By Albert Leung, Staff Writer

Describing what attracts me to a girl is typically an ambitious undertaking. Perhaps it's because, like most men, I am incapable of freely communicating my feelings. Sometimes it's the gal's smile, kindness or hypnotic gait but whatever her quiddity that appeals me, I've never found myself gravitating more to or preferring to date someone from my own ethnicity. Not to say I swore off Chinese girls. I have dated a few but unlike some that  Iknow, it's not as important to me that I fall in love with someone who has a Chinese upbringing.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend about our dating habits. I struggled to explain what my ideal woman would like but luckily she's quite the talker so she rattled on as I listened intently.

My friend explained how she finds it easier for her to connect with someone who is Chinese. Because of this reason, she typically doesn't stray from dating Chinese guys. It is important to her to be able to share similar family and cultural traditions as well as language. Also, looking into the future, she wants to instill Chinese culture into her children and it would be ideal that her husband would feel the same way and help contribute. To her credit, she found a very nice Chinese gentleman and has been with him for a couple years now.

I understand her reasoning but I can't say I have such commitment. Perhaps it's because I'm not as well connected to my Chinese traditions. I do practice some of the customs and holidays with my family but I never retained much of the language. For me at least, it's hard to say what it is that I seek in a woman. I believe romantic connections can be made at anytime, with almost anyone and for a lot of assorted reasons.

Like many high school boys, my friends and I used to spend hours agonizing over girls. I remember thinking that if I were to date a white girl, she would never be a redhead because it was unimaginable to me and that I should find a nice Chinese girl to appease my family. I came to find out that my imagination was severely limited.

Starting my senior year of high school, I quickly retracted those thoughts because I fell for a lovely redheaded Jewish gal who I met in my newspaper class. For the sake of anonymity I will call her Gayle in this story.

When our relationship became serious, I realized it was time to reveal it to my family. I was nervous to find out what my grandma and mother would think of me dating someone who wasn't Chinese or Asian. Would they be receptive? Would they shun me? My older sister had never revealed any boyfriends to my family before so I hadn't a good example to use.

My grandma first met Gayle while she waited for me at our front entryway. My grandma came waddling out of the kitchen with a grin on her face and said hello. With an adamantly loud tone, she asked if I had offered Gayle any food then went into the kitchen, grabbed a half eaten roll of Ritzcrackers and put them in my hands. I told her that Gayle wasn't hungry and thought that would be the end of her feeding crusade. But there would be no stopping her.

Despite having no English language skills, my grandma decided to take care of this dilemma by herself. She searched the kitchen and grabbed the one food item she could clearly pronounce in English. As she approached Gayle she stuck her hand out and said, “Banana?”, then tried to put it in Gayle's hands.

The next day while eating lunch with grandma, she said to me about Gayle with utmost love and sincerity, “She seems like a nice girl. Very pretty. She isn't fat.” That's basically as good of an approval that you could ever get out of her. My mother on the other hand was a little harder sell.

After a few months of dating I asked Gayle over to dinner so my mom could get to know her. Mother hadn't said anything disapproving about her up to that point so I didn't think the meal would turn out disastrous. We started off with small talk but as the meal progressed my mother started deviating her conversation away from Gayle. Eventually the conversation involved only two people at the table: me and mom. As if that wasn't uncomfortable enough, mom started only to speak in Cantonese. My girlfriend was completely pushed out. I tried to get Gayle back into the chatter but mom didn't seem to give in and wanted no more interaction with her.

I thought my mother's attitude during dinner was very peculiar but it was an experience that really hurt Gayle. She broke down in tears that night because she believed my mom would never like her or accept her because she wasn't Chinese. I felt like I was in a television drama series.

Fortunately Gayle and I worked things out and stayed together for about two and half years. After talking to my mother about the dinner, she alleged that it wasn't anything intentional and was just very nervous to meet my girlfriend. My mom actually grew very fond of Gayle over the years. For many reasons though, things didn't work out between Gayle and I. We are still good friends today.

I learned from this experience that even though I thought I knew what I wanted in a woman; life has its methods of changing my perspective. Thus, I've given up on trying to characterize my ideal female and stopped worrying about what my family might think if I were to end up with someone not Chinese. If anyone were to ask me now what I look for in a girl, I can only confidently and accurately describe it as such, “She walks into the room, my heart flutters and I can't stop smiling.”

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