When I was living and studying in rural Japan, I had a Korean-Chinese friend named Emi. She spoke Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, and English fluently, and she didn’t need much sleep. Once, when she came home to our dorm after studying late at night, she left a cream puff outside my door with a note: “Eat! Eat! Delicious!”
Emi was getting her master’s degree in psychology and taking four classes a term. She was also looking online for a husband, and that, she said, made her feel like she was taking five classes a term.
One night she pulled me into her professor’s office so I could take a look at a collection of men’s photos she had downloaded from the Internet. With a couple of clicks on a folder icon she produced a collection of the most sullen, pasty-looking Korean-Chinese men I had ever seen. Not that I had seen a lot of collections like that.
I wasn’t sure we were supposed to be in her professor’s office so I whispered “Next….next, next,” and Emi toggled forward, pausing only to skim the neon drop-shadowed Korean font and report back to me about their educations. “Mmmm, chemical engineering major,” she said as she paused on one passport-style photo that looked like all the others. His face was puffy and his hair had no product in it, giving him the look of a civil servant from the ‘70s. This man looked bound to loathe his wife no matter who she was. “No way,” I said. “You are too cute for that guy.”
Everyone at our school agreed Emi was cute. She dressed in a short plaid skirt, a white blouse, knee highs, and platform Mary Janes. She kept her hair black, and cut it in angular chic cuts with her bangs swept to one side with a butterfly clip. Her earphones were oversized and when she passed you on her bike she waved with her whole arm. If I had met her on an American college campus, I would have thought she was going for an ironically hip look.
But Emi was totally earnest. “You know I do kind of have a type,” she whispered. “I know,” I whispered back. Emi wanted to marry a man of Korean descent who lived in China, could speak both of those languages, and was willing to move to a rural Japanese dorm while she finished her master’s. Also he eventually had to want to move to the U.S. to get his PhD. She was a little bit flexible about the PhD part of the plan, conceding that it might make her husband hard to find. However, Emi knew how to research on the Internet, and her family had hired a go-between in China, so her file folder held a surprisingly large number of men who met the criteria.
“No, I mean I have a physical type,” she said and put a hand on my forearm to prevent my smile from turning into a laugh. “Okay?” she asked.
“Okay, go ahead. I won’t make fun of you,” I lied.
“My husband should be tall, over six feet, with a round face and maybe a,” and here she patted an imaginary beer belly, “and….completely serious…and…,” she scanned my face and must have detected amusement, but went on anyway, “and he could be a little,” and here she patted her own back, “….hairy…,” silence, “you know, like a bear.”
“Oh, Emi,” I said, a little sad that my friend who left me notes and cream puffs was searching on the Internet for a fat, hairy, and humorless academic to marry. “Oh, Emi,” I said again, this time because I was also genuinely impressed that she’d managed to put so much thought into what she wanted. She had confidence in her own dreams and a determined work ethic that made me jealous for a moment. I’ve never had a lot of faith in my own plans.
“Here,” I said, and typed urbandictionary.com into the address bar on her computer. “We have this bear type in the U.S. A bear is,” and I read off the screen: “A term used by gay men to describe a husky, large man with a lot of body hair.” Then I said, “You want someone like that but not gay, right?”
“Mmm,” Emi said and scrolled through the list of definitions faster and with more understanding than most native speakers. “It would just be so nice to have someone like this to hug at night you know?” •