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Offensive fetish post: Would you watch this documentary? Do you know anyone like this? General thoughts?

Posted by on May. 11, 2013 at 11:01 PM
  • 39 Replies

'Seeking Asian Female' Takes A Close Look At A Fetish

Filmmaker Debbie Lum poses with Steven and Sandy, her documentary subjects, on their wedding day.

Filmmaker Debbie Lum poses with Steven and Sandy, her documentary subjects, on their wedding day.

Susan Munroe/Seeking Asian Female

It's hard to watch Seeking Asian Female, Debbie Lum's uncomfortably close look at the phenomenon some call "yellow fever" — when usually non-Asian men fetishize Asian women as romantic or sexual partners — without squirming. And at first, it seems like it wasn't so easy for Lum to document the phenomenon.

"I had to fight the urge to turn around and leave," Lum says in a voiceover, right before she meets the character we know only as "Steven" for the first time. She told me this guy had one of the "worst cases of yellow fever" she has seen.

Steven, an earnest, bespectacled, white American man with an unsettling penchant for Asian females, is not exactly the most appealing of potential suitors. He has a tendency to evaluate women based on their level of "Chineseness." As he beckons Lum inside his messy apartment, he tells her with unabashed glee: "You look very Chinese, with the bangs. You know I like that." Later, Steven excitedly describes his love interest Sandy as "looking so Chinese. You can't look any more Chinese than that." What makes him an expert on looking Chinese is pretty unclear, though he doesn't seem too concerned about that.

He seems to lust after Asian women for their supposed beauty and docility. "I mean I'm an old guy, I'm 60," he tells Lum before meeting Sandy, musing about his ideal woman. "Do I want the farm girl to take care of me? Do I want... an intelligent business woman to help me grow back and forth? What do I want? ....There's this Vietnamese movie called The Scent of Green Papaya that has this servant girl who cooks these beautiful meals. Gee, would it be like that?"

Not quite.

Meet Sandy, a 30-year-old woman from the Anhui province in China. Sandy finds Steven on an online dating site and seems to be seeking a potential entryway to the U.S. and some economic stability. (She takes two separate photos of them and makes a sort of endearing, sort of creepy couples picture, much to his delight.) Steven visits her a few times in China, they hit it off and she comes to the states on a K-1 engagement visa.

Sure, Sandy takes care of him. But she's hardly the demure lady he hoped for, just as he's hardly the flashy American she might have expected. Throughout the film, a frustrated Sandy describes wanting to get out of the relationship as soon as she has enough money and schooling.

The film has a whole bunch of flashing warning signs that say this relationship Might Not Be A Good Idea. I cringed a lot. When a frustrated Sandy confesses that she'd "lose face" if she told her family and friends in China about her house-less, money-less American beau, I found myself asking, Why are you doing this?

And yet.

And yet. Over the course of the film, something remarkable happened for me. Sandy and Steven, together, started to seem like it may not be such a bad thing after all.

Steven kisses a photo of Sandy, his bride from China.

Steven kisses a photo of Sandy, his bride from China.

Debbie Lum/Seeking Asian Female

There was something unsettling about the film, and my reaction to it. Why was I feeling sympathetic to Steven, who fetishizes Asian women? Can a relationship, borne out of something perhaps a little twisted on both sides, evolve into something genuine? Is it even fair to judge someone else's relationship? Lum, who like me is Chinese-American, told me that she began making the documentary because she was sick of dealing with men (usually non-Asian) who shared Steven's creepy fascination with Asian women. But as she made the film, Lum's thoughts changed, sort of like mine.

After Lum settled on Steven as a subject for her documentary, she thought the film would be about his relationship with Sandy. She had no idea that she'd become intimately wrapped up in their courtship: she soon found herself their designated (and reluctant) translator, and from there, the couple's de facto marriage counselor.

When Sandy finds a cache of photos of Steven's ex-girlfriend on his computer — the ex was Chinese, natch — she freaks out. Lum translates their fight. "I can only prove my love day by day," Steven says. (Lum refuses to translate that for him.)

"This is going to be an adjustment on both of our parts," a teary-eyed Steven tells the camera after his fight with Sandy. "This is not China, and I am not Chinese. I'm hoping for the best."

