WHITE MAN IN ASIA by Tristan Durst
THERE IS A CERTAIN KIND of expat that my friends and I liked to call “White Man in Asia.” We wrote his theme song, to be caroled loudly on the journey between the foreigner-friendly bars that served as his hunting grounds: White man in Ayyy-sia! Can put his dick in anything he wants to! There’s no shortage of women, foreign or Korean, trying to date White Man in Asia. He’s not buying any cows because everyone’s giving him milk for free.
For foreigners actually trying to date, not just hook-up, things are pretty bleak. Life overseas is an extension of college for many: bars until sunup, Jagerbombs, one-night stands, and fake numbers all around. On Sunday afternoons, it isn’t unusual for the Wolfhound, my favorite spot in Seoul for fish and chips, to be two-thirds full of people who just haven’t yet gone home.
In January of my seventh year in Korea, the long-distance relationship I’d been having with a lawyer living in New Orleans fell apart, for all of the reasons that long-distance relationships usually end.
I spent the following Valentine’s Day weekend ping-ponging between uncontrollable tears and incoherent rage, eating all the sour gummy worms that could be purchased in a three-block radius of my best friend Jenny’s apartment. Starting at about 11 pm, we laboriously constructed my OkCupid profile. My interests included reading, writing, travel, and craft beer. I was honest about my height.
One of my co-workers had great success with online dating. By which I mean she married the first guy she met in real life. She went on exactly one OkCupid date and ended up with a husband. I didn’t want to get married immediately, but I wanted to reclaim my life, get out there and prove that I still had it.
Laid. I wanted to get laid.
Almost immediately after my profile went live, messages started coming in.
I wanted to respond to every message, but Jenny advised me to wait for someone who showed an actual interest in me, someone who referenced some part of my profile in his message. “You don’t want anyone who wants just anyone,” she told me.
“Thank, Oprah,” I snipped through the haze of my sour candy sugar high. Jenny had been in a relationship for nearly four years at this point, a relationship she remains in to this day. Easy for you, I thought. You’re not sleeping alone. Still, I followed her advice.
I listed one of my favorite shows as The First 48, a reality-crime show on A&E. About a week after I posted my profile, a man with the profile name JuggaloJack responded with a quip about the show. Even though his profile picture showed him in full black and white clown face paint, I responded optimistically.
Do you want to get coffee this weekend?
i want to tongue punch ur fart box
I immediately called Jenny. “At least it isn’t a dick pic,” she said.
“Oh my God,” I shrieked. “Am I not pretty enough for dick pics?”
“First woman to be indignant about not seeing an unsolicited wang,” Jenny replied.
Two mornings later I had a message from Josh. He also liked The Wire and had enjoyed my favorite movie of all time, a little-seen sci-fi indie called Sunshine. I agreed to meet him on Thursday night at a Russian restaurant between our respective workplaces. I arrived ten minutes late to the restaurant because my bus had rear-ended a taxi.
I explained my tardiness to Josh, who looked at his watch and sighed, unimpressed with my efforts. He was thinner in person than I expected, almost to the point of being malnourished. His pupils were pale, only a few shades darker than the whites of his eyes, the left of which twitched uncontrollably.
“Man,” I said once we sat down at the table, “I need a beer.”
Josh sucked his teeth in disappointment. “I don’t actually believe in using alcohol to deal with stress. If you’re willing to try a healthier way, I’m a fifth-level reiki master.” Here he extended his hands, palms up, across the table towards me. “It will require skin-to-skin contact though.” He stared at me intently, his fingers undulating like sea anemones.
I pulled my hands close to my body, elbows planted at my side. It was not easy, eating my dinner with the arm mobility of a T-Rex, but there was no way I was putting my hands back in touching distance of this person.
After dinner Josh looked at the bill and informed me that my share was $18. I paid and made the excuse of an early morning to get away. “Well, you could do that, or there’s a sex toy shop I’m gonna check out for laughs if you wanna come,” Josh offered.
Recounting this date for Jenny, she showed the correct amount of disappointment in Josh. “But,” she added, “you could’ve had sex with him.”
