Steven of Seeking Asian Female Talks about Online Dating, “Asian Fetish,” and Relationship Advice

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Photo provided by Steven

How would you define “asian fetish” (a.k.a., crudely, “yellow fever”)? According to Urban Dictionary, it is “a term usually applied to white males who have a clear sexual preference for women of Asian descent, although it can also be used in reference to white females who prefer Asian men.” They follow with this example: “Every time we go to the club, Dave goes straight for the Asian women. I swear, that dude’s got a serious case of yellow fever.”

The cultural blogger Angry Asian Man defines it honestly: “To put it bluntly, that gross-out fetish when dudes have an unhealthy obsession with Asian women. Chances are, you’ve met or know someone like this.”

However, Seeking Asian Female puts a wrinkle in our idea of “asian fetish.” Director Debbie Lum was prepared to follow a variety characters with a major ick-factor and analyze the ins-and-outs of the cultural phenomenon. Instead, she found Steven and Sandy. Their hard-won romance — after nine months of online dating, a move across continents, jealousy, and ongoing cleaning of Steven’s Burlingame, Calif., apartment — has resulted in years of marriage. Through the documentary, we see Steven’s one-dimensional attraction to Sandy ripen into a complex relationship, built on discipline and sacrifice.

Steven emailed us about his reaction to seeing himself on the silver screen, his perspective on the problematic term “yellow fever,” and his advice on keeping a marriage strong.

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Photo provided by Steven

How long have you and Sandy been together?

After meeting online and emailing and web camming daily for long hours into the night, I finally met Sandy in person nine months later on Valentine’s Day, 2008. That first visit was two weeks long of 24/7 time spent together. We got to know each other very well with the help of our electronics and hand gestures. We were quite sure we were the right thing for each other, so I made another short trip later just to meet her parents and tell them we were serious. Another 10-day visit in the fall to get to know each other even better. Then the following year the three-week visit to go to the US consulate to prove we were really a couple in order to get the marriage visa.

By the end of May 2009 we came to the USA, and on August 22 we got married. So as a couple we’ve been together six years, and as a married couple it will be four years in August.

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Photo provided by Steven

With Sandy’s loving insistence I have eliminated much of my collection of stuff. She has rearranged things in the living room and it looks quite welcoming and warm now. We’ve had guests over for dinner and we look out the window from the dining table to the spirited colorful street down below. It is rather entertaining and they seem to like it.

The office is a work in progress. I’m remodeling it now while Sandy is visiting her parents. The bedroom too was reorganized and it’s working better. It is a small space, so you have to keep on top of it and can’t let things pileup. We both do our share of cleaning.

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Photo provided by Steven

Has Sandy found work, or is she still in school?

We decided on a plan of Sandy going to school for a couple of years to improve her English and prepare for some type of business or office job. Her English is 3000% better than is shown in the film. She earned all A grades in her English essay writing class. I think when she is better prepared to enter the job market she will land a more rewarding career.

Steven, what is your current job?

I am still at the airport parking facility. Certain things have fallen into place there that make for a much more comfortable living. We aren’t rich, but it’s not a bad life. We take vacations, we travel, we eat well and we enjoy things. Next year we are planning for Paris. This job, while not glamorous, provides a lot of benefits for both of us. Medical, dental, optical, retirement and so on. It’s a Teamsters job so the benefits are good. And it seems to be a recession proof job, not subject to the sways of the economy.

But then it is not my life, it is just a job. I’m an entrepreneur at heart and have many back burner projects that I have been constantly working on. I have some e-commerce websites I have created, and I have a website design business on the side.

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Photo provided by Steven

What is the key to finding a good spouse?

Some people have laughed at my methods, but I find that certain things were key for me. My searching was thorough and my vetting process took time. I did a lot of communication back and forth with many people and some seemed very nice while others were not in the running. With emails you can find out quite rapidly the character and level of education of the writer and her intent. But I was pragmatic and practical in my approach I thought.

When I finally connected with Sandy we communicated every night through emails and web cam, and photo exchanges. We knew about each other’s families long before we even met. You may laugh when I say communication because the movie shows us having a difficult time. But it only became difficult when there were some serious differences or arguments. And while it appears in the film that we were always that way, truthfully that was not the case. We get along wonderfully well, we have great chemistry.

