Friday, May 20, 2011

Be My Friend, Go Out With Me!

You know, it seems like I've gone from boredom and loneliness verging on insanity to a revolving door of companionship and activity, seemingly overnight. Somehow it is hard to recall the winter months, when I would sometimes go for days without talking to someone, or someone directing conversation at me.

Is it because of Spring? Maybe because of the Teacher Seminars? Now I am busier than a one-armed paper hanger! Dinner engagements, badminton games followed by walks at twilight... my calendar fills up faster than I can keep track of it.

I am not complaining; I am marveling.

What I thought this experience should have been all along is turning out to be... the experience I sought. Nearly every day there is an invitation for something to do, ranging from dinner to a stroll around the ‘playground’ – the sports complex on campus. I am accepting them all, and making a few myself. I am reveling in the company that I’ve so long hoped and wished for, leaping from activity to activity until, replete, I fall into bed, only to get up and do it all again the next day.

I have to say: it is about time. It is not that I think people should have taken notice of me a long time ago and been inviting me out all along. However, as I pointed out in a recent Teacher’s Seminar and have mentioned before in this blog (see Meet ‘n’ Greet entry), I wouldn’t have known an English teacher on this campus if he or she came up and slapped my face. Thanks to these seminars, the teachers and I are finally communing and communicating. That, I believe is what is paving the way for a lot of these invites that I’ve been so eager for.

Of course, the students have been inviting me out all along. I’ve written about our outings and how happy I am to partake in their activities, difficult as it sometimes is to communicate or even find common ground with them. Other than typical Jiu Ling Hou behavior – some rudeness and arrogance, my beef is not with the students.

Yes, there is a beef in here. Not a whole side of beef, maybe just a filet mignon sized beef. In other words just a small complaint.

Now that the teachers and I are pursuing activities together, going out and about town, they seem overwhelmingly concerned with my welfare. How could I possibly get around town by myself? And what about communicating? Not everyone can speak English, you know. Do I know how to get on a bus, how to get to where I’m going and how to get home? People are so worried that I’ll get lost and stranded, a lone foreigner trampled into the gutters of Wuhan and swept away by those ever-diligent sweeping women with their twig brooms.

Where was this concern six months ago, when I needed help understanding the bus system and trying to learn where everything was at?

I’m not blaming anyone. Let’s be clear on that. The English teachers may well have been curious about me and may well have wanted to invite me out but, for whatever reason, didn’t or couldn’t. That is nobody’s fault. I didn’t know any English teachers so I couldn’t have invited anyone out. Again, no one’s fault.

No, the fault lies in the fact that now, even though I have demonstrated proficiency at boarding and riding buses and getting around town while in the company of my new companions, they still insist on treating me as though I were a newcomer to the system. They tell me which bus to take, which stop to get on and off at, general safety rules and, for pity’s sake, how to hang on to the handles so I don’t fall down when the bus makes its sudden stops.

Even though I have demonstrated proficiency at speaking and reading enough Chinese to get by, I get treated as though somehow I would probably still get lost and end up maimed or killed on the street because they believe in my inability to ask for help directions. Therefore I must be accompanied every second, even if it means that my companion must go all the way back to the school to see me safely home.

Newsflash, everyone! I’ve been navigating the streets of Wuhan alone pretty much since I’ve been here! Please stop treating me as though I were 5 years old and helpless!

Helen, a wonderful woman in every respect is one who is guilty of ‘protecting’ me. We had gone out together and had a great time. We went to Guiyin Temple that I had visited recently on my own. Not only had I been to the temple by myself, but I had gotten there and home by myself. Apparently the assertion that I could get around by myself did nothing to convince her. She felt compelled to point out which bus we should take (we did not take the right one, bus 907 from campus would have gotten us there directly).

When I tried to reassure her that I would be just fine getting home alone, she expressed doubt. I even pulled the bus schedule out of my purse and demonstrated that I could read it. Her comment: ‘But, it is in Chinese!’ I couldn’t help it… with a bit of sarcasm I replied: “Really? Thank goodness! I would hate if it were written in Korean; that would mean we are not in China anymore!” My tone went over her head. She had to quiz me by testing my Chinese reading ability. And do I know which stop to get off at? Well, if the bus driver calling out the name of the stop is not enough to clue me into the fact that I’ve reached my destination, I could always look out the window. Once I see the blue buildings on the left-hand side of the road, I know it is time to get off the bus.

Another instance of unnecessary mothering came when I invited Daisy and Martina to dinner at my house. I’m not sure what they were expecting but, judging by their expressions they certainly did not expect me to know how to cook Chinese food. ‘Where did you learn to cook Chinese food?’ Daisy asked me. I told her I had been cooking Chinese food since I lived in America and, now that I actually live in China, it is that much easier for me to do so. Apparently cooking Chinese food is supposed to be so difficult that a foreigner couldn’t possibly master the intricacies thereof. Daisy and Martina had to go inspect my kitchen. Might there be a secret Chinese chef hiding in my cabinets? I showed off my staple goods: cooking wine, both light and dark soy sauce, vinegar, various meat marinades. And, I displayed my supply of fresh ginger, garlic and onions, all bought recently at the farmer's market. They Ooh’ed and Ah’ed at all the proper places.

My fa├žade never slipped but inside I was saying: “oh, come on now! It is not so hard to buy ginger and garlic! It is not that hard to mix a few ingredients in a pan and serve them! Could we please just go sit down and enjoy our meal now, before the food gets cold?”

Here is the beef: I am eager for companions. I welcome invitations and I look forward to making a few invitations myself. I am delighted when they are accepted, and look forward to having a great time once we are in the thick of things. But please… PLEASE!

Do not treat me as though I was helpless and I need people to guide me everywhere and speak for me. Please do not think that I have been hiding in my apartment, terrorized over those big bad buses for the past 7 months. Please do not act as though you have been accorded corporeal responsibility of me and every facet of my well-being.

Just be my friend. Hang out with me. Trust me to ask for your help if I need it. Until then, let’s just enjoy each other’s company.

Isn’t that a fair enough request to make?

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