“You said you want to get laid!”
I did. But I did not want to be one of the drunken, tired women chasing White Man in Asia through the dingy expat bars on Saturday night. It had been a relief, starting a relationship with the Lawyer, taking myself out of the bar scene. I could stay home on Friday night, not concerned that something meaningful was passing me by, as I read in my apartment.
A year ago, the previous Valentine’s Day, he and I had been together in New Orleans. It started pouring right before we left the movie theater, and we got soaked running across the parking lot to the giant white Cadillac he inherited from his aunt. Back at his house we threw our wet clothes (and, we discovered later, his new iPhone) into the dryer and sat together on his balcony, naked under our oversized towels, listening to the rain, smoking cigars and drinking champagne from coffee mugs.
Despite his flaws, I loved this man. He had backne, he was a bad listener, he was only mostly divorced, but I still loved him. Years later he remains the only man I’ve ever met who’s funnier than I am. On our second date, I knocked over my sweet tea, spilling it across the table and into my lap. Seeing my embarrassment, the Lawyer dumped out his tea, into his own lap. “Goddamn,” he said. “That’s cold!” I fell in love right that second, and my date with the reiki master made me realize I wasn’t finished falling out.
In the following months, there were a few coffee dates with guys who were neither interesting nor tall. I ate a few meals with men who liked the same TV shows as me. Hardly any of my first dates led to second dates. Some of my first dates came to a screeching halt halfway through. About eight months into my OkCupid adventure a guy showed up to our date wearing a shirt with a graphic of a bear holding two AK-47s and the slogan “I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS” across his chest. There was no mention of his service in the US Army on his profile, but it was immediately apparent in person. No one gets that haircut by choice.
Bear Arms had packed an overnight bag, which occupied the third seat at our table. I could feel the weight of its expectations. My date dropped several hints during our meal, and when I finally flat-out told him that he couldn’t spend the night with me, he took out his phone and called a buddy.
“Yeah, man. Yeah. It’s a no-go. Nope. What’re you guys up to tonight?”
I excused myself, pointing towards the bathroom, and walked straight out of the restaurant.
At the nearest bus stop I called Jenny. After recounting the whole evening, I started to cry. “And now I’m that girl,” I said. “I’m that girl crying on a bus over a bad date and a broken heart.”
“Oh, friend,” she said. “I wish I could fix this for you.”
Despite her sincerity, I refused to feel better. “I’m going to die alone,” I replied.
About a month later, came a very nice Marine named Brad. In our messages I had explained my reluctance to date someone in the military. “Shit,” he replied, “I don’t blame you. We’re assholes.”
He and I had traveled to some of the same places, and he was exactly as tall as the internet told me he would be. For our second date we spent a marathon Saturday together, fourteen hours during which we saw two different art exhibits, got coffees at three different Starbucks, rode the subway from one end of Seoul to the other, and got to second base while watching the remake of Predator. Brad wasn’t the funniest human I’d ever met, but by our fourth date (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and sex) the mental comparisons to the Lawyer had nearly stopped.
Here’s the thing about Marines: sometimes they just have to move to Japan. That’s not a euphemism. The military sent my boyfriend to another country. They gave him three days notice, which means I got one. We agreed that a long-distance relationship didn’t make any sense, and I decided anew that the world would deny me happiness forever.
“Hopefully someone blows him up,” Jenny said. He hadn’t chosen to leave me, but the solemn duty of a best friend is to take your side and wish ill on your ex, no matter what. Jenny is the best best friend.
I still browsed through profiles every other day, I still met guys for coffee or tacos, but I lost all enthusiasm for dating after Brad. My girlfriends had come to expect updates to my saga over brunch, and I had become accustomed to not paying for meals. Eggs Benedict and that Guy From the Internet became a Sunday morning staple with my core group of friends.
My very last OkCupid date was with a fellow I like to call “Horrifyingly Inappropriate Boner Story Man.” He arrived twenty minutes late and sat in stony silence for the majority of our meal. “Did you grow up in Atlanta?” I asked, basing my question off of information gleaned from his profile.
