Thursday, November 11, 2010

Victor’s Birthday Party

Yesterday was Victor’s birthday. To my great surprise, he came knocking on my door to inform me of that, and to invite me to his party. In my mind, that made up for the perceived snub of earlier this week when he and Sam went drinking without me, and was the perfect antidote to my peevish feelings, which I unfortunately subjected you to in my last post. My apologies for that, by the way.

The party started at 6:30 and all of his students were invited. They had come by the previous evening and decorated his apartment with balloons, garlands and lights. It looked really quite festive and promised a good time.

Victor came by my place again just after 6:00 to ask if I was ready to make my appearance as there were already some students there, preparing food. I quickly prepared a plate of treats and headed next door. As promised, the evening was quite fun: it started off well and only got better.

There was a gorgeous, 3-tiered cake, of which I was served a more than generous slice. The cake formed a centerpiece of assorted finger foods, everything from cookies and crackers to fruit. Everyone sang happy birthday, and then there was music and dancing.

Oh, how I danced! I danced the whole 3 hours! All of the girls wanted me to teach them how to dance, so I showed them some basic moves. Some of the girls were naturals, and others couldn’t quite get the moves down but had fun anyway. How delightful! There were only a few guys there and hardly any of them danced; only Tristan danced with his girlfriend. The other guys claimed they were too shy. They drank beer instead.

And Victor? He ate, drank, danced, cut up and served the cake. It was his party after all, he kind of had to do all of those things. It appears he was having a great time.

If this were a visual story – something like a movie, the camera would freeze-frame on Victor and a narrator would start talking about him. Imagine that as I narrate.

From the day I met him, Victor struck me as a very arrogant man. Standoffish, certainly, but also arrogant in banking his previous experience as a teacher against my novice status and the fact that he has lived in Wuhan for 4 years as opposed to my recent arrival. There has been no attempt on his part to help acclimate me to either the city or to teaching, nor has there been any show of solidarity toward me. Rather, he made it perfectly clear that he had his life and this gig at this college was only something so he could relax and take it easy from all of the other, more demanding aspects of his life. In short, Victor threw up barriers before even ascertaining there was a need for them.

However, he is perfectly OK with blasting music in his apartment so loud I can hear it in my apartment, even with the windows and doors closed. Fortunately, he is only on campus on the days he teaches, from Wednesday to Friday. My opinion on his arrogance is formed partly by his apparent opinion that everyone should listen to Michael Jackson everyday and by his attitude toward me.

Ok, let’s go back to the party, shall we?

I suspect it was only because I live right next door and would have heard the party that Victor invited me. No, I’m not being whiny and peevish again. Here’s the reason I say that: as a birthday gift, I suggested taking him out to lunch. He stated he had already had some lunch, but suggested we go tomorrow. He confirmed our lunch arrangements while I helped him clean up after the party.

When I knocked on his door today at the appointed time, ready to take him to lunch, I got no answer. “That’s odd” I thought… “I’ll give him a few more minutes to get back from class…” even though class had ended 20 minutes prior. When I went knocking again some time later, I heard him moving around in his apartment, but he did not answer the door. Now I’m starting to get a sense of deja vu. At 1:00, a full hour after our appointed time to lunch, I knocked for the third time and last time; still no answer.

The déjà vu feeling was right on the mark: let’s just say this is not the first time this has happened to me (as I whined about in the previous post). I know when I’m being snubbed. I went on with the rest of my day, fairly unperturbed at Victor’s seeming rudeness. I considered it par for the course, really. I’ve been treated to this exact same behavior from men in America, Germany, and now in China by a man from South Africa.

Sometimes it seems that many people read or expect something more than what is being offered, doesn’t it? My intent was only to celebrate Victor’s birthday by treating him to a lunch at a restaurant I’m sure he didn’t know a thing about. How am I sure? Because of a humorous story one of my students told me about him asking his students where he could get good food. It seems he was tired of eating at this one particular restaurant up the road. The restaurant I was going to take him to is tucked away in the neighborhood near campus, not on the main street. Even Sam didn’t know about that particular eatery when I took him there, and he has been teaching at this school for 6 years.

What did Victor make of my intentions? I have no right to presume what he thought, but his actions indicate that he felt he had to throw a barrier up, and quickly.

Later this evening, some students came by to ask for help with a speech that would be given in a competition later this month. First they stopped by Victor’s apartment – the speech-giver is Victor’s student, after all. He apparently sent the girls to my place, and I was happy to help them (but not necessarily happy that my apartment was being intruded on again). While the girls were here, Victor came by with a soccer ball in his hand and apologized to me for missing the scheduled lunch. He said he just came home from class and passed out, and now he was going to play soccer (while his student was in my apartment, beseeching me for help!). I knew he did not just pass out because I had heard him moving around in his apartment, but graciously did not mention that. Neither did I see a point in extending another lunch invitation because I noted that he did not suggest we try another day, and his body language literally screamed ‘stay away from me!’ At least now I know not to hold my breath waiting for him to help me with anything.

But if there were any point to it, I would have told him: “Relax, Victor, it was just a lunch. I wasn’t offering to bear your children.”

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