(This novel is translated and adapted by Ms. Shuang Wu. The original novel 海外剩女 by author Ms. Xi Zhang was published in China earlier this year. It tells stories of female students from China struggling to find love in Boston, and has received rave reviews. A play in Chinese language with the same title will be staged at Northeastern University on Oct. 10, 2015. The picture below was taken at the bank of Charles River by photographer Eaden Huang.)
A Woman with Approaching Expiration Date — Chapter 2
This is their routine – Jingzhe has to give Mom a detailed account of her activities each and every week. She has been a stickler to this routine since her childhood. Now, in America, this has gone beyond mere responsibility and obligation. Rather, it has become a way of family bonding and sharing.
Over the last year or so, however, Jingzhe wished she could have had a break from her mother’s weekly phone calls. For each time, Mom would keep asking the same questions over and over again. But Jingzhe did not dare to deviate from the routine. No, not even once.
“Mom, suppose nothing works out, what would you say if I go back home? I have sent out many resumes, but got no response. I don’t have a Green Card. The pharmaceutical industry is not doing very well in general. And come to think of it, I’m not even sure I want to live in America.” Jingzhe picked up the phone and started just like the last few times.
“What are you talking about? If America is not a good place to stay, how come everybody wants to go there? You have an excellent education, and you are in America now, why can’t you seize the opportunity and bring honor upon us all? You are the only female PhD candidate studying in America from our small town. Come on, Jingzhe, stick with it and make your family proud!”
“Mom, the job market is tight. We have a tough economy right now. The Americans think of us foreigners as their job rivalries. Employers will give US citizens the first consideration.” Jingzhe tried to get her mother to see reality.
“That’s not fair. They should give preference to those who can make the biggest contribution!” Mom declared in indignation.
“Life is not fair, Mom.”
“Oh forget about it! Let’s focus on your future in America. Do you think you might graduate by the end of the year? If yes, I can fly to America and attend your graduation.”
“If you’d agree that I can return home after graduation, I can try my best to finish my dissertation earlier.” Jingzhe avoided answering her mother’s question.
“But you can’t come home! You must have a career in America.” Mom told Jingzhe firmly.
“Mom, I have chosen a wrong major. Here, people don’t care whether you hold a high degree or graduated from a top school. They only want to make some profits out of you. My field of study doesn’t have much of a practical use.” As usual, Jingzhe finds it difficult communicating with her mother.
“Stop your nonsense! Two million Chinese people have immigrated to America! And you will have a PhD degree! Stop being depressed. Just keep at it, and everything will work out! Remember, the whole family is counting on you.” Mom made it sound as if there is no room for discussion.
In the end, it was not until Jingzhe promised to keep looking for jobs and bring honor upon the family did Mom put down the phone.
After logging off, Jingzhe slumped to her bed, feeling completely drained. Staring at the ceiling blankly, she mulled over her current situation. At the age of 32, she has no boyfriend, no job, no house, no car, no money, and no degree. The same phone conversation with Mom seems to be on automatic replay each week. “When is this going to end?” Jingzhe wondered to herself.
Jingzhe was about to go to bed when her mom popped up on the internet phone again. What does she what now? Jingzhe was exasperated.
“Mom, is there anything urgent?”
“I just went out for a walk and thought it over. Thank goodness you haven’t turned off your laptop. So listen, I have a new idea. How about you get a boyfriend first? Are there no reliable and excellent men in America? ” Mom asked.
“What?! You were the one who wanted me to hold off considering a relationship until I get my degree, remember? What is this sudden change of mind? I’m all lost now.”
“But you have been in America for years, is there no one who captures your fancy?”
“What about the people you work with?”
“Most of them are females and foreigners themselves, Mom. And the men are either married or in relationship already.” Jingzhe went on to give her mother the full detail about the people around her.
“But you must keep your self-confidence, Jingzhe. You are a highly accomplished young lady, and you have never been married. You’ll be an impressive doctor someday. Whoever marries you should consider himself lucky. Hey, how about getting yourself a professor, then? Just don’t go for those foreigners, though. ”
“Mom, didn’t you hear what I just told you? The three male professors in my lab are all foreigners. One is near 70 and a grandfather, one is two years younger than me and has a girlfriend, and the other one is gay.” Jingzhe explained to Mom again.
“What a mess! But we are only talking about what’s relevant to you. According to you, the outlook is pretty dim. I think you should hurry up then, and don’t let yourself be passed over.”
Jingzhe’s mother pressed on for another half an hour or so, and eventually let Jingzhe off.
The next day, Jingzhe got up late. She had spent the whole night tossing and turning. When she came out of her room, she saw Li Qiu had already tidied up her own room and decorated it with two new plants and a painting.
After the two women exchanged pleasantries, Li Qiu asked Jingzhe how come she slept the entire Sunday morning away, and Jingzhe told Li Qiu about her argument with her mother last night.
“My mom demands me to find a boyfriend quickly. Next week she’s going to ask for a progress report. How am I going to do that? Where do I get to meet any new guys?” Jinzhe asked.
“Well, have you thought about online dating? I’ve been on several dating websites myself. ” Li Qiu suggested.
“Is it safe looking for a boyfriend online?”
“After 9-11, is there any place on this planet you would call totally safe? You just have to rely on your own judgment. My experience is not all bad. So, do you want to give it a shot? ”
Jingzhe debated with herself for a while. After comparing the pros and cons, she eventually decided to go ahead. She asked Li Qiu to help her register an account on a dating website and show her how to search for someone. Li Qiu suggested ‘Asia Friend Finder’.
After some discussion, Jingzhe and Li Qiu settled on a half-truth/half-fiction approach for Jingzhe’s profile. The screen name Jingzhe chose for herself is “Mary,” which is such a common name so her real-world friends probably won’t associate it with her, Jingzhe thought. Also, Jingzhe’s movie idol is Mary Pickford, so Mary was the first English name coming to her mind. For her profile, Jingzhe chose an old photo taken from a few years ago; and for her album, Jingzhe added a few scenery photos with herself being a small figure taken from distance. She gave her real age as 32 years old but did not mention she was studying for a PhD degree.
After Li Qiu got Jingzhe set up and showed her how to do an initial search, Jingzhe took her laptop back to her own room and locked herself in. The more she browsed, the more excited she got. Wow! This is exciting! Jingzhe thought. It’s like a whole new world is opened up in front of her. Jingzhe rushed to read through some profiles and her heart started beating faster.
There was a 50-year-old physician who first caught Jingzhe’s eyes. He is a tall guy at 6’2”. In his photo, he has a sincere smile, big eyes, bushy eyebrows, and strong arms. There was another 51-year-old university professor who is average looking but claims to have particular interest in Chinese culture. Jingzhe even came across someone with a profile photo looking just like that famous Chinese comic actor Ge You. Jingzhe was so amazed at what she saw and kept leafing through the profiles.
In the following days, Jingzhe would slip into her room immediately after dinner and log into her account to check on her potential matches. Who said there are only losers on the internet dating sites? Jingzhe thought to herself. There are men with doctor and master degrees! There are men with great professional jobs! Jingzhe began adjusting her attitude and started to feel hopeful.