition to the example I mentioned above, here are a few more examples:
-Another girl in my wife's apartment complex had managed to land herself a player in the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association). They were living together for years, but the guy refused to get married. Of course, this didn't stop the parents from bragging to everyone that their daughter was marrying a sports star. They even went as far as to redecorate their house to accommodate the CBA player's high social status. If a guy lives with a girl for years and refuses to marry her, he probably won't end up marrying her, right? Right. He ended up dumping the girl for a younger, richer, and prettier girl. Upon hearing the news, the girl's father fainted and required a two week stay in the hospital.
-One of my wife's best friends was dating a guy for years, fully expecting that they would get married. The guy was a bit of a mama's boy and when his mother ordered him to marry an ugly, fat, rich girl he obeyed. When he broke the news to my wife's friend, she came down with a mysterious illness, requiring a couple months of bed rest and causing her eyes to bug out a little bit. Her eyes are still not quite right.
-One day my wife and I were out clothes shopping and this crazy young woman came up to me, held up a T-shirt and said, "Esssaaaaaahhhh! Esssaaaahhhhhh! One for you and one for me! Only 90 RRRRRR Emmmmmm Beeeeeeeeee (RMB=Chinese currency)." The shop attendant told us that she used to be considered something of a local beauty until her boyfriend dumped her. After he broke up with her she went insane.
Lesson to be learned? If you date a Chinese girl, you hold in your hand not only her heart, but quite possibly her sanity/health as well! Be careful!