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Beauty, as we all know, is in the eye of the beholder and – as far as Chinese and Western standards are concerned – Asian-American actress Lucy Liu is a good case in point.|
The spunky Kill Bill and Charlie's Angels hellion became a flash point for a Sino-US diplomatic crisis a year or so ago when my Chinese then-girlfriend and I were being gaped at while shopping in Shenzhen.
The stares were nothing new.
As a Taiwanese buddy who is married to a blonde American and prone to exaggerations once observed: "I think in China, 99.99 percent of the people will stare at foreign-Chinese couples. In a big city it's not bad, but if you go to the countryside, they will even follow you.''
Some people, he added, enjoy the attention. "I hate it, but I have a friend from Beijing who also married a blonde. I know he likes to take his wife out to show off.''
Neither my ex, whom I'll call C, nor I particularly enjoyed feeling like a sideshow attraction but we had long since shrugged it off, unless one of us was in a particularly foul mood.
Which, given the heat and crowds that day, we were.
Hey!'' I snapped at two uncomprehending louts who'd been eyeing us as if we had six legs and antennae sprouting from our eyebrows.
"What are you looking at? Yes, I admit I forsook my beloved motherland only to come here to lay waste to your countryside and despoil your virgins! And to get some cheap DVDs, of course.''
Stop it,'' C hissed, "They are just curious. Ignore them.''
"Did you ever stare at foreigners with Chinese women before you met me?''
"Maybe a little. But I didn't think it was unusual before unless the couple looked too different – such as foreign guys who were good-looking but their girlfriends or wives weren't that pretty.
"I mean, they don't look like they match each other. I still don't understand why so many Western guys my friends and I see with a Chinese woman – why is it that so many of the women are ugly? Except me and my friends, of course.''
She giggled, then got serious again.
"Don't Westerners have good taste? Or can't they get any good-looking women? Some of my friends say that if they want to date a Western guy they should just uglify themselves.''
Aha. This was familiar territory. I'd been down this road several times before with former co-workers in Shenzhen as well as Hong Kong and it invariably led to what I have come to call "The Lucy Liu Debate'' and just what constitutes beauty.
Completely random and unscientific research on my part has found that 99.99 percent of the 1.3 billion Chinese think juicy Lucy is a complete skank and can't fathom her popularity. She's a malformed drooling turtle. Even worse, she's a freckled malformed drooling turtle.
In China, the ubiquitous beauty advertisements promise flawless, vampire white skin and make it clear that freckles and a tan are akin to leprosy. Freckled Lucy also sports a healthy tan. And she's also slightly cross-eyed – another bummer on the beauty scale.
"Wait a minute,'' I said. "Basically you're talking about Lucy Liu types, right?''
"Yes! Yes! She's sooo ugly! I hate her. I cannot believe how famous she's become.''
"I kind of like her freckles,'' I mused. "Most Americans think freckles are cute.''
C's tan- and freckle-free face was aghast. Then she mentioned the crossed eyes.
"Also cute. Endearing almost,'' I rhapsodized, before adding hastily, "but you're much more so, of course.''
By this time we were on the Shenzhen subway heading back to our apartment. The debate raged on as fellow passengers stared – but mostly at the floor out of embarrassed politeness in the face of the foolish mixed-race couple who were obviously airing some tawdry laundry in public.
"I cannot believe why she is famous,'' she repeated. "Most foreigners are fools when it comes to beauty – except for you, most of the time.'' Then she noticed something. We'd been so wrapped up in the Great Lucy Brouhaha that we'd boarded the wrong train.
"Stupid ugly Lucy Liu!'' C fumed as we got off at the next stop to double back. "It's all her fault."