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Photo provided by Steven

Patience and understanding are very helpful, I feel. Empathy, always empathy. In short supply in many areas of society. Empathy is important.

Try to keep in mind the shining, attractive qualities that drew you to each other. When disagreements arise silence is better than yelling but communication should best be clear at these times, so think before speaking.

George Carlin said it succinctly: “Women are crazy. Men are stupid. Women are crazy because men are stupid.”

Bending is better than breaking. One Zen coach I had told me, “The teeth are hard and fall out, the tongue is soft and remains.”

Do you have “yellow fever”? Why or why not?

There are so many problems with that phrase “yellow fever.” Lightheartedly I could accept it, but in reality it sounds far more strange than how I view it. Like an affliction rather than a preference.

I had never thought about it before until 10 years after the disastrous end of my second marriage. I avoided any romance for that period. Then I saw my son find a beautiful Japanese girlfriend whom he later married. They seemed so happy and looked so nice together. She was very polite and amiable but definitely not a subservient type. She was a powerful go-getter for sure, with strong opinions, and high standards, and a sense of purpose.

I thought maybe this might be a new and better direction for my life as well. So I diligently searched for ones I might have chemistry with. Each nationality seems to have a personality of its own. Early on in my search and communications I discovered that the Chinese style of communication was what I enjoyed most.

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Photo provided by Steven

It actually took me about a year to finally realize how I feel about it. In the five years of filming I never once saw a “rush” of the film nor saw the direction that Debbie was taking or how the story was shaped.

I volunteered for this film (without pay) for the sake of Art. I gave it all the open honesty I could. So it was with some surprise that I found the emphasis on creepiness.

The past year of the movie making its film festival circuit I’ve been reading comments and reviews from everywhere. Some reviews have been kind and generous. Some reviews have been ridiculously wrong. Almost all that have had their own preconceived opinions about me and my intentions and motivations but have never even talked to me nor asked me a question.

Sandy wound up not liking it much at all because it revealed too many personal things about herself. She’s actually quite shy and very private. I had told her it was going to be a movie on TV but that really doesn’t sink in when one woman shows up with one camera to talk. So she felt very exposed. Overexposed. Often in the movie she would be venting off steam about a problem or situation the way people do and say things off the top of their heads. It comes across as her desires verbatim or her secret plan. She felt disturbed about that.

What was it like to see yourself on the big screen at a film festival?

My first reaction to see seeing myself on the big screen was that I wish I had shaved.

Debbie liked to catch me in these awkward moments. She would all often come to film me in the morning after I had worked until 1 AM…That produced a continual haggard appearance.

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Photo provided by Steven

Many misconceptions fade away with this film. Many seem to remain. Many arise anew. While it does capture some truths, it does not show the entire truth.

I was hoping to show that an everyday guy can find love and purpose from a connection to an everyday woman on the other side of the earth. That a solution to my invisibility and diminished choice in my own country is at hand with the modern tools of the internet.

That even a schlub such as me can find a soulmate with some diligence and desire with these tools.

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Photo provided by Steven

Do you have any plans to add a new member to your family?

That might require a bit of surgery on my part, haha. If things keep going swimmingly, we might think of adoption later. Nothing on the horizon, however.

 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.andrew2 Bill Andrew

    Funny how film stories always go for conflict.
    I talked to Steven in his apartment in San Francisco in 1967 about living in Okinawa when we both went to SF State. Originally met him because he had a Big Brother and the Holding Company button, and I did too. He was a genuine nice guy then and has remained that way. His comments are the real Steve.

  • Ella

    I would like to hear Sandy’s reaction to the film as well, even if through translation!

    • http://www.facebook.com/steven.bolstad Steven Bolstad

      She would not need a translator now. She has earned all A’s in her English essay classes at the college (CSM). But she became very shy about anything to do with the film. A bit embarrassed because of the exposure of so much her personal life (It is not the Chinese way). She drives now, has her own car, still goes to college, has several new friends and she is the delight of my life.

      And I think she still like me…..

      • http://www.facebook.com/ClintonWeir Clinton Weir

        Glad to hear she’s thriving!

      • ca3

        Good to hear you too are doing well! I enjoyed the film.

        I was pretty concerned how things would turn out when I’d heard some of Sandy’s venting. I’m Chinese myself so I could totally relate to some of Sandy’s behavior to that of my mother. Very similar.

