Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Being a Manly Man in China

Getting your hands dirty tinkering under the hood? Highly unlikely. Getting buck wild at a rowdy rock concert? Virtually nonexistent. Watching the big game while wolfing down nachos and beer with your pals? Fuggedaboudit. Getting banged up and bruised playing contact sports or taming the rugged outdoors? Negative. Losing your temper while attempting home repairs/renovations? Sorry Charlie.

Most of the things we equate with manliness in America are largely absent from the Middle Kingdom. In China, if something breaks, call a repairman or buy a new one, because services are speedy and cheap, and most things are replaceable anyway. If you're lucky enough to have a car, it's usually a late model European brand, and those don't break anyway. Abusing your body in the name of sport or athletic challenge is a waste of time and health, and scars are meant to be hidden, not bragged about.

In China, flexing one's manly muscles usually boils down to three things: money, women, and social status. Of course these are essential manliness indicators in every country and culture but here in China, these are usually your best options.

Money: the more you got, the more man you are. If you own a wedding portrait studio, you are perceived as being more manly than someone who repairs cars for a living, because you are the boss, and boss=manly. And of course, with money comes the next two items on the list, so money is the crown of manliness.

Women: like money, the more you got, the more man you are. It is virtually unthinkable for a man of high status and wealth to have only one woman in his life. If you are a manly man, you've got enough dough to spread around on mistresses, KTV girls, and hookers. That's not to say that all Chinese guys indulge these appetites, but it really is an integral part of the culture and most men jump right in if they have the means. Of course, the women are usually not cool with it, but they often tolerate it because their philandering man is their lifeline. As women become more economically independent, this trend will hopefully decline.

Social status: this is where the rubber meets the road. How your friends perceive you is the barometer of your life, so it is essential that they regard you in high esteem. Smoking and excessive drinking are staples of manly behavior, and treating your friends and colleagues to expensive dinners and excursions are necessary to gain their favor.

I don't consider myself to be a real macho guy, but I enjoyed getting down and dirty back in the States. I enjoyed weekend sports games with the guys, camping, hiking, getting my mosh on at local music venues, coaxing every bit of life and power out of my 1982 diesel Volkswagen Rabbit, doing odd jobs around the house, etc. When I came to China, my manly outlets seemed rather limited. Like most foreigners fresh off the boat, I got caught up in the whirlwind of clubbing and chasing girls. After a few years though, the novelty of that wore off, and I turned to more "serious" manly pursuits, like getting married, buying an apartment, and more recently trying to establish myself in a career in teaching.

To be honest, my fascination with tattoos has also been an outlet of testosterone, getting an adrenaline rush from the "delicious pain." All things considered, though, I miss the chest-thumping King-Kong moments that makes a man really feel like a man. But I guess in the end, a true man is someone who cares for his family and takes responsibility for himself and his actions. Anything beyond that is just showing off.

Bruce Lee- now there's a guy who was a manly man, no matter what culture you're from.


Clark said...

I had a Chinese businessman friend who, one day, admitted to having a mistress or two in Shanghai. Then he proceeded to tell me that his wife was okay with it. Well... I can't imagine she's okay with it, she just puts up with it, because he's a rich man who provides a lot of financial security.

Anonymous said...

Excellent writing in this entry! Just really great wordplay.

First off, the 1982 Volkswagen Rabbit is a classic to any automotive enthusiast. My 1981 280ZX regularly dusted off all competitors and to my shock a drag race with a VW Rabbit was one of my toughest opponents.

Ok, aside from that, I work in the casino business in Vegas. Being Chinese New Year's time we currently see the influx of high stakes Chinese gambling and the arrival of the Chinese manly man. What does this mean?

A bunch of jerks with really long pinky nails playing Baccarat at $200,000 per hand. I explained to my co-workers today the whole significance of the pinky nail as a statement of "I don't do physical labor" and its symbol of manliness in the Chinese culture and they were predictably perplexed. Toting around a long pinky nail doesn't quite equate to manliness in the west.

马克 said...

I've heard stories about the New Year's migration to the blackjack tables. Granted, everyone with spare dough acts like a high roller when they're gambling, but the pinky nail is definitely a Chinese thing. In the States, it usually means drug addict :-P.

tom-g said...

NIce article and congrats on the new baby. How did u end up in China? Work?

Clark said...

Really? The long pinky nail is a status symbol? I saw so many manual laborers use it as a nose-picker.

Crystal Tao said...

Sad to say, but most of your remarks are true.
And this is one of the reasons why many Chinese girls prefer laowai.