Up until now I had been a good University employee. Because of that rule that said women cannot go out unescorted at night, I either sat around and waited for an escort – at great personal expense, something I covered in previous entries. Or I stayed at home – also something I covered in previous entries.
This little rebellion of mine, the one that started on the day I planted myself in the mud in front of the whole neighborhood and then subsequently refused to participate in English Corner… this little rebellion of mine is not quite done, I fear.
As I look out my barred windows I see women walking on campus alone. Not many, I grant you but some. And I wonder: why am I staying at home night after night while it is OK for these women to walk around unescorted?
Probably because they are not contractually bound to a certain set of archaic rules.
But am I? Am I really? The idea is to be a good role model for the students; nothing says I have to stay at home all the time. And neither the campus nor the student body comprises the entire city of Wuhan. I can be out and about in the city and return after the students are safely tucked into their dorms. Sam even agreed to my suggestion about returning home after the students are in their dorm.
But what if I don’t want to stay out until after 11:00PM?
No, I’ve decided that it is perfectly OK for me to come home at 8 or 9PM. The buses stop running at 9PM, so, if necessary I can explain the situation to school officials… just before they fire me. It is worth a try, right?
Besides: if being a good role model means being an example of modern, progressive womanhood, then am I not setting a good example by being independent? That argument probably won’t fly if I’m ever called on the carpet about my being out after dark unescorted. I’ve decided to take my chances; I might never actually get called on the carpet about being out after dark alone.
Therefore, one breezy afternoon, I went out to Lu Xiang Square (pronounced Loo She-ang) just to have a look around. It is also known as Optic Valley for some reason I haven’t been able to find out. I had heard so much about it and wanted to see it for myself. As promised it was busy, thronging with people, full of things to see and do. Matter of fact, there is so much to see and do there that, by the time I was finished exploring a monstrously large mall and stepped outside again, night had fallen.
I was enchanted! There was a light show playing on one of the buildings. Another building, a geode with a plain glass facing by day turned into a giant television screen playing music videos at night. The square itself, a traffic circle with billowing tent awnings amidst landscaping floored me with its multicolored lights. And everywhere… EVERYWHERE there were people! This was Wuhan at night: something I had only glimpsed one time from a bus window, and guiltily at that. Now I was out, enjoying it.
I walked down a well-lit boulevard, taking in the night air and the scene, all while experiencing a sense of freedom I had not felt for months. The street vendors hawking their wares on the sidewalk impeded foot traffic, just as I remembered from previous night outings on prior visits to China. Artists put on their shows and people stopped to gape at them. Rare and exotic offerings from the various food stalls tempted my palate, but I was perfectly willing to stop short of sampling fried scorpions in order to find a nice restaurant to have a meal in.
Grandma’s Kitchen! Ah, now if that doesn’t sound like someplace you’d want to eat at on your first night of rule-breaking, I don’t know what would be. Drawn in by that irresistible name, I ate Western food for the first time since arriving here. Western food not prepared by me, that is. And it was quite delicious! It even felt a little bit naughty to eat sour cream again.
It was already going on 9 PM by the time I left the restaurant, and the air was a bit chilly. Also, the crowds were thinning; this was a weeknight after all. I decided to walk a little more and treat myself to a taxi ride home.
I should mention here that taxi fares are extremely reasonable in China: if the car doesn’t move due to traffic, neither does the meter. That time of night the traffic was not as snarled, so I was looking forward to a nice ride home and didn’t anticipate more than a 20Yuan fare. My guess was close: the actual fare was 21.60Yuan.
I arrived home just before 10PM. The taxi could not drive to the campus gate due to construction so I had to walk the small street that led back to campus from the main road, which wasn’t a problem. There were a few students out, but they were mostly male students. I only saw one female and she was in the company of her boyfriend and they were ahead of me, so they did not see me. See? I’m not setting a bad example for the female students!
That sense of freedom and elation stayed with me even after I turned the key, admitting myself back into my former prison. Not so much a prison, now that I can come and go at will! Maybe now I will start thinking of it as home.
At 10:30 the dorm monitor locked the gates to the building. Being as I was keyed up from my first nighttime outing, I was still in my living room when, a few minutes later, I heard banging and a desperate cry. It seems one of the students that lives in this dorm stayed out too late and got locked out. She was banging on the gates and yelling to be let in, even though it was after curfew.
Who is flouting rules now???