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.