Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Little Less Conversation

"Good morning."

I thought for a second, confirmed in my mind that it was definitely 2pm and then returned the greeting to the young guy who had appeared from behind me in the train car.

"I am from Hangzhou," he declared. Pause. "Where are you from?"

"America," I said, not really wanting to get into too much detail with this stranger on the Metro. No one ever talks to me on the subway.

"What stop are you going to?" He seemed to be fumbling for things to talk about in English, so I took it as a harmless question.

"People's Square." It wasn't my final destination anyhow, just a line change. "Where are you going?" I asked, hoping he wouldn't say People's Square.

"I'm going to see my sister," he said. "Nice to meet you," he added, somewhat abruptly and stuck out his hand. I shook it briefly. He stepped back and I assumed the conversation was over. I stared at my reflection in the glass of the doors.

"You have very white skin."

I turned and glanced at him and then looked down at my arm. This was one of the first in a handful of days that had been warm enough to wear short sleeves. Excited about the warm weather, I was on my way to a large park in the northwest part of town to eat a sandwich on a blanket on some actual grass.

"Yeah, I haven't had much sun lately." I'm not quite sure if I am the envy of the Chinese folks here, as they are definitely all about remaining white as opposed to working on a tan, or if they think I look unhealthy, so unlike my tanned fellow countrymen. I prefer to think that pale is beautiful here, even for Westerners, because if it isn't fashionable here, I'm plumb outta luck.

"I have a girlfriend from Mexico," he said. I had no real idea what to say to this. "She's white."

"Oh, she's a white Mexican. Okay." Like I said, I had no real idea what to say to these things, but he kept leaving such long gaps in between sentences it made me more uncomfortable to listen to the silence. He then said something I couldn't quite hear over the noise of the train.


"I wash her feet every morning."


The pauses got much more awkward at this point.

"Your skin is white like snow."

Okay. Creep-o-meter just went off. I looked at my reflection again as we pulled away from the next stop. Only one more stop to go...

"Your eyes are like my mother's," he said.

"Oh? Does she have light eyes?" He nodded in a way that made me think he hadn't understood what I really said.

"Her eyes are very big."

"Where is she from?" I asked, glad to be off the skin topic.

"She's from Hangzhou, too." Pause. "But her father was Korean."

"Oh," I said, not really sure if that explained the big eyes.

"Your eyes are very pretty." Aw jeez. I looked away again. "Have a good day," he said and held out his hand again. The disturbance in the Force made me reluctant to shake his hand again, but I did anyway, out of habit from those darn societal expectations. I made a note not to touch my face though.

He apparently thought we were at the stop. I wished we were at the stop, but we were only slowing down. On a normal day, the train doesn't seem to slow down until we are upon the terminal. Figures I would get the one cautious subway driver in all of Shanghai today. He realized we weren't there yet, too. I could have sworn he took a step closer.

"Your hair is also very pretty."

"Thanks." Come on baby, get to the damn station!

"Do you have any brothers?"


"Your skin is very pretty." Yikes, buddy! Cool it, will ya? He mumbled something again, but I didn't ask him to repeat this time, just hoping he hadn't said "I have a collection". I only caught the last bit.

"She is the queen." I assumed he was referring to the girlfriend again, if she even existed. "Okay, nice to meet you." His hand reached forward again. My insides curled.

What I wanted to say at this point: "Dude, stop. Really. You said goodbye twice already. I don't want to shake your hand again. I don't want you in my air space. You lost me at the feet thing and the way you keep glancing at my arm is giving me a serious case of the heebie jeebies."

What I actually said, "Uh huh."

The train slowed and I could finally see the station. I said a firm good bye and he moved back to the opposite wall as I bolted. I counted to 5 before I wiped my hand off on my jeans. I involuntarily shuddered. I looked back once to make sure he wasn't behind me. It felt like a bad thriller.

~ Girl rushes through subway station, searching the crowd behind her wildly as she runs like mad, pushing through turnstiles. ~

I didn't run. I walked briskly and with purpose. I got on Line 2 and I made my way to the park, enjoyed my sandwich and read a book for a while. People were lounging, flying kites, playing badminton, and encouraging small children to walk and chase bubbles. The sun was warm and I felt very relaxed.

A guy with a kite reel walked up next to me, one of several people entering my bubble that afternoon. It happens often here. I continued to read. I realized he had stopped walking.

"Good morning."

I almost choked. I looked up and saw this much older man with his kite reel looking down at me. I smiled.

"Good mor...Good afternoon."

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