        Good luck to both of you and congrats! You both might need to a develop a thick skin and not try to internalize any of the negative posts that pop up here, like one I’ve seen already. :(

      • Jesse Dhillon

        Hi Steven, did you ever try to learn Mandarin so that you could better understand your wife? It seems like it would have been very useful to know while you were looking for a wife in China as well. While watching the movie I was continually wondering “Why hasn’t this guy learned Mandarin?” Given that relationships are all about communication, doesn’t it make sense to learn it?

  • Sidna Rachid

    I just watched the film and was impressed with how likable both Sandy and Steven were. It must have been so hard for Sandy when she arrived in the U.S. and everything was different. She seemed so homesick. I want you both to know that you come across as very engaging and likable, real people. Your honesty and openness is rare and appreciated. I wish you continued success in your future.

  • http://profiles.google.com/codedread Jeff Schiller

    Just watched this with my wife and it was crazy good. It would be great to see this relationship now

  • Paul

    I enjoyed watching this. I hope Sandy and Steven do well in life. They both seem to have good hearts.

  • Guest

    I saw this film last night and I loved it! I thought that Steven and Sandy were both so open and authentic and by the film’s end I came to view Steven in a very positive light. I really didn’t like him in the beginning, but when he started cleaning his house (after Sandy left him,) I thought “they just might have a chance.” I’m so happy to hear that they are still together and that Sandy now has a happy life here in the States. Although I’m not Chinese, I really understood her when she talked about losing face.

    I would love to hear more about what she thought of the film.

    Thanks to you both for allowing us to share a part of your story.

  • Linda

    I am an Asian woman from Malaysia who came to college in the US, married my white guy husband while we were in our early 20′s and we live in the Midwest. I have had to “brag” about myself all the time and be assertive to dispel the little Asian woman with the white guy myth over the years. I had more years in college and make 3 or 4 times more money than my husband yet when we eat out, he is the one given the bill. I am more outspoken and articulate, with a more active social/political life than him, yet he is the one spoken to when we’re out. People assume I depend on him for everything. He is over 6 feet tall and I am just about 5 feet, and that probably has something to do with me being ignored and him noticed by people, but I think most of it boils down to us being stereotyped as a couple. Watching this movie makes me uncomfortable.

    • http://www.facebook.com/haniza.schlosser Haniza Zainal Abidin

      Hi Linda, I’m from KL and have a white American hubby too. I live near SF which makes a difference i think coz there are tons of interracial couples here. I get the bill 50% of the time at restaurants for example. :) hope you’ll have an easier time in future. All the best!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sarah-Burns/725133063 Sarah Burns

    We happened upon this film last night on PBS and my husband I got sucked in and really became attached to Steven and Sandy. We were so happy to see that hey are still together! Best of luck to you two – good on you for working through the first days together. Wishing you a lifetime of happiness!

  • Duke Duk

    So here we have typical older white man who cannot attract women in US (there are PLENTY of Asian women in Bay Area) bring good ol mail order bride. And of course comments from other Asian women married to white men like something attracting similar something or something. Pathetic work indeed…

  • http://www.facebook.com/haniza.schlosser Haniza Zainal Abidin

    Love the documentary and at the end, it really showed the genuine feelings you both have for each other. Congrats on the 4 yrs and to many more happy years ahead.

  • http://twitter.com/cali_chef Cali

    As a middle aged white woman who lives in CA, I know a few rather despicable guys who only want “mail order brides” from Asia because they are considered subservient. At first, it seemed Steven was just another of that ilk, and I really didn’t like him. While I never really found him “creepy,” I couldn’t decide if he was more pitiful or just plain old sad. Then we got to know Sandy and she quickly dispelled all belief in that complacent stereotype he probably was looking for– originally. BRAVO to Sandy! Turns out she’s magical! She cast her spell over him and whipped him into shape more quickly than I ever thought possible. She changed my mind COMPLETELY about mail order brides from Asia, and she turned Steven into someone I’d actually enjoy having a conversation with over dinner sometime.

    • http://www.facebook.com/steven.bolstad Steven Bolstad

      As I have had to state in my comments, because it does not seem so in the film, I really was not looking for a submissive dish rag woman. Sandy is dynamic, disciplined and lively. Could not be happier with my choice.
      (Yes, she is shaping up my world!)

    • patrick

      I like Asian women because they are ladies, but are also strong.

