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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Foot Massages and Marriage in China

A foot massage at a cheaper location in Shanghai (not the one mentioned below)

After moving to Shanghai many years ago, I became exposed to the pleasure of foot massages. Although my feet at first proved to be overly sensitive, typically to the amusement of those who provided the massages, I slowly grew to appreciate the experiences and found them to be an excellent way to relax. They were also an opportunity for me to practice my Chinese and learn something about the various people I met who typically came from regions far away from Shanghai.

On one occasion at my once favorite and now long-gone place for foot massages the topic of marriage happened to come up in an informal discussion. At the time I was particularly interested in how Chinese viewed foreigners so I asked the young woman massaging my feet, "What would your mother think if you married an American?"

She replied, "If he is rich, she would not care."

Based on prior discussions, it seemed likely that she pictured a Caucasian when I said "American". So I asked her, "What if he were black?"

Without hesitation she said, "It doesn't matter if he is rich."

I found her reply striking since, similar to many other places, race can matter in China. But in addition to race, nationality can matter as well.

So I asked her, "What if he were from India?"

Seeming to want to make sure there was no misunderstanding, she looked me square in the eye and said with emphasis, "As long as he is rich."

In China I have often found that the perceptions of different races and nationalities are not equal. For that reason, at the time the young woman's responses surprised me. I was also struck by her openness regarding the importance of money in regards to marriage. But a conversation I would later have in a far less developed region of China provided me a new perspective on an issue that had once seemed so black and white. I will share it in a later post. Like the experience of a young woman sharing her excitement over her first payday in Shanghai, it gave me a deeper appreciation of the challenges faced by many in China and the hopes they hold.

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