When I was 22, I roomed with a midwestern American girl Mary who was both Mormon and a prolific dater. Coming home was full of surprises. One day I'd open the door to see church elders holding a Bible study in our living room. All the wine bottles would be gone from the kitchen counter. The next week I would walk in to find Mary making out on the living room floor with a guy I'd never seen before. They both stumble up drunkenly, and the guy slurs out an introduction.
Every month Mary would tell me about a different guy, and more often than not, she would breathlessly describe his positive traits. He could be the One ...
I marveled at this, because at that point I had never dated a single person who I thought could be the One, and she was raking through them. At one point it occurred to me that we probably both want someone who shares our background and upbringing. It's just that her pool of potential One's includes most Americans, and mine is some subset of immigrants who are acclimated to the US but also maintain their (preferably Chinese) heritage. I envied her the size of her selection pool.
Sometimes I miss my Chinese side so much. I'm buying sandwich bread in Safeway and I hear a couple talking in the next aisle, comparing canned foods. The man has a Beijing dialect, and I stand there for thirty seconds hearing the timbre of their voices. It comforts.
My friend Lu and I were eating dinner at Google a month ago. It was not long after I met him. I spoke to him in Mandarin, and as the conversation continued, he spoke more and more in Engilsh.
"Aren't you more comfortable in Mandarin?" I asked, since he just left China last year.
"Yes, but I figure you're more comfortable in English," he said.
"I like hearing people speak in Mandarin."
He then immediately used some Chinese idiom that I didn't understand. "See?" he said, "Why do you want to speak in Mandarin when there are going to be these things that you don't understand?"
But he humored me.
I don't fit in to the Chinese world. Any true-bred Chinese person who talks to me for more than one hour will end up telling me that I'm too straightforward. I lack the subtle Chinese-specific social nuances. The innate knowledge that it's okay to say, "You look so much fatter! You must have put on thirty kilograms!" but it is not okay to say, "It's really chilly in your house! Can you turn on the heat?" Or maybe it's all right to say that -- case in point that I don't know.
Drifting between the two continents can sometimes get lonely.