“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.


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.”


“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.


  1. I don’t know, I thought offering someone a drink when you’re fixing one for yourself is just common practice, not a particularly Chinese thing.

  2. This was my life story. Until I told my wife that if she wants me to express my love with a glass of water, ask for a glass of water.

    • I would say this specific behavior is not typical of Chinese women, even though Walter certainly believes it is. I’m curious to see what other people think.

  3. Hmmm i’m a Chinese girl, albeit Malaysian born but live in Australian for the past 20 years.

    I totally agreed with what Chip said. If you want something, ask for it! Christ, it annoyes me to no end to read that some mainland Chinese girls need their partner to jump through hoops just to prove their love to them….-_-!

  4. i’ve dated both girls born in china and those born abroad. in western society ppl tend to speak their mind aloud, however in chinese society u have this UNSPOKEN communication. you’re expected to know or understand others without saying anything. think of the situation in her shoes instead of thru your own, then u have a better chance to understand them.

    just remember, its a cultural thing.

  5. I don’t think it’s a specifically Chinese love. I think women and men all over the world would appreciate their partner being more mindful and thoughtful. It also depends on the individual. A person attached to ego will always take things personally no matter what country they are from.

  6. This extends to other Asian cultures. As Joe pointed this ‘unspoken communication’ is having an active awareness of those around you, particularly those you care about. Koreans use the English word ‘sense’ for it.
    It’s considered a very positive characteristic; a son offering water to his mother if she looks weary, a wife handing her husband an umbrella when she sees its raining outside, an husband coming home early and preparing dinner when he hears his wife is tired over the phone, a daughter tidies her room when she sees dad frown. Perhaps its a trait fostered specifically in more tight packed societies; being more in tuned with the desires of others.
    This can certainly seem frustrating and tedious to foreigners, especially those in a romantic relationship. Just keep in mind that on the other hand, the more self-centered and direct ‘I want this’ manner of westerners (particularly North Americans) can come off as selfish and obnoxious.

  7. I am a Cinese girl,mainlander.In China there is a tranditional sentence called 识时务者为俊杰(shi1shi2wu4zhe3wei2jun4jie2),识=know,recognize,时=time,chance,务=event,者=person,为=is,俊杰=someone who is a very talent or hero.It’s a idiom.the meaning is the person just by the time could know what he will do or how do is a hero.So,I think almost all chinese know about this.If sometimes can’t do well,even someone think you are foolish.And then one word was developed,called 拍马屁(pai1ma3pi4),if the someone’s behaviour beyond “the hero” is 拍马屁.That why I think Language is one part of culture,because long history.I hope everyone can understand my poor English.Thank you.

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