(I swear in this post – be advised)
In an effort to not turn into a total pudge-pot while here , I have been walking around the track at the school. My school has a really nice quarter-mile track, so walking 5K every other day, or making a laughable attempt at running it, is an easy goal. Whether or not I’m athletic is not the point – exercise is a great way to release tension. When I’m stressed out about driving, or language barriers, or work difficulties, a brisk walk makes me feel better about things, normally.
But I’ve come to dread it. It’s not my body issues, though they are ever-present. It’s the students and the cat calls.
There’s never a moment when there isn’t someone on the track. I don’t care about other walkers, and I certainly don’t expect to be alone. It’s just that there are always students lounging about, or getting ready for classes of their own. And every day it’s the same. The girls aren’t so bad – they remind me of gaggles of geese. They clump together and stare at me and jostle and point and giggle and eventually one shouts, “Hello!” because she doesn’t know how loud my music is (it’s never loud – I keep a watchful ear going). I’ll say hello, one will say she loves me, they laugh, and I keep walking. This repeats for a few laps, and then they lose interest. Same with the girls in the upper story windows. They yell down at me, and a simple wave is enough to satisfy them.
The boys, though – teenage boys are much worse. Uncivilized and crude, they lounge on the grass and scream at me as I walk by. “What’s up?” “Hey, girl!” “Baby!” “Hello!” I keep walking, but I want to do something more direct. I hate this kind of bullshit. When I first arrived, I thought maybe they just didn’t understand how to use the language. Like Ariel with the fork in The Little Mermaid – it’s a tool, but what does it do? I know better now. And it’s always screeched at me – rare is the student who actually says “Hello” in a proper tone. I hate getting yelled at all the time – it’s warping how I respond to the most basic of English greetings.
Yesterday this happened:
“HELLO!” Screams a boy from my left. I stop, and remove my headphones. I do this every so often as a sort of teaching point – you can’t just shout at someone and expect no response. He looks at his friends, pleased that he’s made me stop. I can almost feel the smugness radiating from him. He doesn’t get that I chose to stop because he’s wrong and I’m going to try and address that.
“Hello!” I say, much quieter and far more polite. It’s a teaching moment. I repeat mentally. It’s a teaching moment. “How are you?” The boy tilts his head to one side and stares at my chest, saying something in Chinese in a tone that did not hide the meaning of the words I did not understand. He purses his lips at me. Ah, so that’s what this is – you little puke.
“Hmm?” Rather than ask in Chinese, I force a light tone, hoping (futilely I know) to prompt at least some English from him. Inside, I feel like I do before I start a game of tag – tense, maybe a little too focused.
“HMM?!” He mimics me, in a high pitched, overly loud and sarcastic voice. I roll my eyes, put my headphones in and force myself to start walking. I hear his self-congratulatory tone as he says something else to my back. My shoulders feel stretched, and I realize I’m digging my key into my thumb. My breathing is shallower. It surprises me, how angry I am. Once I recognize that I am angry, the emotion only gets stronger and more focused inside my head, calling for action. But I walk, thank goodness. On more than one occasion I’ve had a real disconnect between my rational response and what I actually do, my impulsive side getting a foothold in a moment of confusion.
Worse, because I stopped for one, they all start up, like horrible parrots. A pack of boys intercept me on the track. Their emissary comes forward. He’s wearing black and red – a different vocational track at the school. He wants small talk. I am in fight/flight mode. I barely make it through, and have to bite my tongue at his concluding remark of, “Ok now we’re good fine yeah ok friend.”
Just about every day it’s something like this. Yesterday was just one of the bad days.
This sort of problem raises a myriad of issues, some of which I address here:
- I am almost twice as old as most of these students. I’m not a teenager to be riled. I’m an adult. They’re stupid little fuckwits, and that’s just how boys are.
- I am a teacher, and as such I am held to a different standard of behavior. I can’t go attacking students, even if they’re disrespectful. And these are not my students. I can’t fight every fight.
- I am an American. I have to create a positive impression about my country’s behavior abroad. Fighting will not do this. If I respond I’m just proving the stereotype.
- I am sick of feeling like I can’t do anything for fear of upsetting others. I am not a doormat.
- If I keep walking, they’ll lose interest like the girls. They always do. But it’s so unsatisfying….
- I don’t speak enough Chinese to take him down verbally. He doesn’t understand English well enough to feel properly put down if I yell at him in English. And I know making me yell is his goal – it’s all their goals. They want to rile me and see what I’ll do. It’s a predictable scene – I get upset and yell, they smile and laugh because they don’t see me as a person. It’s like poking an animal in a cage to make it angry.
- How dare they…Screw maturity and screw being an adult! I have just enough strength and just enough wiles that I could make it to that little pig, grab his throat and knee him in the balls before he’d have time to react. I could put what little actual fight technique I know to use. Maybe sing the theme from “Team America” while I do it. Now that’s a story everyone would remember! I’d get deported in glory!
- They’re ignorant, and their ignorance comes from living in a closed society with limited access to Western influences. Like the Greek security guards at the Embassy, who got all their information about America from watching BET.
You might not believe me, but all this whirls around my head as I walk. Maybe not as articulate as I just wrote it, but something like every one of those thoughts is there, simultaneously. And likewise, my solution floats above it all. I’m not going to tattle to the principle. I’m not going to fight. I’m not going to lecture.
I’m going to walk. Disappointed, frustrated, angry, sad, and resolved.
There’s no joy in it – I’m running my thumb along my key groves like it’s a totem. Rather than feel relaxed, I’m more stressed. I can barely concentrate on my audiobook – I can feel my blood pumping, my muscles demanding something more than putting one foot in front of the other. On the second loop, more calls, more words, and I ignore them. It’s rude – anywhere else it’d be so rude of me to not acknowledge people at all. Even a catty retort is a response. Dismissal is expected in certain places, like with merchants and taxi drivers. But students – you’re supposed to want to teach students, not club them.
I’m angry at myself for being angry. I’m angry that my mental state has gone so uncivilized. And I’m angry that I’m not proud of my not engaging. I can’t even feel good about doing the right thing, because I’m so angry that I’m in this situation at all.
It’s the safest place to exercise, physically and theoretically. Mentally, I’d be better off dodging traffic in the streets of Wenjiang. At least there yelling an obscenity at a taxi is not frowned upon.
Patrick Swayze would know what to do….
But I leave for Shanghai tomorrow. A little distance will help I am sure.