When I moved to Beijing back in 2003, I was a university student with little money but ready for adventure. I was still figuring out who I was and was now struggling to understand those around me too – linguistically and culturally. I met many Chinese and international students at university. I hung out with lots of different people doing lots of different things, having dinner that went on through the night, the table laden with the food we’d eaten hours ago, drinking cheap beer and talking. Sometimes hotpot that ended in karaoke, or a trip to the east side of Beijing to dance in nightclubs or drink in bars. But the thing I enjoyed most was going to gigs at live houses.
The music scene in Beijing then was really open and there’d usually be a bunch of musicians hanging out after the show. I loved the atmosphere, listening to different bands with other music lovers, hanging out and drinking cheap beer sometimes until the sun came up. These are still some of my best memories of the many years I have spent in Beijing. I made friends in those bars that I’m still close with today, even though as a parent to a toddler I’m pretty much out of the live music scene lately.
As I got more settled into Beijing life and eventually left my studies behind and found a job, I started to notice that of all the WWAM couples I knew, they were all Western women with Chinese musicians. Of course, this was partly a product of the social circles I ended up in, but I also knew many Western women working in Chinese companies – yet none of the women I knew had a Chinese boyfriend or husband from the business world. Later I spent four years working as the only foreign woman in a large company, and still dated musicians, with nary an expression of interest in me from anyone in my company or in the cafes and restaurants in the large university-like campus around our office.
I’m never discounting the fact that maybe I just wasn’t the type of woman that men in my working environment were interested in. Or it’s possible that one or two may have been expressing interest and I just never noticed the signs or was oblivious since I was not interested in them. Additionally, as the only female foreigner in my company, I may have been just too scary a prospect to risk hitting on and being rejected since most companies are quite a breeding ground for gossip. From my side too, I guess I never quite met anyone around there that I got to know well enough and be interested in enough to try and pursue a relationship. Many of the men I met were really focused on buying a house and a car and going hiking on weekends, and none of that was of any interest to me.
On the other hand, it was almost a challenge to not meet some cute or sexy musician at the gigs I went to. And having a few friends who were dating musicians made it all seem quite easy. In that environment, it was the norm to see a Chinese musician with a foreign girlfriend (or two), or wife (sometimes a girlfriend too). It definitely wasn’t all sunshine and marshmallows, but the dating was fun and crazy and memorable and definitely improved my Chinese.
Many of the musicians I got to know had gone against their families’ wishes to become a musician and move to Beijing. They had spent much of their youth listening to cassette tapes and CDs which had been confiscated then had holes punched in them before being sold again to teens like themselves. Kids who were sick of the music they were “allowed” to listen to and desperate to listen to the music that spoke to their souls and inspired them to become musicians in the first place. And in many ways, they were much more open-minded in thinking and fashion and hairstyles than the guys many of us were meeting in offices and coffee shops and restaurants across Beijing. Plus it never felt like they were trying to use us to learn English since most of them then only knew the names of the bands they liked plus a few swear words.
Eventually, as I began to meet more WWAM ladies, I met many who were with guys who weren’t musicians or artists. But I think it’s still difficult for a Western woman working in a large company in China to find guys to date, and easier to meet like-minded people in an environment where you’re relaxed (possibly with alcohol) and there to enjoy yourself. Additionally, one concern in a WWAM relationship can often be finding out that your partner has never stood up to their parents and easily buckles under parental pressure. And in China, standing up to your parents can be a something that comes a little more easily to people who’ve chosen a non-traditional career path against their parents’ advice.
In light of all this, if you’re a single foreign woman in China, I’d recommend not actively looking for a partner at all, but going out and enjoying things you like to do – whether that’s live music, dancing, hiking, cooking classes or whatever. Because somewhere along the way, you might find a like-minded soul from anywhere in the world that really rocks your world.
My story – well, after dating a few musicians and getting burned, and seeing some of my married WWAM friends getting divorced, I learnt my lesson and swore off musicians for a while (not to say that all musicians are womanisers, but I had a pretty bad run for a while there). I found my Mr Amazing not long after that, in the crowd at a gig of a band I loved – an HR professional with a heart of gold.
(Main image credit: www.freeimages.com)
Have you got a love (or horror) story of dating a musician? Or did you manage to find WWAM love in your workplace? Share with us in the comments below…