Yellow Fever

They got it bad, and that aint good

Born and raised in La Habra, Dan* didn't see many Asian Americans before college. Now 22, he attributes his Asiaphilia to UC Irvine, where he's a studio art major and an astounding 58 percent of students claim Asian descent.

But his Asian fetish actually originated in high school, in trig class, where he met a Vietnamese American girl named Ann. Although born in the United States, Ann was raised in Indonesia until about a year before Dan met her. She spoke English well, but not perfectly. They shared the standard high school dating experience: dinner-and-movie dates, study dates, boba dates, kung fu lessons, meditation with the girlfriend's Buddhist monk uncle. The relationship ended in a pretty standard way, too: Dan suggested sex, Ann resisted, things spiraled. There was an ultimatum and then a breakup, and then—classic—threats of suicide.

Later, Dan sought answers on Ann's blog, where she labeled him a "standard American boy" and called him out for pressuring her into sex. She ended the entry with a note of disgust: "Get over yourself."

Whatcha drinking? Photo by Jennie Warren. Makeup by Bill Child
Whatcha drinking? Photo by Jennie Warren. Makeup by Bill Child

Perhaps it was the pain of that rejection and the desire to overcome it, but Dan says Ann's rejection changed him. When he began dating again, he found himself looking for Asian girls. He went through a string of them—one-night stands, flings and friends-with-benefits. He frequented places like Club Bang in Hollywood, which attracts a number of Asian patrons—and Asiaphiles like Dan.

Although there was one detour on the road to full-blown Asiaphilia—Desiree, whom he describes as a "white feminist with armpit hair"—Dan openly professed his preference for Asian women by his third year at UCI.

His friends back in La Habra eventually got the idea he had a fetish.

"Date a nice white girl," they urged him.

"White girls," he'd reply, "are sluts."

*   *   *

My friend Christina has been fending off Asiaphiles since her teens, when she was a waitress at her aunt's Thai restaurant. Much older men would often leave her a tip and their business cards scrawled with numbers and notes that were always a variation on the same theme: "You're such a cute little Asian girl."

It's the same today wherever she goes, including one recent weeknight at Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa. A group of us went to catch somebody's boyfriend's band. A hip bar with an interior ripped out of an IKEA catalogue, Detroit would seem safe from Asiaphiles. But as Christina, who's Filipino American, stood listening to the music, a full Amstel Light in one hand, she was approached by a thirtysomething white man in a collared shirt, the top tactically unbuttoned to show off a gold chain that made him look like something out of South Beach. He put another full Amstel in Tina's other hand. She smiled and thanked him.

Then he looked at the rest of us, all Asian.

"You're by far the most attractive women in here," he said. He pulled out his wallet and asked if we'd like drinks. "I really shouldn't be doing this," he said. "I just bought a house on the golf course."

We declined.

"You know, I just got back from Bangkok," he went on. "The women in Thailand are all gorgeous. You're all gorgeous! It's just that whole area."

That whole area? Bangkok? Thailand in general? Southeast Asia? The greater Asian continent?

It's funny: Asia is about 17,212,000 square miles—nearly five times the size of the U.S. About 60 percent of the world's population lives there. Yet these guys seem to lump all Asians together, not to mention the teeny tiny fact that people such as Christina are Americans.

But he wasn't finished. He inquired about Christina's nationality and complimented her on her good breeding, background and "blood," the last of which left her thoroughly creeped out. By the end of the night, the guy had even doted on her "delicate" fingers, and grabbed her arm when she tried to escape to the smoking patio.

Less than a month later, again at Detroit, another forgettable guy with crusty hands sauntered over to our table and said breathily, "I love this table! I just love it!" He stared at Christina, gesturing toward her with one of those crusty hands. "Especially you!"

*   *   *

By the time we've reached adulthood, most Asian American women have experienced so many episodes of Asiaphilia that it becomes something we laugh about over dinner. There was the time that one smooth-talking (and way too short—I hope you're reading this) guy from LA Weekly's marketing department asked me where I was from.

"Los Angeles," I said.

"No, really, where are you reallyfrom?"

There was the 20-year-old UCI economics major who swears that Asian women's vaginas "feel different somehow—very smooth and naturally lubricated." Or the guy who sauntered up to me and asked, "You must be great with a chopstick, huh?"

Wink, wink.

It pisses us off—no, I don't want to see your killer Chinese-character tat; it probably doesn't mean what you think it means—but we're not sure what we can do but laugh.

"It's been happening so long I just let it roll off my back," Christina says. "I used to have a mouthful for every guy, but they'd just laugh at me and say, 'Oh, she's a feisty one!'"

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