Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stalker Boy

I am being stalked. It is a most unpleasant (although you might find it humorous) experience. But maybe I should start at the beginning…

It began with an idiom. Quite an innocent enough looking idiom: my two cents. I make it a practice of teaching my students a new English idiom every week, so it was nothing new to teach them “my two cents.” I even had this wonderful idea of bringing into class some actual American pennies; it went over superbly. The next week, one of my students Nathan (not the brightest but not the bottom of the barrel either) asked me if he could have a penny. I thought, It’s only a penny, why not? So I gave him one and even told him to not worry about paying me the little that a penny is worth in Chinese RMB. Then, since it was the end of class, we headed out together. This is also not uncommon. I often find myself walking back to my building with students since many want to continue practicing English with me and are too shy to come to my office hours. Little did I know how this simple walk would evolve, or I might not have been so conversational. Later that evening, I got the first text message. It ran something along the lines of “Thanks for the penny.” But it spiraled out of control from there; I can’t begin to recount the plethora of messages I received from this one boy over the next two weeks. And most of the messages were, well, bizarre, especially considering this was not one of the students with whom I had any sort of out-of-class relationship. I will recount a few that were memorable.
* i so sad i think to die (Now, how does one respond to that through text?)
* i still want say i love you (This was after he cancelled a meeting with me because of a time conflict. I went on to reply that I was his teacher and this was inappropriate to say. Little did that rebuttal affect his profuseness.)
* you wake up at 10 you are a pig haha (This was sent after I replied the next day to a message from the night before. I wake up at 5:30, but I wasn’t about to waste my phone money explaining that.)
* you are teacher but still human being i have right to say i love you (This was after another message that he should not text me that he loves me.)
* i miss you can i visit you now (I responded that I was out. He went on.) you good teacher (I reply with thanks.) you misunderstand when we say something good in china we mean the opposite (This is not generally accurate, but does at times happen. I chose not to respond) i say wrong you are angry (I responded that my phone was out of money, which it almost was with all his texting I had needed to answer.)

My younger sister can testify to the fact that I am not big on texting. So I found this continued string of text messages that just would not stop coming increasingly frustrating, if a little humorous. Basically, I simply stopped replying unless the message absolutely required an answer. Nathan wanted to meet me, which was fine by me because I am his teacher, and office hours are a required part of my contract. We set a time for Friday at 2. That was today. Nathan came at 1. (The Chinese sense of time, scheduling, and dropping by is a topic for another day.) I told him to come back at 2 since I was in the middle of a project. At 2, I was waiting for him. 2:10 comes and goes. And so does 2:15. I send him a text message. He replies at 2:40 that he is in the middle of a game and cannot leave. I send him a message, asking him to please let me know if he cannot make a meeting so that I will not wait.

Now, I also want to clarify that this is not normal of most Chinese students. I have had many Chinese students visit me; they all seem to be able to arrive within 10 minutes of the set time. Additionally, I teach sophomore students so they have already had one whole year with a foreign teacher and are all aware of our respect for schedules and appointments. While slightly annoyed with the wasted forty minutes, I was actually more amused by his antics. If he was trying to win over my heart, he was certainly going about it the wrong way…

