ONE balmy evening in Shanghai, my boyfriend and I were strolling home from dinner when two boozy blond men called to us. Expecting a plea for directions, we stopped. The men leered at me and grinned at my boyfriend.
“Where’s the party?” they asked jovially. “You know, Chinese girls. Where can we get one of these?”
They meant me.
My boyfriend cursed at them and held me close as we crossed the street, but I dropped his hand. For the six months we’d been together, we had endured more than our share of stares, from curious to smug to hostile, from Chinese and Westerners and everyone in between. But nothing had been as flagrant as this. Suddenly, I felt as if those men had seen the truth, while what we knew of ourselves was a sham.
He was no longer the boyfriend whose home I shared, the journalist whose dedication and drive kept me inspired, the man who scratched my back through entire seasons of “The Sopranos.” In that moment, he was just a laowai, another foreigner in China taking home an Asian woman like a souvenir.