“No,” he replied, immediately lapsing into silence again.
Don’t say anything, I lectured myself. Don’t say anything. He’ll talk eventually. Don’t do it.
After what felt like an hour, I cracked. “Where did you grow up, then?”
Don’t do it. Don’t say anything.
“Do you like Korea?”
For the next twenty minutes the only sound was our mastication. As the waiter cleared the last of our dishes, my date asked, “Would you like to go grab a beer?” I honest-to-god looked over my shoulder thinking someone else had spoken. It was still half an hour until Jenny was calling with an out, so I decided I could handle the silence to get a free beer.
After ordering at the bar, I excused myself to the bathroom where I texted Jenny. You had better fucking call right fucking now this is the worst date ever you have no idea I am dying byyyyye.
My date had drained over half of his Guinness in the two minutes I was away. As soon as I sat down at our table, he immediately launched into a story about the Jehovah’s Witness who came to his house in Atlanta every Saturday at 11 am.
“So I decided what I was gonna do was, I was gonna teach them a lesson. So on Saturday they ring the bell, and I’m waiting. I just throw the door open in my tighty-whiteys. Nothing else! Boom! Only it ain’t Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s these two really hot black ladies doing a food drive for their church. Shit! Bang! I popped a boner standing there. Like, immediately! Boner! I had to slam the door shut and go take a shower.”
Here he drained the rest of his beer, crossing his arms over his chest with satisfaction.
“I…wow. That’s a story,” I said.
“Fucking right,” he replied.
“That’s racist!” Jenny said when I related the tale. “Why did he have to specify that the women were black? Plenty of black ladies are hot.”
“Refocus that anger on my behalf, please,” I requested.
The next day I deactivated my OkCupid profile and deleted the app from my iPhone. I cleared my browser history so my computer would forget the password to the site. Then I laid down on my bed, put my hands over my eyes, and cried.
Some of the men I dated were just utterly dreadful, but most of the men I went on dates with were fine. They were just fine. They suffered from comparison, though, because I had already found what I was looking for. I had found it and I had lost it.
The worst thing about White Man in Asia, it turned out, was who he wasn’t.
This is the part where the happy ending goes. This is where I tell you that I went on one more date, just one more, and I met the man of my dreams. We’re married now, with two cats, and I’m pregnant.
Or: I tell you that the Lawyer flew to Korea to profess his undying love and set things right between us. He got a divorce and apologized profusely for the hurt he caused. We’re married now, with two cats, and I’m pregnant.
I am genuinely sorry that neither of those things has happened. I wish there were a person in my life to share sunsets with and steal the covers from. I wonder if there’s something wrong with me, if I’m that one misshapen pear at the supermarket no one wants. I worry that the second I adopt a cat I will transition immediately into a crazy cat lady.
But I’m not unhappy. I have Jenny. I have the other women from our circle of friends, one of whom is also named Jenny. The other two are named Anna. They are real people, I swear.
Until I crack and start bringing home cats, I have myself.
One Saturday when none of my girlfriends were able to meet up, I took the subway to the nearby IFC Mall, which houses both On the Border, an American chain restaurant serving Mexican food, and a movie theater with extra-wide recliner seats and double-wide arm rests. The theater snack bar had Chicago-style caramel and cheese popcorn and an actual bar serving beer and mojitos. I ate my fill of bottomless chips and salsa while reading a book, then decided to watch whatever terrible feat of American cinema I knew my friends would refuse to see.
As the credits rolled on the masterpiece of modern storytelling that is John Wick, I realized that nothing and no one was stopping me from just buying another ticket and watching the movie again.
So I did.
TRISTAN DURST was recently forced to admit that she is no longer a young person, after realizing the Nicki Minaj lyric she relates to most profoundly is, “Give me the password/To the fuckin wifi.” Her writing can be found at Ghost Parachute, Ghost City Press, and several other journals with non-supernatural names. She served at the fiction editor for Booth, and currently reads for Quarterly West.