Last night I decided to treat my friends, Daisy and Lucinda (their English names), to dinner at Pizza Hut, being that they had never eaten at said fine establishment-- Oh, who am I kidding? I wanted to take a break from Chinese food and eat pizza. As we entered the restaurant, I immediately spotted a group of what could have possibly been Americans; but, sometimes it's hard to tell. I turn to Daisy and Lucinda and point out the "Waiguoren" (foreigners). My friends laugh and Daisy replies, "You are like a Chinese!" Ironically, I didn't even mean it as a joke. Without even realizing it, I had looked at people that look similar to me, and called them outsiders, inadvertently and erroneously considering myself on the inside.
I eye the wide eyed travelers for a minute; they eye me; and we all dutifully look away, replacing our looks of curiosity with indifference as good Western people do. Daisy nudges me: "Go talk to them in English!" I shake my head. "Why not?" I respond, "Oh, well, where I come from people don't usually talk to people they don't know." Blank stare: "真的吗？/"Zhendema?!" (Truly?!) I pause and think about it. "Yeah, typically it's a little strange to be so friendly." Daisy and Lucinda look back over at the strange foreigners, most likely seeming even more strange to them now.
We eat our dinner and fill our stomachs until we all declare: "我吃饱了！" (wo chi bao le: "I can't eat anymore") And I suggest that we go across the street and hang out at 夷陵广场 (Yiling Square). Being the day after the Mid-Autumn Festival, Yiling Square is host to even more dancers taking part in their style of choice: Traditional Chinese, Latin, and Ballroom. Every corner of the square is occupied by a separate group with their own powerful stereo competing against the blaring music from the next group. I watch, mesmerized, as the most petite little children move in perfect unison to a Backstreet Boys Song.
I try to follow along with a group of people doing Latin dancing, but end up causing a scene, as everyone who sees me starts to stare and laugh. Not malicious laughter, rather, good-natured smiles and chuckles that so often are bestowed towards me in daily life in China. Still, fearing that my dancing attempts look insincere, and wishing, not for the first time, that I didn't stick out so severely, I give up.
We then cross through a large group of Ballroom Dancers clogging the center of the Square where Daisy and I assume our positions and butcher the art together as best we can, while Lucinda looks on, shaking her head at us, as she often does. I ask Daisy how to dance correctly, and she tells me "Oh! ..我不会" or "I can't". And so before I realize what's happening Daisy and Lucinda begin stopping dancing couples and requesting that they teach their American friend how to dance. The first couples shake their heads in modesty and embarrassment, insisting they don't dance well, and I continue to insist to Lucinda and Daisy that it doesn't matter, until a lady much shorter than myself marches up from nowhere, takes my hands in hers, and with surprising force pulls me into step with her. With a strained smile plastered on my face, I clumsily try to keep in step and turn and twirl in time while keeping my head up. After several long minutes, however, I begin to feel the rhythm and catch on to her routine. Suddenly, her look of determination turns to complete joy as I begin catching on, and I can no longer force myself to wipe the smile from my face. Meanwhile, Daisy and Lucinda continue to laugh hysterically and take pictures with their cell phones.
Soon after thanking my gracious dance teacher, and waving to the many curious observers, we realize the time and and scurry off, managing to cram into the last bus headed back to the university for the night.
Question: What do you do when a 15 or 20 minute bus ride into town turns into a 70 minute ride? My Answer: Take pictures of the bored people on the bus, of our exaggerated faces of misery, and of the cute little Chinese people stuck in traffic next to bus; yell, "Tian tian kuai le!" (meaning: Be happy every day) out the window to strangers; and sweat. (Cause... it's 500 degrees outside.)