Love, with Chinese characteristics (a conversation)

“You need to understand,” Walter said, lighting a cigarette. “Chinese love is real love.”

“And American love isn’t?” Nick said.

“Western love,” Walter said, “is not real love. Not in the Chinese sense. It’s not. Their love is deeper, truer.”

“Yeah,” Nick said, “I can see what you mean.”

He could too. One night at dinner he had casually remarked that he had worn holes in a pair of socks. The next day his girlfriend brought him a new pair. And he hadn’t remembered mentioning it until she handed him the box.

Nick had been with his girlfriend for five months now going on six. Already talk of marriage. Already she had taken him to her hometown, which just about fitted his finger for a ring. He did love her, he did, but marriage? Marriage was a large step. At least, it ought to be.

“It’s quite a bit to learn,” Walter said.

Walter also had a Chinese girlfriend, had been with her for as long as Nick had been with his. Except while Nick and his girlfriend were only two years apart, Walter and his were thirty-seven. Or thirty-five, depending on what age Walter felt like giving you that day.

Nick knew Walter had taught his girlfriend in freshman English, and that he no longer taught freshman English. Past that…Nick preferred not to think about it. Leave that to the other teachers. Nick preferred not to judge, as he would hate for anyone to judge his relationship. Love was love, and if they were happy, then what of it? So despite the usual warning bells, Nick kept his feelings in check.

“I’m far behind on how to love,” Walter said.

“Well you’d think with three marriages under your belt, you’d have picked up something.”

“I did. High blood pressure, a couple heart attacks.” He laughed, crushing his cigarette and lighting another. “I am behind though.”

Nick took a cigarette from the pack, lit it. “In what way?”

“Well just here the other day see, she was out on her way to my apartment and she texted me,” he lifted his phone and shook it, “and said it was hot out. Well me, I just sent her a message saying okay, see you soon. Now, do you know what her response was?”

Nick shook his head.

“Asshole.”

Nick blinked.

“Yes, that’s right. She called me an asshole, then she turned around and went back to her dormitory.”

Nick blinked again. “Why?”

“Because I am an asshole,” Walter said. “I did not offer her any water.”

“But…she was outside.”

He shook his head, gently, and said, “If I cared, I would have offered her water, see, she said she was hot, which means she was thirsty, and if I truly cared, I would have offered her some water.”

Ash fell from Nick’s cigarette onto his pantleg.

“Do you see?”

“Yes,” he said. Slowly. “Yeah. I do.”

“Right, now, here’s another thing that happened. She came over here the other night to…” His eyes shifted around. “To do her homework, right?”

It took Nick several seconds to realize Walter was looking for confirmation.

“Right,” Nick said.

“Right, and she got comfortable over there on the bed while I made myself a coffee. I sat down with my coffee, and she folded her arms. I asked her what was wrong, but she didn’t speak. She did not say one word to me for the rest of the night.”

“Why?”

“Because if I cared, I would have fixed her a coffee.”

“Yeah, but she didn’t ask for one.”

“It doesn’t matter. If I truly loved her, I would have just made her a coffee. No asking needed. It’s Chinese love.

“It’s like, ‘hey you stupid asshole, where’s my fucking coffee?’,” Walter went on, looking truly horrified. “And the thing is, she’s right. If I were not such an uncaring asshole, I would have fixed her a coffee.”

Nick stubbed out his cigarette.

“It’s a fantastic way of doing things,” Walter said. “With a Chinese girl, you must always prove that you love her. Whatever I do is good for one time, one time only. Next time, I have to prove that I love her all over again.” He lit another cigarette. “Yes, it’s absolutely fantastic.”

Nick soon left. And later on, he thought about Walter’s words and wondered what type of life that was to lead, to have to always prove your love. But he reminded himself that it was not his place to judge. Leave that to the other teachers. If they were happy, then good. After all, he did not want people judging his relationship.

But seeing Walter’s horrified face, he had to admit that sometimes, sometimes, it was just so hard to keep your feelings in check.