At my school in Lanzhou, breakups and relationship drama are a very public affair. Young couples will make a scene outside the front gate of the north campus for everyone to see. The guy always looks angry and talks loudly, while the girl (she usually wears a baseball cap, maybe to better hide her mascara-streaked face) silently cries at the prospect of getting dumped by this loser over a misunderstanding that probably wasn’t her fault.
And the rest of us pretend to go on with our lives but we keep looking over our shoulder every ten seconds.
The first time I saw this I was on my bike and I stopped to see what all the fuss was about. But now, this is so normal and so routine that I usually smirk when I see heartbroken couples having a pubic meltdown. It’s a rights of passage really, a coming of age for Chinese youngsters to have their moment of dramatic fame and glory.
The way relationship drama is handled in China is completely different from what we do in the States. While we have a culture of #nofilter, TMI, and a tendency to overshare everything about our lives thanks to confession-style reality shows from E! or Bravo!, Chinese students have been influenced by unrealistic, exaggerated Korean, Taiwanese, and Chinese television shows they obsessively watch. (my kids are always glued to their smartphones watching TV during class breaks “teacher- five more minutes!!” Me: Ruby, give me your phone, NOW!).
Here’s what I mean:
The first encounter between two future [doomed] lovers always occurs outside in the pouring rain: the girl is caught in a storm without an umbrella, and the boy comes rushing to her side, throwing his blazer over her head as they run to the nearest metro station for cover (this happens in 蜗居, Narrow Dwellings, a drama I am currently watching, which was temporarily banned by the Chinese government for touching on issues related to unaffordable housing prices, corrupt officials, and their money grubbing mistresses).
These little acts of chivalry permeate through every episode of these types of shows, and give the men and women in the scenes a sense of dignity and an air of romance that doesn’t actually exist on earth anymore.
And I have a hunch that the overly romanticized shows are likely the inspiration for some of the craziest and extremely creative public engagements in China:
- Boy proposes to girlfriend with lychee hearts, she says no
- Man proposes to girlfriend with 99 iphones, she says no
- flash-mob wedding proposal, (Also a No)
- proposal after winning an olympic medal in Rio
- woman rents 900 taxis to propose to boyfriend
Anyway, back to the TV dramas. The climactic breakup mid-season generally occurs in the rain too, but this time the guy walks off and leaves the girl alone to fend for herself and maybe die from pneumonia, since she’s perpetually underweight, and forgot her umbrella again.
Of course it never rains in Lanzhou, but if the kids are lucky they might get hit by a sandstorm the day they breakup. Nothing can replace that timelessly depressing feeling of walking home soaking wet on the evening of a bad breakup, but getting dust, sand, and a cloud of 2.5PM toxin in your eyes, hair, and nostrils is a pretty good reminder that life sucks and you just got dumped.
Disclaimer: All opinions shared in this blog are the author’s own, and do not represent the views of any outside organization, including but not limited to the United States Government and the Peace Corps.