As Lum gets closer to the couple, she starts to see beneath the surface of their relationship — that there might be genuine feelings.

"There's this whole other individual there," Lum said of Steven. "When I see couples like Steven and Sandy, I think about their stories now, as much as I think about what it reads as, or what it looks like from the outside."

Lum, by the way, is married to a white Irishman. But she says her relationship with her husband is different than Steven and Sandy's. "Steven and Sandy's is a kind of modern take on an old-fashioned arranged marriage," Lum said. "They went into it with a really pre-determined desire to be married above everything else, whereas my husband and I kind of just met."

Yet she sometimes wonders if others think of their relationship as one tinged by yellow fever.

Sandy and Steven, by the way, are still together. Sandy now speaks English fluently, Lum said.

I came to this film thinking of Steven as "an Asian fetishist" and of Sandy as "an opportunist." Having spent a little while getting to know them through Lum's lens, I saw their nuances. Parts of their relationship — their fights, their daily interactions, their worries — became incredibly human, completely relatable to an outsider.

Except I feel like there should be a "but."

This narrative still doesn't sit well with me. The way Steven thought about Asian women — stripping them of their individuality, layering on pre-conceived ideals, replacing people with types — was challenged when he met Sandy, a real person with layers of her own. They might make the relationship work, yes, and I might even want them to. But in that case, their road to happiness feels marred with potholes that still need to be examined and considered.

Neon Washable Paint

by on May. 11, 2013 at 11:01 PM
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Replies (1-10):
NWP
by guerrilla girl on May. 11, 2013 at 11:03 PM

Totally random observation....the Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt in the pic.

DestinyHLewis
by Destiny on May. 11, 2013 at 11:09 PM

I dated a guy in college that had a HUGE thing for Asian chicks. His screename was even Chinkyeyes. If a girl had those Asian eyes, he'd pretty much look like one of those Acme characters where their eyes bug out and the jaw drops to the floor as the tounge rolls out like a red carpet. It was nuts. 

He isn't rich however by any stretch of the imagination. If he was, I could totally see him doing this. Ewwww.

kailu1835
by Ruby Member on May. 12, 2013 at 12:16 AM
2 moms liked this
Why the heck does anyone care what kind of person someone finds most attractive? I happen to know that my husband had a thing for Hawaiian ladies, but he married me so I don't care. Some guys find Asian women to be very beautiful and exotic. It doesn't really need to be labeled as a fetish, unless you're going to say that any guy who has a thing for boobs, or butts, or blondes, or readheads, etc, has a fetish.
DestinyHLewis
by Destiny on May. 12, 2013 at 12:40 AM


I get what you are saying, but I think the larger point of this was choosing a bride by mail kind of deal to get the kind of girl you see as your "fetish" KWIM? 

Quoting kailu1835:

Why the heck does anyone care what kind of person someone finds most attractive? I happen to know that my husband had a thing for Hawaiian ladies, but he married me so I don't care. Some guys find Asian women to be very beautiful and exotic. It doesn't really need to be labeled as a fetish, unless you're going to say that any guy who has a thing for boobs, or butts, or blondes, or readheads, etc, has a fetish.



stacymomof2
by Ruby Member on May. 12, 2013 at 1:08 AM

I heard a long story about this documentary.  It did make me want to watch it.  The man Steven definitely had a very shallow and stereotyped vision of what a Chinese woman would do for him.  Be subservient, docile, sexy.  It's wasn't just about looks for him.  It was a package of some lovely house slave to make him dinner and do his laundry, and then be exactly what he found attractive in the sack.

Of course his new wife Sandy didn't go for that, despite what he wanted she told him to stuff it.  In the extended interview I heard, there were clips of the couple's interactions and arguments.  There seemed to be real feeling for each other.  At the end they were interviewing Steven who was doing dishes and saying that he loved Sandy so he would do what it took to try to make her happy.  It seemed legitimate.

