by Erik Nilsson
BEIJING, Feb. 20 (Xinhuanet) -- Breaking up is always difficult.
But it's especially hard when you don't speak each other's language - and had no inkling until a moment before, after you'd been dating for nearly two months.
That was what I learned in my first stint in China in 2005.
I arrived having not only purposefully suspended preconceptions but also, consequently, with no understanding of what to expect of the language or culture I would wake up to every day.
The first local friend I met was Xing Li, a server at the bar I discovered my first day in China.
She spoke zero English, and I knew no Chinese. We communicated - in the pre-smartphone era - forming sentences by flipping through a brick of a Chinese-English dictionary. It would usually take more than a minute to form a sentence.
While I don't know about those phrases I patched together using the dictionary with various definitions for each entry, hers often didn't make much or any sense. Not that I could explain that to her. I recall spending a few days trying to figure out what she meant by what translated as "We of canine cry your".
She once treated me to a meal at a local restaurant, where I ended five years of vegetarianism over a plate of snails.
The snails repulsed me - and while I've since enjoyed many segments of many animals I wouldn't have expected to as a 22-year-old who hadn't eaten meat for half a decade. I still have a bad association with the gastropods.
But I was able to chew, gulp and grin through the gastronomic nightmare, until she produced a special gift - a wrap she'd made herself. It was delectable - a far departure from the snails.
Yet, it was the mollusks which came back to bite me. I heaved as I chewed through the scrumptious wrap she gave me. But I had no way to explain the actual source of my nausea was the snails wriggling through my guts because of linguistic limitations.
She believed it was her wrap and took conspicuous offense.
But that didn't stop her from being outside the gate of my work unit or the door of my apartment every day.
She even had the security guards pass notes along to the big bosses, who then handed them to me.
I was pretty sure that was unusual, even with my tenuous understanding of Chinese culture.
One day, I was exhausted from staying up late to beat deadline. I rushed home after my shift to sleep.
Xing Li was outside my door. I tried to create an apology by flipping through my dictionary and explain I desperately needed Zs.
She nodded and produced a pink plastic basin, in which she proceeded to wash my clothes by hand.
I knew this was atypical. I had a washing machine, as she knew, too.
But all I could do about anything at that point was slumber.
About a month into my China experience, I also became close to a woman who spoke excellent English.
In the second month, she encountered Xing Li outside my room. It seemed difficult not to.
They spoke, but it of course made no sense to me.
Joanna, the English-speaker, explained that Xing Li said she and I had been dating since we met.
This was shocking news.
We'd not only been totally platonic but also had hardly formed a paragraph of contiguous conversation!
I realized I needed to terminate this relationship that never was on my part and always had been on hers.
This was going to be awkward - even more so than my recent life as a foreigner plunged into a relatively strange new land.
But it had to be done.
Fortunately, Xing Li did it for me.
She arrived the following day with a note explaining she had to return to her hometown. Immediately.
That meant I was off the hook in ending this romance that had never actually started.
She hugged me and walked out the door.
I sighed in relief and never saw her again.
(Source: China Daily)