for international friendship

I think it was Mark Salzman who coined the term “language rapist.”

Anyway, that’s exactly the right phrase; it happens all the time here. I will be eating dinner or looking through CDs in a store or walking down the street when suddenly someone comes up and informs me that he very likes to practice his English, and that we are good friends.

And look: I am a nice person, and I would not at all mind doing this except for the fact that I already work a seven-day week. I like people. I like meeting new people and making new friends. But there is a point at which I wish that for just one moment I could be unfriendly, could say “sorry, but I’m busy,” or “this is the same conversation that I have had every day for the last five months.” or something of the sort.

Boy, has it been a weird two years.

I inaugurated this journal by writing about an oil refinery fire that I could see from my window. And then I went on to write about high school, and college applications, and thin envelopes, and graduating, and going to China, and then coming back and going to college, and then about going back to China.

Two years ago, I was a bored and pissed-off high school senior. One year ago, I was a college freshman. Now I’m a teacher.

Two years ago, I sat in my room, and watched orange flickers on the horizon, and apologised for not updating my webpage, as if anyone cared. One year ago, I sat in my dorm room and promised myself that I would totally clean it up* any day now. Tonight I went out for noodles and ended up celebrating a random Chinese guy’s birthday with him.

It always starts the same way: Hello. How are you? May I ask your name? How do you do?
And from there, it goes into the same conversation: How old are you? Where are you from? Do you like China? How much do you make in a month? Do you have a Chinese girlfriend? Why not? Can you use chopsticks?
And from there: I (or a friend) like English. We would like to make friends who speak English. I’m very happy to meet you. What is your phone number? When do you have time?

Tonight, I went out for a bowl of noodles and got into a conversation with a guy sitting at the table next to me. As it turned out, his friend was having a birthday party, and I was invited.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m very busy. Tomorrow I have to teach class at 7:30 in the morning.”

“It’d really make him happy if you came.”

“I would like to, but unfortunately I really can’t.”

“Come on. This is for international friendship.”

I mean, shit, what do you say to that?
“No, sorry, my country hates you?”
I think not.

There are ace-cards in this sort of thing. For me, it’s the phrase “think about what kind of impression you’re giving me of China. You’ll lose face for China.” For them, it’s “this is for international friendship.”

And so, to improve relations between our two countries, I went to this guy’s birthday party, and drank rather more than I would have liked, and wished him happy birthday (at the insistence of the guy who invited me, who got absolutely trashed) about a million times, and had a better time than I usually have in these situations. I drank baijiu. I talked about soccer. I ate di san xian and got in a cake fight at the bar we went to.*

I’m far from home, and what’s more, I’m far from where I was a year or two ago.

And yet somehow, I’m not.

It’s been a weird two years. Thanks for spending it with me.

Merry Christmas.

Comments (12)

  1. Claudia Ohm (ICQ: Teufelsgeneral) wrote::

    Hi there Brendan,

    From time to time I watch your page, though we never really had the time keep on chatting.
    But I have to admit that I’m quite worried about you – I read your last lines…
    Are you yet ok over there? You were so very happy to go to China, to teach, to study – well I hope you still remember…
    If you’d like to contact me, try ICQ or email.
    Hope to hear from you and anyway a merry merry christmas to you & a happy new year.

    Monday, December 23, 2002 at 9:11 am #
  2. jen wrote::

    hay brendan, we exchanged a couple emails over the summer, but lives and thoughts are spasmatic and fleeting… anyway, i’ve sorta been keeping up both here and with your LJ stuff, and i just wanted to let you know how your entries always bring a smile to my face (well, except the one that went FUCKFUCKFUKCUFKCUKF) , and i hope you have a merrily holiday. dont’ freeze any fingers off (toes are ok)

    Tuesday, December 24, 2002 at 2:13 am #
  3. John wrote::

    “Language rapists” huh? I’m not sure I like that coinage because — as I think you agree — these people are usually not bad people at all. There really isn’t a conspiracy. And I like to think that sometimes they actually think that you might not get to speak to anyone in English very often and that you might just welcome the opportunity to make friends with them. And speak English.

    I’m not denying that these people can drive you to the edge of insanity, however. Even if it is for “international frienship,” you went the extra mile. I wouldn’t have done it. Well, unless I was really bored, anyway…

    Tuesday, December 24, 2002 at 2:39 am #
  4. P wrote::

    I agree with John, above–being hit on is not the same as being raped. Language leech, culture vulture, perhaps, at worst. And John may be right that at least some have kind motives: It wouldn’t be odd or self-serving, for example, for you to converse in Mandarin with a Chinese ex-pat living in Ireland, would it? Nonetheless I’m sure that at least some are interested more in their learning than your welfare. Probably the females of your webacquaintance are best able to give advice on how to sidestep a hitter (I have astonishingly little experience in this area). It has been a long and tortuous two years, hasn’t it? Here’s to more of them, perhaps a little less tortuous. Happy New Year.

    Wednesday, December 25, 2002 at 2:48 am #
  5. tie miy shoo wrote::

    Hey Brendan,

    Long time since we chatted.

    Friday, December 27, 2002 at 4:09 am #
  6. Sambo wrote::

    Hey Brendan,

    Long time since we chatted. How are you doing over there?..Hope to party when you come back. Take care..

    Friday, December 27, 2002 at 12:22 pm #
  7. Brendan wrote::

    Yeah – in retrospect, “language rapist” is not really the right term. I’m not sure what is, though – John is right; these people are for the most part very nice. The problem is that they assume that I have nothing better to do than chat with them in bad English – and sometimes I don’t. It irritates me to no end, however, when I’m sitting and reading or writing in my diary and someone comes up, asks what I’m doing, and starts an interminable conversation about – as always – the same topics that people always talk about.
    I don’t understand the endless fascination with how many cars my family has, or how many floors our house is, or what I make per month, or how cold I do or don’t think Harbin is. And I don’t understand why people don’t ask me questions that don’t suck. I’d welcome an interesting conversation; really, I would. I just hardly ever get into them.

    Sunday, December 29, 2002 at 7:17 am #
  8. kc wrote::

    what sort of questions you consider that don’t suck? :)

    Tuesday, December 31, 2002 at 12:07 pm #
  9. Rillifane wrote::

    My first time in China was in 1981. Although half Chinese I was still obviously a foreigner. These were few and far between in Heifei (my family home). All I had to do was to stop in the street for a second and I would be surrounded by literally hundreds of people all offering to chat or give me directions. I’d sit down somewhere and write in my journal or open a book and a dozen people would be looking over my shoulder trying to read along.

    Someone described it by saying “The Movie is “Alien” and you are in the title role.

    Wednesday, February 12, 2003 at 2:47 am #
  10. marksim wrote::

    hi everyone i’m new here

    Monday, April 19, 2004 at 9:42 am #
  11. ABDUL QADIR SAGGU wrote::


    Friday, April 29, 2005 at 2:44 pm #
  12. rosa wrote::

    i think vikram seth in “From Heaven Lake” coined the term “language rapist”

    Tuesday, September 9, 2008 at 7:22 am #