  • http://twitter.com/bikerscott scott lindsey

    its a good movie

  • Steve_C

    Wow! What a great film. Glad to see another couple successfully navigate these uncharted waters. My wife and I were age 34 and 55 when we met in Thailand, and we married after 10 months. Our experience has been quite similar, with headache-inducing cultural collisions and misunderstandings. Now after five years of marriage, we’ve got things pretty much worked out. (He says while ducking the flying frying pan). Well, almost…

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.eisenberg.393 Michael Eisenberg

    Steven, I greatly admire your courage 1) to go after what you really want and 2) to allow yourself to be ridiculed for what many men want but cannot do

  • pcpete

    I appreciated this piece of work. I’ve been thinking lately what this type of relationship might be like for me, a 55 yr old single white male. Thank you both for sharing a part of your life and the filmaker for everyone’s benefit.

    Pete

  • Sara

    My boyfriend and I found both Steven and Sandy to be very like able people – even in the beginning when Debbie was introducing her view point of the ‘creepy’ white guy fetish. We have lived in China for quite a while now, over 5 years, and see how Chinese women lunge for the foreign men with such voracity and vice versa. We have lived in Shanghai, now Shenzhen – Sandy did not come off any way or how that type. From the beginning, she was very open and it came through in her Chinese. She should not feel ashamed with the way she came off – I, personally, don’t think she could have came off any better! She was extremely relatable, especially for someone who had no one to turn to in her times of struggle. Chinese families are very close – she lost that when she came. It’s unbelievable that anybody would hold what she said against her. Who wouldn’t think those kind of thoughts in that situation?

    Chinese culture is deep rooted with “face”. In that scene where Sandy was angry with Steven over an email with Molly – really showed, in my opinion, how much she did care. She was losing respect for someone she loved and held in high regard. He lost his face by gifting presents to Molly and she wasn’t going to have any of that. She is a strong lady. Steven is lucky.

    My boyfriend is French and I, American, and we also sometimes find ourselves in cultural barriers. It happens when 2 people from different countries merge. There is a lot of respect and love we have for each other – even when one of us sleeps on the couch!

    Steven and Sandy, you melted our jaded expat hearts. Debbie did a great job poising you both in an honest, true (and likeable!) light.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.r.fitzgerald.7 Michael Ray FitzGerald

    It’s clear to me from Lum’s voice-over narration and from several coments posted that many Asian-American women have an ax to grind when it comes to white dudes hitting on them, probably because of so many arrogant, narcissistic white guys historically assuming they are entitled to take whatever they want, anywhere in the world. I suppose this phenomenon does superficially resemble colonization and exploitation. What is more, Asian-Amercan women assume they understand mainland Chinse women, but they really don’t.

  • mary

    This is such a beautiful tale of love and human nature across all cultures. I hope Sandy and Steve aren’t self conscious about any depiction; an intelligent audience will sift through it. In any case, they come across as naturally pleasant personalities.

    I think they’re a great couple; I like how Sandy has brains and good sense and strives, while Steve is caring, bright and laid back. Perhaps because he’s older he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Whatever–I admire them both for how they’ve adapted and adjusted during their sweet love story.

    It doesn’t really matter how they came together as much as how they are making life together work. Thank you, Debbie, for bringing this film to us.

  • thetaoofbadasssecret.com

    Glad to read about Asian Fetish. I would like to say that to find a good person, you have to be one..Well! I enjoyed reading this post as it is very well laid out in question – answer form.

  • geo strick

    Some have genuine feelings or are just lonely like anyone else in the world. Finding true love is a great thing. However for me I had met my ex while in the

    Philippines. She was a single mom. I had fell in love. We married a while later. It took me a year to get her papers approved for the USA. But it was hard

    being apart all that time. Due to her having a child and a change in policy we had to wait to bring them together here. So I waited because it would have been

