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!”

2013-04-07 19.32.26

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)

  • People can be smashed into the most uncomfortably close quarters on the train and yet almost never complain
  • People just let loose and sing to themselves regularly on the street
  • People just let loose and release all-out gargantuan yawns, with the accompanying gargantuan sounds, in the randomest places
  • Public toilets are everywhere
  • Extremely frequent trains
  • No train re-routing (like in New York)
  • All restaurants are required to make their restrooms open to the public (if they have them)
  • If a restaurant doesn’t have a restroom, it probably has a sink where you can wash your hands
  • Buses cost approximately six cents USD
  • Text messaging is an acceptable form of communication with potential employers
  • I can ask for hot water in a restaurant and no one will think it’s strange
  • If I ask for water in a restaurant, the server wouldn’t think of putting ice in it
  • I can tell a security guard I would rather not place my bag through the X-ray machine and she will wordlessly just watch me walk past