When we were traveling to Kaifeng, we had a tough train ride. It was incredibly crowded, hot, and seemed much longer than the 6 hours it took. We arrived late in the day, discombobulated, tired and hungry. We walked out of the train station and waved away a female rickshaw driver that approached us right outside the station exit. We waved away the next man (a male rickshaw driver) and headed straight for the cabs.
Our usual M.O. is to go to the street, because cabbies in the train station charge more, but like I said we were tired so we just pushed on until we came to a big jumble of cabs and a group of cabbies that all tried to convince us to get into their cab. We ended up throwing our bags into a cab whose driver asked for 10 yuan for the trip. (I’m guessing we paid twice as much as normal–but hey, we were tired and didn’t want to squabble over $1.30.) Our cab driver was a bigger bearded man, and dropped us off without any problems.
We took a million cab rides while traveling and yet this one sticks out in my mind. Why? Well, we were told the story of our arrival, twice, by Jason the Rickshaw Driver and tour guide the next day.
Actually, he freaked us out a little when not even an hour into our ride he asked if we had arrived at the train station yesterday.
“Yes,” we said.
“Did a woman rickshaw driver approach you first and you said no?” he asked.
“Um, I think so,” I said (I had a vague recollection.)
“And then a man rickshaw driver approached you, but you said no also?”
“Maybe,” said Ryan as we eyed each other.
“And then you took a cab with a big driver.”
Turns out Jason has friends in the city (as he was a former transportation rickshaw driver) and when foreigners come to the city they help him out and tell him so he can go stalk approach them for a tour.
This is a pretty common phenomenon in China (in places that don’t have many westerners) and something I call the Foreigner Grapevine. No matter how low a profile you keep everyone knows what you are doing.
This semester Ryan is teaching a bunch of my former students and I his. Of course we’ve been trying to scare our former students by telling them what bad teachers the other is. I’ve been telling my students he is boring and he has been telling his that I am mean. How do I know this? From the students of course! In addition to knowing everything about us they have no ability to keep a secret. Here is a paper one of my students wrote on the first day of class.
“I know that you are Ryan’s wife. May I tell you a little secret? Just before you came in Ryan told me you were as mean as a witch. I know he is making jokes. I really love to see you two ride bikes together to somewhere. It makes me feel very warm.”
Yeah, I busted Ryan after class of course. (We’ve heard this ‘feeling warm’ thing before and sometimes if we are walking and holding hands we realize we are getting stared at a lot more than usual so we’ll say ‘I think we’ve warmed enough hearts for now,’ and stop holding hands so people will stop looking at us as much. Physical affection is just different here.)
We also hear gossip about the other teachers, like who let their class out early, who is too quiet and who they saw buying what at which store. Yes, there are hundreds of little spies roaming the streets of this city, keeping close tabs on us. When our apartment was broken into it seemed like every foreign teacher knew within 30 minutes. (We even got visited by one while the police were still milling around.)
It definitely makes me feel a little strange, and self conscious, but then I try to ignore it and push it to the back of my head and just try forgetting that I am being watched or talked about. Sometimes it gets annoying (like today when I was accosted by a group of older ladies and forced to take pictures with them for 5 minutes) but most of the time I take a deep breath, turn up my ipod and go about my business.
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