    wrong to seperate a mother and child. They made it to the USA finaly, however she never told me that she never realy loved me she only acted like it to get a green card. She kept her green card due to claiming abuse. This was later proven to be a lie, by the police. I had not known that she had also been funneling money back to the Philippines out of my bank accounts. She got me fired from work due to the aligations she had made. I lost my house and ended up homeless. It has taken 3 years to clear my name and rebuild part of my life. However, she is still allowed to keep her green card and she has taken advantage of 2 other men since. Law enforcement wont really do anything to help in the matter. I have known now alot of men that have fallen for this type of scam. It is usualy the same types that are the easiest to fall for it. 35 years or older, making decent money. Bellow average appearance. The person will get told everything they want to hear. Or Scam 2 same thing but family members of the other person will suddenly need money. Or your ” rich American” !! This is due to the money gets a high exchange rate. Example 1 USD ( in 2006) was about 55 PHP. This doesn’t always happen but in most cases it does. It doesn’t just happen in the USA. One thing that does cause alot of divorces is Cultural differences. Things here can be a shock to someone who isn’t used to things. A great advice would be learn the language of the person your interested in to see what they really say infront of you. For me I know it is the worst thing to have happen. Thats why I hope this case turns out better. But why wont this program do storys on the bad side of just how badly some others have went through this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/greg.galka Greg Galka

    9 years ago I met my wife online, who, at that time, lived in Nanning, China. We ended up getting married and easily overcame the obstacles of an inter-racial marriage, such as language, culture, etc. Though I find the film humorous, I also find it a little disheartening to see men who develop such a stereotype of Asian women. Of the many interracial couples we know from Nanning, we and another couple are the only two who have remained together. We are absolutely, positively, madly, passionately as much in love today as we were 9 years ago when we first met.

  • claudedaisy

    I thought I wouldn’t like this film and that it would just be about a dorky guy obsessed with marrying a Chinese woman. While all that is true, the film also shows the difficult adjustments that Sandy had to make coming to this country, the unexpected involvement of the filmmaker and the ups and downs of the relationship for both sandy & Steven. In the end, it seems that the love and commitment will win out.

  • Edwin

    Enjoyed the film. I especially enjoyed how we were taken from stereotypes and judgements about the characters that faded into real people with the same challenges that we all encounter. Sandy isn’t just some gold digger and Steven just some asian fetishist.

    I found it interesting that Debbie Lum, inserted herself deep into the lives of her film subjects and may have cross a few ethical lines. She admits that in the film. This tension pushes this film from your standard story to something that challenges the medium a bit. It brings up ‘reality’ TV, though those shows don’t disclose their meddling.

  • Dusty B

    As an American of Chinese descent, I have always been very wary of fellows who only like Asian women. They just always seemed … unseemly. But Steve turned out to be a personable guy. (And here I find that he wasn’t really the standard “Asia-file” guy – maybe that’s why he’s not so unseemly after all?)

    For all his quirks and oddities, it was magnanimous of Steve to let a filmmaker have such close access to him for so long, without really having any assurance that he would be portrayed favorably, and without receiving any financial compensation.

    I wish them the best.

  • Catherine Tucker

    Steven and Sandy, I went into this film with many preconceptions and you blew them all away. Despite the “creepy” vibe that was portrayed in the beginning, it was clear to me throughout the film that y’all had a real connection. I wish both of you all the best and am glad to hear that Sandy is doing well in school.

  • Sanford Felton

    Thank you. I really enjoyed this film. It was very touching, and I hope the happy ending is still happy and stays happy. I do agree that sometimes it showed Sandy venting at the moment, and those feelings were not the whole story. It was very brave of the 3 of you to expose yourself so much. I will use Sandy’s Chinese to practice my own Chinese with my Chinese teacher. I taught English at a university in China last school year, and have signed a contract to go to another university this fall. I am working hard on spoken Chinese and the hanzi (characters) to function this time. It is a nightmare not to be able to speak much and also not be able to read anything.

    But I am not looking for a Chinese wife, and I am older also. I actually speak Russian quite well, but I could not get a job there – unbelievable bs. I do like China and Chinese people a lot, however.

    Thank you very much
    非常谢谢

  • Joshua Smith

    i love your story it really touches my heart.. i hope both of you have long and happy lives together. she really acquired English quickly and that shows through the film and what captured my heart was the two of you would always smile when looking at one another and it would make me smile too.. Congratulations

  • Michelle Kirkwood

    “Man-hating”? Whatever–you have issues. Running to women of other cultures because you can’t make with American women isn’t the end-all-be-all it’s made out to be. Get over yourself.

  • Ayn Roberts

    It certainly looked like an overgrown man-child looking for a maid didn’t it? I was starting to think I was crazy after reading all these posts on how Steven is so likeable. UGH.