It started out like pretty much any other day.
Yesterday, I mean.
I drug myself out of bed, bemoaning the fact that I had, yet again, gotten too little sleep. I stumbled to the bathroom to get ready, got dressed, walked out to the gate and took a taxi to work, bought some breakfast on the street, taught three classes. You know, the usual for me on a Saturday morning.
And then…well…it got weird.
And I don’t mean just weird. I mean “I got the willies and feel like I need to have a shower” weird. “I am speechless at what just happened” weird. It was possible the most uncomfortable, bizarre thing that has ever happened to me in nearly four and a half years of living here.
Which brings me to my little disclaimer: Please don’t expect that this will happen to you if you should ever visit or decide to live in China. Honestly, most people are not like this. It has never happened to me before, and it likely will never happen again. But..wow.
OK, now you really want to know what happened, right? Well…
Two friends (a couple) of my husband and I had been staying with us since Thursday – they were in town for a hip hop competition on Friday night and were heading home by train on Saturday afternoon. We had all decided to meet for lunch during my break at noon to eat and say goodbye. So we did. That’s not the weird part.
After we had eaten and were walking out of the restaurant, a young-ish boy of about 13 saw me and said, “Hi!” I responded with a polite “Hello” (as I usually do if the speaker is a kid. That’s my personal rule, you see – kids are OK and get a friendly response, but when it is an adult, it’s just obnoxious, so I ignore them) and we continued out the door. That’s not the weird part either.
My husband, our friends, and I stood outside saying goodbye to each other, since they were planning to walk to the train station to catch their train, and I had to walk in the opposite direction back to my school to return to work in the afternoon. We chatted for a minute or two, wished each other well, and then one of our friends (the girl) and I gave each other a hug. Nope, still not the weird part.
The weird part was what happened next.
As we were pulling away from each other, I saw the door of the restaurant open, and the boy who had said hello to me marched down the steps, shoved our friends out of his way, and moved towards me with open arms and a lecherous look on his face. His friends (at least two other boys around the same age) were close behind, the same looks on their faces.
They wanted hugs too.
Maybe this was some lesser-known tradition for Dragon Boat Festival (that holiday was yesterday, after all), or maybe it was “Hug a Ginger Day” and no one told me, but all I could think of were the prison scenes from Arrested Development– “NO TOUCHING!”
Unfortunately, I was in such shock that this was happening that I didn’t even really physically react, but thankfully my husband did. He put his arm out to stop the kid before he could touch me and asked him what he thought he was doing. Our other male friend asked whether the boys were looking for a fight or something. Although the boy stopped, he didn’t really show any other reaction to anything (this, combined with the half vacant look on his face and degree of dirtiness that I noticed as we were walking away, leads me to figure that they were not normal schoolkids – they were probably street kids with a couple of screws missing).
Rattled, I asked my husband and our friends to walk with me in my direction a bit, just to get away from these strange boys so that we could say our goodbyes properly. We headed off together, me at a loss for words as I tried to process what had just taken place.
As I’ve said before, I’m no stranger to the pseudo-celebrity status of foreigners here. I get stared at. I have people shout “Hello” at me. I have people take cell phone photographs of me, thinking I don’t notice. But I have never had random people try to touch me (save for a couple of drunk men when I’ve been out at a bar, but that’s not entirely unexpected), let alone so inappropriately.
But wait, it gets weirder.
We stopped about a half a block away, tried the goodbye thing again, and then headed off on our separate ways.
But less than a minute later, I heard my friends and husband calling my name and coming up behind me again. The boys were actually following me! My husband and our friends agreed to accompany me back to my school to make sure nothing happened and to then take a taxi back to the train station. Even as a group, we were followed for nearly two blocks of the four that we had to walk.
And so, now that I have some pubescent stalkers who desire to hug me, it’s official: I need to learn kung fu.