Crouching girlfriend, hidden wedding

The other day, over too much food, Ben was telling me about two friends from his hometown who just got married. (I find Chinese invariably over-order when treating, for fear of appearing stingy, but Ben wins the grand prize. I put it down to some knee-jerk instinct which Chinese businessman-to-be seem to develop at the age of four.)  As yet another egg dish appeared in front of me – despite my having protested I’d already eaten a bowl of noodles that night – I was curious to hear more.

Both of these friends come from poor families, like Ben’s, and have also moved away to try their luck in bigger cities. But how Ben related their different fortunes is telling. The first (I didn’t catch any names, unless Ben mentioned them while my face was drowning in egg soup) is an old story: college sweethearts wait five or six years before marrying, moving to the nearest big city near their littler hometown, and begin the struggle of earning their new rent with sales jobs. Ben went to see their wedding and came back full of smiles but with no comments besides: they would have married earlier if they had more money, and maybe now it is still too early.

Ben didn’t witness the wedding of his second friend (too busy with the winter rush), but had more to say about it. This guy works as a TV host for local news (“he is very handsome”, Ben interjects in careful English, as is his habit) and does pretty OK for it. What’s more, he married into money: his bride inherited her parents’ business. “I have seen pictures of their apartment”, Ben offers, and launches into a considered inventory of its square-footage and cost (500,000 kuai for the flat, another half million to furnish and decorate). I got though a whole plate of egg and tomato before he wrapped it by lowering his voice and confiding: “actually, most is paid by his wife”.

Earlier that day, I’d written my Chinese homework on 白毛女 – ‘the white haired girl‘, a peasant heroine from an old story who is forced to marry a rich, evil landlord – and how it became a hot topic online when Chinese netizens suggested the girl should willingly marry the villian for his money, rather than her poor sweetheart. (A fuller and better summary here at ESWN, well worth a read.)

Given that Ben’s description of his friend’s marriage was so speedily hijacked by analysis of their financial situation, I showed Ben my homework (so many grammar mistakes) and asked what he thought: should the white haired girl marry the rich landlord? He shrugged it off with a laugh. “Of course not.” But, he added, maybe she can’t marry her impoverished true love either unless he has earnt some more first. I thought that was quite a telling response.