The question haunted me as I pondered my crush on Tian.
But it wouldn't be the last time I would find myself up against these ideas.
The experience of being in a foreign country and culture somehow liberated us from our usual American expectations for men and dating itself. We could even reinvent ourselves and what it meant to be in love with someone.
It seemed natural and normal to do the same in China.
In September 1999 -- my first month in China -- I had a huge crush on a guy.
When I came down with the flu, he accompanied me to my therapy at the clinic and read to me from with me -- one of the weepiest chick flicks ever made -- and actually shed a few tears when it ended."Whenever I arrive at the airport in America, the first thing I notice is our men, how handsome and how tall they are," one of my white female colleagues mentioned over lunch."I'll just stare at them for hours, as if I was Chinese and had never seen a foreign man before in my life." At least that woman wasn't as blunt as another colleague, who used to bicycle with me through the streets of Zhengzhou.While respondents praised Chinese men for certain qualities -- "looking after one's family," "willing to spend money on women," and "relatively serious about relationships between men and women" -- the admiration ended there.Negative impressions ultimately dominated as the women criticized Chinese men as "not so gentlemanly," "poor physique, not enough exercise," "no personality, lacking unique opinions," even condemning them on perceived personal hygiene problems.Whether in forums or blogs, the negative online discourse about Chinese men is consistent with Psychologist Zhang Jiehai's findings from surveys on "Chinese Men in the Eyes of Western Women" as reported by China's Xinhua News Agency in 2010 (I provided an English translation on my blog).This Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences professor surveyed over 100 Western women from diverse countries including France, Germany and the USA via questionnaires, and then interviewed over 20 of them in a focus group in Shanghai.Back in 2010, I discovered a post on a now-defunct blog authored by expats in Shanghai.The post was written by a white American woman based in Shanghai and titled, "So, how's the dating scene?Surely the other female foreign teachers at my college had secret crushes of their own.Or so I thought, until one day when I was sharing lunch with my colleagues.