Begins. September, 2008, I arrive in China. Fresh after reinventing myself, neural reprogramming with lysergic acid dymethelmide, plus introspective road trips and self-improvement strategies. Was I ever ready for a new start.
Firstly, it should be noted that I’m a latebloomer as is. I hadn’t had a girlfriend in quite a while, to be honest. Didn’t really do well for myself in Southern California those previous three years.
Long before even that era, there was the main hometown girlfriend of my youth. Back in Cincinnati, Ohio, my adopted homeland. Ashley was a former opiates addict with dead eyes and a kind heart. The timing wasn’t right and she still had further healing that I could not help with, but it was valuable experience for both of us. We had fun and clubbed and talked all night and we grew. Eventually apart. Kept in touch a while, then I’d decided to seek my fortune on the West Coast. Goodbye, Ashley.
And before her, a few. One older woman punk rocker who taught me various things comes to mind. For the most part there were various crushes that usually never amounted to much. If they amounted to anything in the distant future, then I’ll write about it later if I think it’s worth mentioning.
Some other occasional learning experiences, few and far between, this and that. The early years weren’t kind, that’s all.
As of the arrival, my most recent girlfriend did happen to be Chinese-American. Oddly enough. I never planned for this kind of fever, I swear. Lila was just my type at the time, slim designer, a cutesy sweetheart, a real innocent. We met on a film set when I was living in hipster Silverlake for a few months. We held hands on camera, so cute.
I think Lila may have only liked me for my wannabe bohemian starving-artist ways. Liked it as a phase. We went to shows and talked about comics and she drove me around. Eventually she left me to go back to her ex-boyfriend, an exceedingly-square law school student. Security, right? Sell-out. While we stayed friends when I returned to Long Beach, it was more than a little awkward when she would repeatedly introduce me to her boyfriend. Perhaps she was playing games, with either one of us sap guys, who knows now. After a crazy time in San Diego (involving salvia divinorum) I confronted her and it went more sour between us. Last I heard she married recently.
A handful of flings in between as well, but can’t say I had much of a successful love life during those cold sunny years.
Then at an art festival I got the chance to go somewhere.
Here I am, there I was. Picked up from the Hong Kong airport and whisked away from a city I’ve always wanted to visit (unfortunately so, though my travels were only just beginning and I’d have plenty of time for further exploring). Jet-lagged as I was, I pleasantly surprised when we got to the mainland. I recall I happened to read a critical article about Shenzhen in Rolling Stone, about surveillance technology and schlock theme parks, that was before I ever thought going there was an option. If you’re not the business-type, it’s not the most famous city. Even for China news readers like me, and from what I learned I’d assumed it was all grimey factories. Sure there are horribly polluted days, but the city is unexpectedly green, shiney, full of the energy of the new! This is China here, and a lot of that surface veneer is hiding a cheap undercoating, but at the time I liked what I saw and it’s still been a pretty decent place.
In my isolated ‘garden’ — Chinese-style gated communities — I was lucky enough to be neighbors with a cool couple who immediately introduced me to the expat social scene. A Chinese skater and his Canadian girlfriend, they took me to all the hot spot venues. Music, from DJs to live bands, and shopping and drinking and getting high and conversation and sights and sounds. When I wasn’t expanding my circle, I was happy to wander alone in the heat of Luohu District’s gardens and urban villages, mapping out my new territory. The subway was sparse back then, only two lines, but I learned bus routes and took taxis and went where I could. I started studying Mandarin, joined a gym, and found some restaurants to be a regular at. I was settling in as well as can be expected. Things were looking up.
I didn’t immediately start dating. I had to get a good sense of the place, build up my confidence within it all, not be too green. Of course, every other guy I met had a young Chinese girlfriend at his side. Almost like some fashion accessory. It all seemed so easy. Sure I was warned about the negative stereotypes, but was also encouraged to go out and have fun. I carefully surveyed my surroundings and delicately waded my toe into the shark-infested waters of attraction and rejection. I then subsequently struck out. A few times. Westerner and local alike. But at that stage in my life I was rather patient, waiting for the right opportunity, and that’s okay.
Before I knew it, opportunity had come. One day I was introduced to Mona…