Saturday, September 22, 2007

Being a Celebrity

It would be fair to say that I'm happy in China about 75% of the time. "Happy" means a lot of things: not getting annoyed by the constant staring; patiently answering ritual questions asked in halting English such as "Do you speak Chinese?" "Where are you from?" and "What is your name?"; responding good-naturedly to the incessant screams of "HELLO!!!!" followed by nervous giggling; posing for pictures several times a day; and just putting up with the hundreds of little everyday annoyances that make life in China so much more difficult than life in the United States.

And then there's the other 25%. Today was a 25% day, during which all of the above occurrences really, really got under my skin. It's funny- as I said before, most of the time I'm okay with all of it. I feel that I have adjusted relatively well and am now infinitely more tolerant in every way than I was three months ago. Some days, however, I wake up, step outside... and I just KNOW it's going to be "one of those days."

The afternoon started out just fine with a great lunch at Pizza Hut. I had my defenses up for afterwards because another English teacher at our school had invited us over to her home. Sounds innocent... even fun, right? Wrong.

The invitation was initiated at eight o'clock Friday morning with a gift of mooncakes delivered to Scott's apartment. We should have known better than to accept (in China, looking a gift horse in the mouth is a must). A few hours later, the teacher called with a sad story about her extremely intelligent son at the #19 primary school who "just really needs some extra help with his English." Any chance we would be free on Saturday afternoon to come by and meet him? Having taken her mooncakes, we were now required to oblige.

So this afternoon, the four of us played cards and listened to the woman's 12-year old son play the piano. He is actually a very bright and cute boy who speaks surprisingly good English. It's just the manner in which we were tricked into coming to her home that made me angry. To make matters worse, thirty minutes after we showed up, a neighbor's daughter- who, SURPRISE! ALSO needs help with her English!- just happened to drop by. Every once in a while, the boy's mother whispered some English phrase into the poor little girl's ear and then little Wendy would turn to me and ask, "Do you like to play football?" or something like that.

After resisting a very aggressive invitation to stay for dinner, the five of us trucked down to the park to take pictures. This is another favorite pasttime in China- taking pictures at random places. And if there are two foreigners to pose with, even better! We refused a second box of mooncakes and finally managed to disentangle ourselves after forty-five minutes of picture taking with a made-up story of having to visit a friend. Judging by the frequent references to "next time," Scott and I are now expected to tutor the woman's son and his friend... something that I am NOT planning on doing.

On the way back to my apartment, I was in a very bad mood. When I am feeling like this, I just hope that the Chinese people will not be too aggressive in their friendliness (for their own sakes) because this is when the Dr. Jekyll in me really comes out. I did stare down a few students who excitedly said hello to me, as well as pointed and widened my eyes at some little boys on the street... and yeah, and I dismissively refused to take a picture with a group of girls. I feel bad about it now, but sometimes I'm just really not up for playing the monkey.

Scott and I made reservations at the Maryknoll House for the upcoming October break. I'm looking forward to eating some Western food and relaxing on the beach for a few days. But most of all, it will be heaven to just be a normal person again. I miss being one of the crowd.

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