Wednesday, March 14, 2012

CULTURE : "Friends" for Rent

            “Hey Asheley! This is your Auntie Hua! How are you?”
            “Oh hey Auntie Hua! I haven’t talked to you for so long! I’m doing great! I’m a sophomore now, studying art history. How have you been?”
            “I’m good I’m good. So, do you have a boyfriend yet?”
            “Aiya!! Asheley! Why you no get boyfriend? You are twenty now, not young! Auntie knows this beautiful boy, he smart and tall, his family......”
            This is why I hate making phone calls to my relatives during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). The ruthless interrogation of why are you still single from every relative makes me want to shoot myself into outer space. The older the relatives, the more concerned they are with my current relationship status (and the more they want to set me up with the sons of their Tai Chi partners at the park). My grandma was secretly persuading my mother to open an E-Harmony account for me, fearing that I might end up living with a house of cats instead of having a decent family. I am just an undergraduate in college for pete's sake!
            It is this infectious level of desperation that created a market of renting girlfriends or boyfriends for Spring Festival or other holidays that involve family reunions. Many Chinese online shopping websites began opening sections especially dedicated to renting boyfriends and girlfriends (girlfriend rentals are much more popular... are you surprised?) for family reunions. These partners-for-rent posted their pictures on the website along with a short description of themselves and contact information. After the deal is confirmed, there is often a rehearsal session between the customer and rental boyfriend/girlfriend, practicing “couple-y” behavior and preventing any discrepancies that might rat them out in front of the parents. Some of these rental boyfriends/girlfriends work in a very professional manner: responding efficiently and appropriately in the relentless and non-stop questioning session set up by your family members, complimenting the mother’s cooking or the father’s healthy body, making your single siblings jealous and married siblings regretful, and if you pay them a little extra, they might even help you to finish the horrible wine (or beer) your family member pick up at a drug store on the way to this family reunion. Of course, sex and kissing are off the limits; but $30 to $150 per day for a rental boyfriend/girlfriend is a pretty sweet deal.
            Online shopping sites are not the only source to rent a boyfriend/girlfriend, you may also participate in online lottery and win yourself a nice girl to temporarily sooth your parents. You know what the best part is? You finally get to tell your parents that you are bringing a girl back home for Spring Festival, and no, not one of those inflatable ones. The website that initiated this lottery got more than 160,000 people participating within ten days. There are also people posting advertisement on the dating page of the newspaper, recruiting and interviewing girls that have “innocent looks, strong communication skills, college degree, and a health certificate”. As for boyfriend rentals, the criteria often includes “caring, gentle, handsome, and talkative”. The answers written under “reason for rental” vary from “pissing off exes” to “need someone to climb the Great Wall with”, but most often it is “pleasing the parents during the Spring Festival”.
            This phenomenon is such a perfect topic for cheesy summer chick-flick: a guy rented a girl online who eventually becomes his girlfriend. But in reality, this is just a brand new level of “Forever Alone”. While Miss Samantha Salis is mourning for the death of chivalry, I am digging the grave for true human interaction. When boyfriends and girlfriends are like fast food which can be made and consumed within minutes, the very foundation of relationships is broken down into business transactions. Call me old fashioned but I still fancy the time when I can meet and get to know the future father of my kids in person instead of clicking his much photoshopped profile picture on a dating site, let alone renting one of them to please, or rather fool my parents. The parents are not innocent either: being concerned about your kids’ relationship status is reasonable; putting too much pressure on finding a spouse, however, can only generate negative effects. Your pressure will finally make your kids feel guilty since they are not conforming social conduct or fulfilling the filial piety to make their parents happy. This guilt will either rush them into a relationship they don’t enjoy, or sign them up in a lottery which will win them a free temporary boyfriend/girlfriend. Moreover, more and more young people are getting married later than the previous generation since they are elsewhere occupied. Education, work and personal achievement often defer their marriage to late twenties or even later. So parents, please give your kids a little more time and independence, to let them follow their own path; young people: please give yourself a little more time and independence, to build up a relationship that is for you, instead of for show.
            The Woman Behind the Cultural Perspectives Section:
Asheley Gao is an extremely creative young woman, currently attending UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, a long way away from her home country of China. She is double majoring in Political Economy and History of Art. Her interest in life and exuberance is evident, not only in her work as an artist and academic, but also a friend and co-worker.

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