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lost in shanghai



From WALL STREET JOURNAL CHINESE Feb 28th 2013 Digital Edition
To read the essay in Chinese click HERE

By Mina Choi

I love living in Shanghai because the ladies here are special: they are beautiful, stylish, demanding, and know their worth. Their boyfriends and husbands always kowtow to them. Yet the Shanghai ladies are perfect embodiment of femininity. All the Shanghai ladies I know are slender, delicate and sexy. They also work very hard at this, of course. With almost all of my Shanghai girlfriends, the contract that they have tacitly brokered with their husband or their boyfriend is this: If I look good; then you look good. Shanghai men understand this. Many of them seem the happiest when they are next to (or often walking behind) a beautiful woman, carrying all of their shopping bags and the expensive luxury handbag they've purchased for their better half.

Over the Chinese New Year holiday, I visited one of my Shanghai girlfriends and her husband was sulking. I asked him why he was in such a bad mood, and he replied, 'What do you think? I've been doing all the housework because the ayi has taken off for the Spring Festival!' My girlfriend looked sweetly at him, petted him tenderly and replied, 'Isn't he so nice? He knows I'm allergic to cleaning solutions.'

Yet the real reason that many of these men are willing to cope with doing all the housework-including cooking, laundry and scrubbing-is that they know it's the wife who has made the money for the family. Yes, the men go out and earn their salary but it's my girlfriends who have invested wisely, played the stock market, the real-estate market, and other business ventures to increase their family's fortune by multiples. So although many of them don't actually work, they never let their husbands forget whose investment decision it was that made them millionaires many times over. 

One day my girlfriends and I were all sitting around having coffee at the newly-opened organic supermarket in the French Concession when the conversation turned to feminine ploys. The first anecdote shared was the shoe scam. A girlfriend explained it like this: You have two boyfriends. You ask both of them for a pair of very expensive designer shoes, like Ferragamo or Gucci. It doesn't matter which one first buys the pair of shoes, but once you have the shoes, you turn to the second boyfriend and say, 'I couldn't wait any longer so I bought them myself. Can you baoxiao (reimburse)?

The result: you get a very nice pair of shoes plus some extra spending money.

We were laughing over this and another girlfriend leaned in and said: 'That's nothing! I know girls who have baoxiao'ed three times using the same gift!'

I then complained, 'How come I don't have such talents?'--and we all laughed harder.

The conversation moved onto the next ploy-- the expensive bag. It was the story of a very distinctively-colored Hermes Birken bag. One woman got both her husband AND her boyfriend to buy the same unusual Birken bag. She returned the second one to the store for cash. Yet, she never has to worry because whenever she carries this Birken bag, both men are pleased because they each think that they bought it for her.

Then we moved onto another story, how one unmarried young man confided that he knows that this one particular girl still has deep feelings for him. His reason? Because whenever he sees her, she is still wearing that expensive necklace he bought for her. All of us cackled. One girlfriend rejoindered, 'How many necklaces does she have in her drawer, each labeled with the name of guy who has gifted it to her so she can wear the right one for the right guy?'? 

The laughter stopped though, when one day I had the opportunity to see the flip side of the same coin. One Sunday, my husband told me to drop in on his behalf because he couldn't make the get-together of his tennis buddies, mostly male. I stopped in and was privileged to hear some stories that most women do not get to hear. One went like this: An American man was being emotionally blackmailed by his Shanghainese wife. No doubt this American was an older man and his wife, a younger Shanghainese. The divorce proceeding turned nasty and the Shanghainese wife claimed the sole ownership of the entire apartment which they had bought together.

The conclusion: Her US Greencard was in the approval process and the American husband pulled the plug on it so she never got the Greencard. AND she only received half the proceeds from the sale of their jointly-owned apartment.

It serves her right, the storyteller finished with a triumphant face.

After hearing these two sets of stories of she-said-and-he-said, I just shook my head: How is it these two disparate sexes are able to meet and trust each other enough to have children? Is there a point when the Shanghai girl meets the Shanghai men with their guards down so they can venture into a marriage? There must be a meeting point, surely!



For a complete list of essays by Mina Tenison click HERE