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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.