This one is gonna get sappy…
Dating in China would imply Chinese girls, wouldn’t it? Not necessarily. Behold, expat girls too, lost love, bittersweet memories~
I remember the first time I met Julia. I was at the usual pub with my pals, where we often frequented on the weekends. It was her birthday. I learned right away she was older than me. Up to four years.
She was so beautiful. And she still is. Tall, long legs, my height exactly. Bright blonde hair, dyed. She dressed casual, wore a white T-shirt and tight jeans. A very cute, very feminine face (sometimes tall women have more rugged squared-off faces, but not her). Perfect body, slim but not too much like that anorexic style of bar models.
Always elegant. She spoke English with a sexy Eastern European accent, a softer version of Russian. I have Slavic family and I know the general tone, but it turned out she was from an EU country. I wasn’t wrong in guessing that she studied in Moscow. She lived in Shenzhen as a classically-trained music teacher, and even performed at major concert halls on occasion.
I didn’t think I had a chance with her at all. Anyway, I was with Mona at the time.
I recall asking her how she felt turning that milestone age, and she said she didn’t feel different.
I probably didn’t make much of an impression the first time. I was just another white guy in the crowd. I tried to be funny, tried to be nice, but when you’re an expat you meet new faces constantly. Only a few stand out and prove to worth remembering. I wasn’t that special, not yet.
Well, we were in the same social and professional circles, and often crossed paths. From bar to bar, and even within the same garden, we’d bump into each other and say hello. I started seeing more of her. I started being more memorable. We’d hang out and text each other and generally be friends.
One day, I was dancing on a clean E pill and I flirted with her and made her laugh. That’s all, and it was a great night I remember it fondly.
The night things finally escalated. Me and another guy were at her apartment late. Perhaps we both had something on our minds, some subtextual competition. My American friend eventually got tired and left, while I stayed into the early hours of the morning. We sat together on her sofa and somehow I found the courage to kiss her.
“Why would you do that?”
I told her straightforward; I’m attracted to you.
Nothing else came of that night, but gentle kisses. Would it be pretentious to say I’ve been told I’m a good kisser? I crashed on the sofa and the next day we watched a movie. I kissed her goodbye outside, in the open air. Kissing a girl who is the same height is the best, it feels so right. Perhaps not everyone would agree but that’s me.
It was surprisingly comfortable after that, not so awkward. We stayed friendly and I had a chance. Patiently continued my seduction process, if you can call it that. It came to another anxious night at her place, followed by a glorious morning. Stretched into the greatest weekend I could ask for. Her skin, her feel, her limbs, her smell. I was in bliss, the highlight of my life up to that point.
She seemed to like me. Me! She seemed to like me!
I had to play it cool through all this, but deep down I was absolutely astonished this was happening. Honestly, Julia was and is completely out of my league.
I often contemplate about why she even liked me. Perhaps strikingly-beautiful women are usually drawn to alpha male asshole types, who take them for granted. I don’t know that I was that good to her, but I do know I was better to her than the last guy. She told me before that she doesn’t like macho Russian types either, with the stern faces and forceful voices, and I’m certainly not of that ilk.
Who am I? Nerdy American fellow, trying my best here. Sometimes I’m astonished enough that any woman is attracted to me at all, but when it does happen I have to act like it’s so natural, I have to act like this miracle upon miracles – that a beautiful woman is into me – is just a normal occurrence.
Julia is, by far, the greatest woman I’ve ever known. I will never ever be with another of her caliber. Perhaps I’ve felt more passion, more attraction, more closeness with other women in my years that followed. Experience has taught me a few things since then, and I would get better with the whole human connection thing later in life. But I know she is the classiest, the most beautiful, the closest to perfection I will ever attain.
Maybe she was just settling for me, because she was leaving China soon anyhow.
She would be gone before we had a real chance. Caught up in work issues, she burned some bridges. Sick of the local scene, she was ready to go home.
China seemed to make her depressed. Superficially, she had a great life in the SAR. That’s how it is, and most expats can only have fun for so long before the need to move on to a more real place. Actually, I think she was a bit of a depressed person. Not in a psychotic bipolar way, but in a quiet sadness way. If you’re that kind of person, Shenzhen can get lonely and tiresome after a while…
A whirlwind month. We went to Hong Kong and I dragged her to comic shops. She showed me the Star Ferry, cheap and scenic and now I always use it to cross from Tsim Sha Tsui to Wan Chai. We stayed in much of the time, and I realized I should be more fun. We went overnight to the beach with a group of friends, keeping our coupledom on the down-low. I met her ex, who was of course a real asshole.
What exactly were we? Boyfriend and girlfriend? Mere fuckbuddies? We never announced anything to our mutual friends, though I know some did suspect. I didn’t want to press the issue. What if she felt I wasn’t worthy of being public over? Or were we but private people? We never labeled it, just enjoyed our time together and lived in the moment. Moments passed.
She soon packed her things and moved out of her apartment and stayed at my place for the last few days. It was nice. It should have been nicer. There was a bit of pressure and I could have made her more comfortable. I didn’t know what I was doing back then. I still don’t fully know what I’m doing, but I’ve learned a little over time.
She flew away and called me as she transferred in Beijing to say goodbye and we talked until her phone ran out of minutes. I wouldn’t see her again for a long time.
That’s it, Ray. Whether it’s by design or destiny or what, you somehow successfully avoided commitment yet again.
Whatever we were, I guess we were never meant to be lovers. This thing between us suffered from bad timing. Our ages, where we were in life, geography. It never synched.
Time kept moving, and to our surprise we kept in touch. Absence makes the heart grow fonder… We emailed and texted with much heart. I watched from afar as she traveled the world, moved to London, advanced in her career. I liked to send her long letters with intimate details of my life and the inner workings of my head. It felt good to confide with her, she became part of the small group of close friends with whom I like to write letters.
In our later correspondence there was talk of love. Not much talk. But a bit. There truly was. I’ll leave the specifics of the ‘l’-word for another day’s posting.
Several years later she told me she would have moved back if I had just asked. I know it was hard for her at first, and there were many things she missed about living in China. Yet, I couldn’t have asked at that time. Wouldn’t it have been selfish? I had to be supportive of her life back in the real world. She wouldn’t have really upended all she had going just for me, would she?
I get rather confused and conflicted thinking about that.
In any case, the me of 2009 wasn’t ready, wasn’t fully grown, not even close.
I could ask that now. Last year I could have asked that.
But now it’s too late.
Now she’s married.
If life was a movie, I would have unapologetically loved her and literally followed her to the ends of the Earth. With no money and no prospects I would have damned the obstacles and came to her to matter what!
Suffice to say I didn’t do that, I couldn’t do that, and I suppose I wouldn’t. Whatever that says about me.
She definitely deserves better than the likes me. I mean, I even always talked about visiting her or we could meet in America and it never happened. It would be great to go back to Europe, I’ve only been there once. Somehow priorities have kept me stuck in other parts of the world.
She visited me in 2013. It was a great time. And it was totally unfair that she came to me and I didn’t go to her.
Perhaps fortune and fame are just around the corner and I’ll be easily and affordably globe-trotting any day now. Perhaps I’ll see her sooner than I know. I really hope so. But that won’t change the fact that it’s too late.
Well, I do think it’s time I gave my old friend another email. The least I can do.
Next: a summer romance