Our Cultures Are So Different

2007-03-19

The used black/white TV set I purchased from the Chinese restaurant’s owner, who slept with the 90+ year-old landlady, was supposed to be in a good condition. In my recollection, after a short period of time, it stopped functioning. Good condition my foot.

In the Go sense, there were some major flaws in the wall I built up on the 4th line. My opponent was able to take advantage of these flaws, and converted my wall into a blind dragon. It tried to escape, run, and run as fast as it could, but was eventually captured.

Soon, I realized that staying in that rooming house was not a good strategy for me. I would speak Chinese all the time, and would play poker games quite often. Such a life style would not be conducive for me. So, I decided to move out, and into a dormitory on campus, where I would be forced to speak English, and would not be tempted to play any poker games. Early in 1972, I made the move.

For several months, I did not play Go games. Instead, there was a ping pong table in the lounge of the dorm, and I made friend with a freshman, named Andy. Andy and I often played ping pong together. Both Go and ping pong seemed to be Asian sports in 1970s. When we played, often our playing attracted some spectators.

According to my diary, there was a dancing party held on September 23, by the Chinese Student Association at USC. I attended the party, and luckily was able to find a girl, named D, to be my partner. She seemed to be willing to be monopolized by me for many dances. During the first slow dance, she and I kept bodily very close.

My roommate, Jeff, was an undergraduate freshman, who took the same class as D and Andy did. D studied in the pharmacy department, held a fellowship, and clearly was a very good student. She and Jeff are so-called American born Chinese (ABC). After the dancing party, Jeff, D, Andy, and I had meals together in the cafeteria opened exclusively for dorm students. I could not speak Chinese any more, so my spoken English improved.

One night, D phoned me, inviting me to go over to her room inside a girl dorm to have popcorn with her. I gladly accepted the invitation. In comparison, even though I was a guy, I was more bashful than she was, partly because I was brought up in Taiwan, under the influence of a relatively conservative culture. That popcorn-eating get-together constituted our first date.

D had a round face, wearing sweet smiles most of the time, and a head of long hair. She also had a uniquely gifted magnetic voice, appeared to be smart, and possessed a cheerful character. So, she surely qualified as a likable person.

After the popcorn-eating date, we often studied together. Instead of going to the library, we chose vacant classrooms in the Law-Center building. I forgot the reasons. Perhaps then we could freely talk whenever we wanted to.

Thanks to the Chinese Student Association, it organized another evening event, which was an ice-skating outing. I drove a Ford Mustang 67, and D took a ride with me. As a freshly new driver, I also did not know the city roads well. We got lost on the way to the skating rink. When wives and husbands get lost on the roads, a common scene is that they argue and blame each other. When lovers get lost, however, they cherish the moments they can legitimately sit and squeeze more closely, burying their heads into the maps.

You may also wonder how I could afford to buy a good sports car of year 1967 when the year was 1972? See, in February that year, the U. S. president Nixon paid a historical visit to China. Immediately after that, Taiwan was ousted from the United Nation. Because of this political fallout, many export/import businesses in Taiwan were greatly adversely affected. Andy's family was running copper wire business very successfully. After the fallout, the business suddenly froze, and the company quickly went bankrupt. Such a phenomenon (that politics could affect economy so intimately) was quite scary.

In order to escape from the loan lenders’ pursuits, the family immigrated overnight to Canada. Andy also hurried to fly to Canada to join his family, leaving his Mustang to me to take care for him for a short period of time. So, the car did not belong to me.

In the rink, at least one of us two could not skate. Since we held hand by hand, often we both fell down on the ice. It did not matter who could or who could not. But we had much fun. On the way back to our dorms, D gave me hints here and there to allow me to hold her. I was too bashful, or shall we say I was too stupid or un-manly, to follow her hints.

After we finished our studies one night in the autumn of 1972, she challenged me a game of 3-dimensional tic-tac-toe. We used pencils and papers. Even though that was my first time to play such a game, being a Go player, I was able to defeat her very soon.

Readers who are not Go players ought to know that, as an almost iron-clad fact, Go is the king of all board games. It is quite easy for a good Go player to learn board games of other types quickly.

She apparently was impressed. She told me that very few could beat her. When girls were impressed, they seemed to be more willing to offer their kisses to you. On that night, her lips and mine first met.

Does “offering kisses” imply “desiring to get married”? I could not read her mind. But I knew that, in my mind, my desire to marry her was not terribly strong. There existed a certain standard for my future wife’s appearance in my mind. She was marginal in reference to that standard, and hence I was not too aroused by her.

However, I might not have minded marrying her, either. Her intelligence, good academic performance, cheerful characters, and a magnetic voice could adequately make up for her marginal appearance.

Similarly, in her mind, I could have been only marginal, too. It was the difference between her American culture and my Taiwanese culture that finally disappointed her and hardened her heart to depart from me.

One day prior to Xmas, she bought and gave me a shirt as her Xmas present. That Xmas was my 2nd one to celebrate in the U. S. Understandably, I was still unaware of the custom that relatives, lovers, and good friends were supposed to exchange Xmas presents. While I accepted hers and thanked her profusely, my hands were empty for her. She sobbed, and sighed,

“Our cultures are so different.”

Not too long after that remark, we departed. In retrospect, was that an excuse for her to leave me, or should my ignorance of American culture be a fatality to our relationship?

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