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99% True

This is a story I’ve been dining out on for close to ten years and I see no reason to stop now, especially as it’s topical.

My twenty-first birthday fell during the six months I spent in Beijing. During that time I had befriend Tara, a Lawrence alum who had been in China for a year or two at that point, teaching music during the day and playing jazz piano at Cui Jian’s nightclub in the evenings. She was set to return to the States in short order and so she invited me out to give me some birthday gift or other before she left. This meant a fairly long commute, as she was a good ways out from where I was living. Stupidly I neglected to bring any reading material with me to pass the time so I had to resort to stealing glances at the Chinese newspaper the fellow sitting next to me was reading. He was a typical looking fellow, I’d say: mid-twenties, dark slacks, a white button-up shirt, short hair, glasses. I think I might have been hard-pressed to pick him out of a police lineup of one. At any rate, I must have gotten sloppy with my glance pilfering because he noticed me and asked, in a perfectly friendly way, if I wouldn’t like some of his paper. Caught a little off guard, I demurred and we started what by then was a familiar sort of conversation.

“So, where are you from?”

“The States.”

“Oh, you speak Chinese very well.”

“Honestly, no.”

“No, you do…”

This part always went on for a while. I know it seems churlish –– “Just take the damn compliment” –– but I always was (and continue to be) annoyed at the suggestion that a foreigner speaking Chinese is worthy of comment. It feels like damning with faint praise, even though I’m certain that is almost never the intent (at least on a conscious level). Finally my interlocutor shifted gear.

“So, what do you think of Chinese women?”

This wasn’t the sort of conversation I generally have but I supposed he was drawing on some universal masculine fraternity thing, not realizing that I was an extremely Midwestern blushing and stammering type of guy, not given to frank sexual conversations with some random fellow on the subway. I punted.

“Chinese women? I guess I’d say they’re like women anywhere: some are nicer than others.”

This obviously wasn’t that answer he was looking for so he doubled down.

“No, I mean, how many Chinese girlfriends have you got?”

I got a sense of where this was going.

“Me? Oh I haven’t got any…”

“I could introduce you to some of my classmates if you like. They’re very fun.”

“No, thanks.”

“Very pretty…”

“You’re too kind, but no.”

“Very affordable…”

Well, I mean, jackpot. I decided some judicious lying might be appropriate here.

“Well, it’s just, you see, that I have this girlfriend at home and she’s, ah, Canadian, and I have no pictures or direct evidence of her, but I think things are getting serious and all that so I think I’d really probably better not. And stuff.”

“She wouldn’t need to know about it.”

Touche, sir. Touche.

“Yes, but I’d know about it.”

“You’re very thoughtful.”

“I try.”

“You’re sure I can’t change your mind?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“You know,” he said with a hint of disappointment, “in the movies you Americans are all so open about this sort of thing.”

“Yes, and in the movies you Chinese all know kung-fu.”

Then he punched me through three consecutive brick walls and ran away across the surface of a nearby pond without so much as a ripple. He leapt into the air, was silhouetted against the full moon for just a moment, and then was gone.


That's hilarious. Thanks.

May 2012

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