A Husbandly Kind of Fellow

In the last two weeks or so, I’ve been able to actually obtain more work than I’ve had my entire time in Beijing so far. Figures this would happen once I’ve figured out that I cannot stay past June 9th or so. For example, I’ve been doing a gig involving recording English scripts for a multimedia company that wants to put out products teaching English and Chinese … and teaching about traditional Chinese medicine, in particular about breathing exercises, massage techniques, something called “moxibustion,” “cupping,” and acupuncture. (You wouldn’t believe how difficult I found it not to laugh when the script had me saying things about the body’s flow of Chi energy, or how the common cold can be cured by “cupping,” where vacuums are created in cups sealed to the body which suck the cold out.)

One of the other gigs is with an agency that does one-on-one English instruction and tutoring. I’m sort of ticked off at them for the moment, because they scheduled me to meet with two different students separately – at the same time! And now they want me to work with the students to resolve the schedule conflict myself, as if I were responsible for scheduling these two people myself. That situation seems to have worked itself out, but just today, they introduced me to a boy of three years and nine months, and asked if I could start teaching him English this very afternoon, just as I had finished with my other student and I had planned to go and meet Allison for lunch. He likes me, they said, but he’s shy. What do these people think about my schedule that would let them think that I have time to kill, such that I can drop my plans at the tip of a hat and teach such a young child English?

My theory is that with the changes to the visa rules that have meant that I have to leave the country on June 9th, there is a growing labor shortage in the Beijing English-teaching community. This is why work is suddenly growing so plentiful here suddenly. But Allison tells me that there could be deeper cultural issues at play here, where traditionally Chinese employers are not accustomed to thinking as a person’s spare time as their own. If they aren’t working, the thinking goes, they are always available. This is also why, after explicitly telling the above agency again and again that Wednesday is the worst day of the week to assign me work, and that in the evenings especially, I’m not available, they’ve nonetheless signed me up to work with a student Wednesday evening. Perhaps I should have just flat refused, but against my better judgment, I accepted, thinking that I could perhaps work with the student to change our regular meeting times.

Last week, Allison and I had to move heaven and earth just to get to their office from the Chaoyang District. (Again, Wednesday is the worst day of the week they could’ve assigned me work.) Making matters worse, there had been a massive unforecasted rainstorm come in that day, which in Beijing, makes getting a taxi next to impossible. We were soaked after spending over 30 minutes trying to flag one down. Then, traffic between Chaoyang and the office was wretched, such that we were quite late to our appointment. I kept the office appraised of the situation, so they understood what had happened. While I met with my student, Allison got to chatting with the women who worked there, and uncovered one of the strangest observations about myself that I’ve ever heard.

The ladies who work there are very sweet, and a few seem to me to be flirting in a very obvious kind of way with me. Seeing me there with my fiancée, perhaps, will damper that kind of thing. While I was meeting with my student, they took the opportunity to chat things up with Allison, and she discovered something interesting. It seems that they like me because I seem, to them, “husbandly,” or at least, that’s the closest Allison can render the expression in English. That is, they noticed that I was doting on Allison, and respectful toward her, and in general they’ve gotten the impression that I’m attentive and giving toward her. They also seem to think my physical characteristics – slightly chubby cheeks, for example – suggest that I’m much more of the “cute” type than, say, the ruggedly tall, dark, and mysteriously handsome type.

So since then, Allison has taken to refer to me husbandly at every opportunity, and I’m mostly okay with it, though I’m guessing that it’s a mixed blessing. On one hand, it suggests that I’m the safe, nice guy that many women would’ve wanted to end up with in the long term, but it also confirms what I’ve long known, that I’m seriously not even remotely the ladykiller playboy or gigolo type who could just “love ’em and leave ’em.” I’m reminded of those studies they did where they showed that most women like a particular kind of guy for most of the month, but then during those days of the month when they are most fertile, suddenly show a shifted preference for guys with more “masculine” features – heavier brows, hairier features, bulkier muscles, that kind of thing. So I’m not going to be that kind of guy, I suppose.

None of this is to suggest that I’d prefer to be different than the kind of person I am, either physically or psychologically, but I think what comes down to is that there’s something about realizing that you are a certain type of person, and that even if some day I wanted to be something else, I just couldn’t do it. At the risk of sounding like I’ve been reading too much Jean-Paul Sartre lately, there’s a sense of personal freedom lost there with that realization. Sure, I don’t want to be a playboy, but it may be reassuring to people to think that if they wanted to be something else, they could merely by an act of sheer will. To put it in Existentialist lingo, it’s like I’ve been living with authenticity, in full understanding of my transcendental freedom to be anything, but having been hit with the Female Gaze, or the look of the Other, I’ve suddenly had my freedom reduced, leaving me in Bad Faith. Good thing that while I find Existentialism interesting, enough so that I’ve sort of specialized in it and have even taught it, at the end of the day, I’m not an Existentialist, and far from experiencing any angst or anguish,* this whole incident just amused me more than anything else. And perhaps suggested that I should exercise more regularly so that my cheeks don’t look so chubby, or “husbandly.”

* Before any stickler members of the Philosophy Police rush in to get on my case, yes, I know that Sartre says that you experience anguish over contemplating your freedom, and it’s easier to slide into the bad faith of denying your transcendental freedom, so if anything, being labeled should have been comforting, even if deceptively so. To those who want to get on my case for that, I say, give me some slack: this is just a blog entry.


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