Sunday, May 22, 2011
I’m Going to be Arrested!
With a mere 6 weeks left to teach and about 7 weeks left to live in my beloved China, my thoughts are turning more and more to my visit in the States. I have to admit: as much as I’m looking forward to seeing everyone, there is a bit of panic induced by thoughts of being stateside.
I don’t know how to be American anymore! From the start I’ve felt so at home here that instances of culture shock were rare phenomena. Looking out the bus window and seeing Chinese characters on street signs and shop advertisements served only to indicate that I had finally arrived to where I’ve wanted to be all along. Eating with chopsticks is now so commonplace that a fork and knife feel funny in my hands. I know; I’ve tried them recently.
Pressing close to strangers does not bring on blushes. Wrangling onto public transportation is part of my exercise regimen, as is walking nearly everywhere, standing for long periods of time and carrying my groceries. Holding a young girl’s hand while walking is a pleasurable activity, not unnatural at all. Taking another woman’s arm is so commonplace I don’t even think about it anymore. Seeing boys go about arm in arm is a matter of course. Ditto for men with exposed bellies and women wearing negligees out in public. By the way: men wear their pajamas out in public too. And not just around their neighborhood, they jump on their scooter and drive across town in pajamas.
Driving! How am I ever going to get used to people staying in their lane and obeying the speed limit and not honking their horn and not jockeying for most advantageous position? What is that funny, red and white, 8-sided sign with that word ‘STOP’ on it? What does it mean? What do you mean, jaywalking is a crime? How am I going to get used to using crosswalks instead of challenging oncoming traffic and double decker buses? Where will I find any double decker buses, anyway?
And what about when I stoop down to talk to and play with a stranger’s child? Somebody is going to think I’m trying to kidnap their baby and scream for the law! I’ll have to run, with cops in hot pursuit down a side street where I must first obey that stop sign! I’ll never get away!
I’m going to be arrested if, in America, I practice some of the behaviors that are so commonplace here.
At the very least, I’m going to be looked at funny for offering everybody cigarettes. Here, that is considered an icebreaker; a way to make friends and a way to cement friendships. In America I might get thrown out of places for doing that, especially in California. Heaven forbid I do it to any of the many cops I anticipate will be arresting me this summer!
“No officer! I’m NOT trying to bribe you! It is custom in my country!”
“You have an American passport. That means America is your country.”
“Oh, officer! I’m so confused!”
And I will be, too.
When I board that first Greyhound out of San Diego I’ll get pulled off the bus for shoving my way onto it. I’ll have to walk to Denver. Maybe without my luggage.
Men in white coats are going to approach me slowly in McDonald’s because I’m eating my french fries with disposable chopsticks that I pulled out of my luggage.
I’ll try to lay off the chopsticks at McDonald’s, but if, after my repeated calls for ‘fuwuyuan! – waitress!’ brings no chopsticks I’ll HAVE to get a set out of my bag. Of course, I might get thrown out of the restaurant for shouting ‘fuwuyuan’ to begin with, especially if I’m in the South. They might think I’m speaking in tongues, or, at the very least that I suffer from a strange variation of Tourette’s Syndrome. Either way, here come the mental health professionals! Or a charge of disturbing the peace.
If I manage to evade the doctors and/or policemen, night patrolmen are going to detain me because I’m spray-painting ‘Welcome to our Establishment’ in Chinese all over the doorways in the business part of town. I might be able to stop myself before attempting to train cats to wave though.
Here it is common to have a huge banner, greeting customers by telling them ‘Welcome to our Establishment’. The sentiment is reinforced by a golden ceramic kitty waving its paw, inviting you to come in. I’ll stop at the kitties, but there is no guarantee that I won’t welcome people to establishments. That is too quick and easy to do, and it seems so polite, don’t you think?
And playing! The word ‘wan 玩’ – to play, is used in so many contexts over here! One invites adults over to play, or out to play. It sounds nasty but it only means ‘let us go hang out somewhere’! Heaven forbid if I invite a child over to play; I’ll be called lewd and obscene names and get a referral to a psychiatrist! Or arrested for allegedly attempting to harm a minor.
What about calling ‘em like I see ‘em? Here it is common to point, stare and openly comment on appearances, as you well know from all of my talking about having been designated ‘foreigner’, ‘tall’, ‘big-nose’ and the like. What if, while in Walmart or out and about, I start pointing my finger and saying ‘Fatty!’ or ‘You’re Black!’ or ‘You’re a badly behaved child!’ Or, if someone starts pummeling the tar out of me for making such comments and I start screaming ‘I didn’t know you would understand me!’ At the very least I could end up with an emergency room bill to pay that I won’t have the money for. I’ll have to go to jail for being destitute. If I don’t go to jail for causing a disturbance, first.
What if it just so happens I’m out and about in my negligee when I get arrested? And with my umbrella open to protect me from the sun to boot? First off, wouldn’t using an umbrella on a sunny day be a dead giveaway that there is something wrong with me? And then, isn’t it considered indecent exposure to go about in a negligee in America? And what will happen to me in prison if I go there in a negligee and they take away my umbrella? I’ll have no way to defend myself! And, if I’m in one of those holding cells where you can see everything the prisoner is doing, and they watch me squat down over the drain to use the bathroom and throw the paper in the trash? I will have to get psychiatrically evaluated all over again!
I’m so scared I won’t know how to stop being Chinese. I’m really going to need your help.
Or maybe just bail money.