Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What the Fuck?

After working downtown today, I wanted nothing more than to get back to Kaifaqu as quickly as possible. While waiting for a cab, I practiced how to say where I was going (this is a nervous habit left over from the days when to get anywhere, I had to first look up how to say it and then repeat it, usually screwing it up once I actually got in the taxi). It was taking a little longer than usual for a cab to show up, so when one finally pulled up, I was happy, thinking, I'm going to practice my Chinese with this guy.

Looking into his rearview, he asked, "{Where to?}"

"{To the light-rail station.}"

In English, he said, "No," and waved his hand.

"{Why?}" I asked. But he wouldn't tell me. He just kept waving his hand. It's supposed to be illegal to refuse a ride in this city to anyone, so I wanted to know. The more he waved his hand and refused to look at me, the angrier I got, till I found myself screaming, "{Why?}" as loudly as I could.

"{Get out}," he said.

"{Tell me why!"} I screamed again. I started to speak, but so frustrated was I that I couldn't think anymore in Chinese. I got out of the cab, furious that I couldn't yell at him anymore. "{Fuck your mother,}" I said in Chinese, not loud enough for anyone to hear.

I went to the other side of the block to wait there, and with no luck there either, I returned to where I'd been refused. I stood there about ten minutes. Then a couple twenty-somethings stood near me. One, laughing, said to his friends, "{Come here,}" and they stood right in front of me, putting their arms out to hail the cab heading our way.

"{Really?}" I said to them. "{I'm standing here, and you…}" But again, pissed off, I couldn't get my words together.

Ten more minutes later I finally got a cab. I told the driver, "{The light-rail station}," but he didn't understand me. "{The train station,"} I said, thinking he needed more context. My tones must be shit, I thought. "{The light-rail station behind the train station.}"

"{Behind the train station… Ah, the light-rail station.}" And he started on down the road.

However, he wasn't headed toward the light-rail station across from the train station; he was headed toward the light-rail station near IKEA. Even better, I thought. It's closer to home.

But we just kept going past the station. "{The light-rail station, the light-rail station,}" I said, pointing over my shoulder.

"{Yeah, there's one.}" He nodded and grinned.

It wasn't too late to turn left and drop me off right there. "{Take me to that one.}"

"{But you said you wanted to go to the one behind the train station.}"

"{I said that because you didn't understand me, but we're here now. I want to go to this one.}"

"{But you said the one behind the train station.}"

"{Because you didn't understand me. This one is closer to Kaifaqu. We're right here.}"

He repeated my original directions once again, now too late to turn. We were headed back into the city. We'd made a huge U. OK, fine. He looked back. "{They all go to the same place,}" he said. "{Isn't that right?"} He asked this last question the way the Eastern teachers ask a three-year-old student who's scared of class on the first day: "对不对?" I didn't answer.

Finally we got to the station. It was the end of the day, so the line for the ticket was long, but that didn't bother me. However, a man cut in front of the woman ahead of me. She didn't look pleased, but she said nothing, and the ticket agent didn't say, "{Look: there's a line here, sir.}" Nobody was surprised. "{It's not your turn,}" I told him. He didn't even look at me.

The ride home went smoothly, and when I got off, I decided to get some coffee before heading home. As I came out of the coffee place, two women stopped me. These same two women stop me often. They're always asking for money, especially in Hong Mei, the area I live in. I ignored their questions, asked in English. Then another woman tried to stop me, again asking in English. I ignored her too. Then another woman and another. What was going on?

The sixth time two women approached me, I was walking faster. Again in English: "Excuse me. Sir?" I didn't slow down. And then the woman slapped me hard in the arm. I stopped.

"What the fuck?" I screamed at her in English. I wanted to show her how angry I was, and this time the Chinese came quickly to mind. "{Don't hit me! Who are you?} What the fuck are you thinking?"

Her friend pushed her hands together in front of her mouth. "Sorry," she said in English.

"No 'sorry!'" I screamed at her. "{Don't hit me! Who are you?} What the fuck? Fuck you!"

She switched to Chinese: "{Sorry. Sorry. My friend. Sorry.}"

And they ran off. I walked on, huffing. At one point, enraged, I turned around to find them and scream at them more, but I couldn't find them. A young couple watched me (which, now that I've cooled down, I'm thinking, hell, I hope they don't see foreigners as lunatics; I hope they saw my reason for my reaction), their faces unreadable.


  1. Don't worry Tim, shitty cab drivers and pushy grifters still exist in Illinois. And language will never cease to cause problems.

  2. Not one of these events has ever happened to me before. I wasn't mistreated because I was a foreigner. I was just mistreated.

  3. That is, they weren't Chinese things; they just happened in China.

  4. This feeling of screaming at people because the sheer volume of bullshit you see in society and encounter in the people around you is surely, as you imply, universal. Welcome to the thought process that has occurred every day in my head since early adolescence. Unlike you [have in the past], I've never embraced the idea of cultivating the ability to refrain from comment. I can, and will let my rage burst forth in all such scenarios. I would say it is astounding that I haven't gotten killed, but, more often that not, it seems that people are startled and left floundering when their bullshit is noted.

  5. Stormy,

    In China, I'm careful about what I consider bullshit. It's so easy to get frustrated, and much of the time, it's not because of anything anybody's actually doing but rather because of the comparison in my mind between the two cultures, American and Chinese. If I'm really honest with myself, I know that I idealize my own culture and also impose the rules of a tiny part of experience—from dealings in northern Michigan, say—on daily goings-on. This day, August 17, 2011, was highly unusual, and while I don't feel entirely unjustified in having screamed at the woman who hit me, I don't feel entirely great either about how I handled the situation. I don't have any alternative for how what I should have done, but I didn't feel any better after what I did.

  6. And if I'm really honest, if I felt at all better afterward, it was only because I had something to write about.