Well, I thought that was that for the day and put Nathan out of my mind. I was wrong. First, I must explain that I reserve evenings for myself to work or play. I do not meet students, with a few exceptions. So come 8:30 PM, I am in my apartment on campus rereading the Hobbit since the movie is coming out. I hear a knock at the door, but I ignore it because I do not feel like visiting whoever it is. I had no appointments scheduled and no one texted me, so whoever it was could come back during the day. The knocking continued. Five minutes. Ten minutes. If I went to the door now, it would be extremely awkward because whoever was there would know I had been sitting in my room the whole time. Then comes the calling. Yes, it is Nathan, and he is shouting my name through the door, saying he knows I am in here, which he can’t know because he can’t see into my room and I have no music playing. I sit on my bed with what must have been a dumbfounded look on my face. About twenty minutes into this whole incident, he goes silent. I wait ten more minutes then I walk into my front room in order to get my cell phone to make sure he did not send me a text that perhaps I missed. My goal is not to be insensitive while still maintaining my space. As I walk fairly quietly through my front room to my bag, Nathan begins talking through the door again saying he can hear me. I have no desire to talk to him now that I have ignored him for almost thirty minutes so I don’t answer the door and quietly go back to my bedroom to continue reading. At that moment, I had a distressful thought. My door is unlocked. Now, you must understand that our drinkable water is in coolers in the hallway so locking the door is very inconvenient for quick access to water. Furthermore, the building is for foreigners only so it is much like a college dorm where everyone knows everyone, and you only need to lock your door when you go out. I had a sinking feeling Nathan was going to open my door. I wait and about ten minutes later (so forty or so minutes since the first knock) I hear my door open and in walks Nathan. I am flabbergasted. This is beyond inconsiderate and improper even for Chinese standards, I herd Nathan out of my room, but he cements himself in my doorway. I feel horrible closing the door in his face (literally) so I tell him that I do not see students in the evening and that he needs to go. He doesn’t. To make this long story a little shorter, we then proceed to have a thirty-minute conversation standing in my doorway with him not looking at me and not answering me but also not letting go of the grip he has on my doorposts. I explain many things, most important of which is that I cannot be his girlfriend because it is against the rules and because I am not interested. He looks near to tears when I tell him I do not want a boyfriend. He asks me if he is lacking in qualities. I repeat that I do not want a boyfriend from any of my students. This repetition continues for most of the thirty minutes. Finally, after saying goodnight or goodbye about fifteen times, I get him to let go and go home. I close and lock my door. And hopefully, it is a door that will remain closed the rest of the semester. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Winds of Change


Change is in the air. Literally and figuratively. Spring has come and is quickly giving way to summer. The details of winter—the incessant cold, the wearing of thermal underwear, scarf, coat and blanket while sitting in my room, the typing with bluish fingers, or the constant companion of my cup of hot water—are quickly fading into the murky realm of memory. Many here have caught that timeless spring fever with already two announced engagements and several couplings. However, underneath these typical and pleasant changes blow winds of trouble and uncertainty.

These are the winds that derailed high-level Chinese politician Bo Xilai from his seemingly solid career track to success and power. For those of you who don’t know Bo Xilai from boloney, his interest to the world at large began in February with a news blip about the police chief of Chongqing (Bo’s municipality) supposedly spending the day at the US embassy. Then over the next two months came a rapid-fire succession reports and rumors, which so deepened the intrigue that a first-rate crime novel could have been written. First, he was relieved of his position, as well as his almost assured place beside the new president later this year. Next, rumor connected his family with the suspicious death of a British national. Then came the official update that Bo’s wife was under investigation for what now most considered to be a homicide cover-up. During the highest point of tension, the Chinese government even blacked-out Weibo, the Chinese mini-blogging site, because of rumor about uprisings and a coup d'├ętat in Beijing. To those students of history, it was very reminiscent of Tiananmen Square. I had a friend in Beijing at the time, and he confirms that there were military vehicles shutting down the government districts where he could actually hear gunshots. While this might not surprise some of you (as it did not surprise me), what is of great interest is the complete lack of concern exhibited by the majority of the population. As I discuss these events with some of my closer Chinese friends, I can’t help but notice the lackadaisical acceptance of what has occurred or is occurring. And it is not just a deficit in knowledge about events but a deficit in caring about events.

However, care they (and we) should. The sudden demise of Bo Xilai is a barometric warning of the change in political pressure and of the possibly approaching storm. At a time of Party-leadership transition—7 out of the 9 Central Politburo members are changing this year—both China and the world would hope to see stability and maintenance of the status quo. However, the falling out of Bo (and Bo’s friends) from the grace of the Party has created currents that leave the future both hard to predict and hard to prepare for. Perhaps some of this instability even contributed to the recent escape of Chen Guangcheng, a long-standing Chinese dissident, from house arrest and his temporary stay in the UN Embassy in Beijing. And while that situation has been resolved (to the relief of the United States government and the disappointment of human rights activists), the continuing atmosphere leaves one wondering what will happen next. Few, I think, would envy Hillary Clinton’s current responsibility at the annual meeting in Beijing of walking the tight rope of preserving trade relations and economic goodwill while simultaneously supporting America’s classic defense of human rights and democracy in the gusts of political upheaval.