As far as liking a type, there is no problem with that.  Many Asian women are very beautuful, of course. I don't see why it would be odd to think black hair and Asian eyes were you favorite.   Personally, I love the look of my husband and have always really found men with black hair, brown eyes, and "interesting" noses attractive.  Hubs thinks blue eyes and light hair is pretty.  Is it a fetish?  No, I think a fetish is not about a certain type of person, but an objectified version where the actual person can be exchanged with another person who looks similar, because of all the other qualities hung on a person whether or not they fit. 

NWP
by guerrilla girl on May. 12, 2013 at 7:51 AM
1 mom liked this
I always find it funny that guys attach the subservient label to Chinese women. China is a big country with many different regional practices but I would never mistake Chinese women as demure servant types. Those ladies are strong women.

Quoting stacymomof2:

I heard a long story about this documentary.  It did make me want to watch it.  The man Steven definitely had a very shallow and stereotyped vision of what a Chinese woman would do for him.  Be subservient, docile, sexy.  It's wasn't just about looks for him.  It was a package of some lovely house slave to make him dinner and do his laundry, and then be exactly what he found attractive in the sack.

Of course his new wife Sandy didn't go for that, despite what he wanted she told him to stuff it.  In the extended interview I heard, there were clips of the couple's interactions and arguments.  There seemed to be real feeling for each other.  At the end they were interviewing Steven who was doing dishes and saying that he loved Sandy so he would do what it took to try to make her happy.  It seemed legitimate.

As far as liking a type, there is no problem with that.  Many Asian women are very beautuful, of course. I don't see why it would be odd to think black hair and Asian eyes were you favorite.   Personally, I love the look of my husband and have always really found men with black hair, brown eyes, and "interesting" noses attractive.  Hubs thinks blue eyes and light hair is pretty.  Is it a fetish?  No, I think a fetish is not about a certain type of person, but an objectified version where the actual person can be exchanged with another person who looks similar, because of all the other qualities hung on a person whether or not they fit. 

turtle68
by Mahinaarangi on May. 12, 2013 at 8:04 AM

I remember years ago my cousin who had had two relationships and failed in both saying that he was going to marry a Japanese woman so that they knew their place.

a couple of years later...he did.

She is EXactly what he wanted, meek and worships the ground he walks on...he can do no wrong.

Theyre happy so who am I to judge.

Personally I think hes the biggest wanker Ive ever come across...and loathe calling him family LOL

NWP
by guerrilla girl on May. 12, 2013 at 8:08 AM
This is more culturally true of Japanese women than Chinese women. Some of these guys seem ignorant on the diversity of Asian cultures and lump these groups into a general stereotype. Chinese women are not culturally submissive a in general. Some even look down on Japanese women for being so. But these are generalities.

Quoting turtle68:

I remember years ago my cousin who had had two relationships and failed in both saying that he was going to marry a Japanese woman so that they knew their place.

a couple of years later...he did.

She is EXactly what he wanted, meek and worships the ground he walks on...he can do no wrong.

Theyre happy so who am I to judge.

Personally I think hes the biggest wanker Ive ever come across...and loathe calling him family LOL

turtle68
by Mahinaarangi on May. 12, 2013 at 8:10 AM

Its annoying when they believe any Asian female is submissive.  They obviously havent been in the middle of a Phillipino bitch fight LOL

Quoting NWP:

This is more culturally true of Japanese women than Chinese women. Some of these guys seem ignorant on the diversity of Asian cultures and lump these groups into a general stereotype. Chinese women are not culturally submissive a in general. Some even look down on Japanese women for being so. But these are generalities.

Quoting turtle68:

I remember years ago my cousin who had had two relationships and failed in both saying that he was going to marry a Japanese woman so that they knew their place.

a couple of years later...he did.

She is EXactly what he wanted, meek and worships the ground he walks on...he can do no wrong.

Theyre happy so who am I to judge.

Personally I think hes the biggest wanker Ive ever come across...and loathe calling him family LOL


turtle68
by Mahinaarangi on May. 12, 2013 at 8:19 AM
1 mom liked this

My brother is married to a Vietnamese woman.  He got the oddest looks when they were dating.  He is an alpha type male, but she is no meek type.  Some of their arguments have sent me scurrying outside.

They have been together for nearly 27 years now.

They have the prettiest girls....Maorasian (Maori + Asian) LOL

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