Note: Most of my Chinese friends are approximately 30 years old and unmarried. There’s a word for them in Beijing: 剩女. The leftover women.

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I had sung with her in Beijing’s International Festival Chorus. She was the best soprano we had.

I stare at my Chinese WeChat phone app in puzzlement.

“There’s someone who likes me that I don’t like,” she had typed. “There’s so much pressure from my friends and family.

“They want me to fall in love and marry as quickly as possible. They’re telling me to try it out with this guy. I’m trying to decide whether or not to try talking to him, see how it goes.”

“I’m so confused,” she adds presently. “I’m not in a very good mood.”

“But this is your whole life ahead of you!” I protest on voice message. I type so dreadfully slowly in Chinese.

“They want you to be married, but you’re the one who’ll have to deal with being married to someone you don’t like for the rest of your life!”

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Hey, I’m an American from the East Coast. She’s writing to me for a reason, and what she gets is my own strong opinion, East Coast American as it is.

“I think you’re exactly right!” she exclaims in reply. ” I can’t be in a hurry, but instead insist on someone I like myself.”

“Right,” I reply. “Anyways, that’s how I see it. I’d prefer to be single than with someone I don’t like.”

“Actually, I feel the same way as you do!!” she types back.

What can I say in response? Clearly, she already knows what she wants. Or rather, what she doesn’t want.

“Haha. Yay!” I exclaim back. “Add oil!” For some unfathomable reason, uttering “add oil” in Chinese in an upbeat voice somehow expresses enthusiastic encouragement.

“会的会的!” comes back at me. Kinda sounds like “Yes, we can!” to me, and so I send her the most ridiculously optimistic emoticons I have in my WeChat repertoire.

Her: “Haha, I like this emoticon!!”

Me: “Super cool,” and I send her an extra dancing rabbit for good measure.

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Further Reading:

China’s ‘leftover women’, unmarried at 27 (BBC News Magazine, February 20, 2013)
China’s ‘leftover women’ phenomenon arouses heated debate in West (Response to BBC article) (People’s Daily, February 26, 2013)
China’s ‘Leftover’ Women (The New York Times, October 11, 2012)
Don’t pity China’s ‘leftover women’, they’ve got more going for them than you realise (The Independent, March 19, 2013)


Their condo was beautiful. Kind of amazing when I consider how recently they arrived to Massachusetts from Sri Lanka as barely-20s.

I was going over for dinner, but it seemed that I was arriving for afternoon tea. There was not a single dish in sight in that magnificent kitchen, and not the slightest scent of curry.


We stood in the kitchen while she made us tea, and then we took a tour of the upstairs, and then we sat at the dining room table and talked some more, endlessly.

Those cutie pies. They had married so young, and remain so happy, so in love, so joyful at the new evidence of their successes.

Around 8:30, they asked me if I was hungry. I said I could certainly eat.

I commented on the candles as she removed the dishes from the oven and heated them in the microwave. “Yes, the candles,” she said. “Did you smell anything when you came in?”

“Yes,” I said. “It smelled like candles! They are beautiful.”

“Oh,” he smiled, “she loves her candles. They’re just so expensive!”

“Yes,” she grimaced, “but you know, when you cook, then the whole place smells like curry, and it gets into my clothes and my hair, and then at work, people think we’re Indian.”