A funny thing happened this afternoon. I met Wendy in our new classroom, a bricked-off cubicle down by the lake. I sat across from her and recounted the weekend's adventures: Friday night, arguing with the riffraff at the shishkebab place and someone's eight-year-old daughter until four AM; Saturday, trying and failing to buy a computer and all of the misunderstandings that involved.
It started to rain, so we moved to a gazebo. After five minutes there, the bench we were sitting on was claimed by a young couple with amorous ends, so we moved to another gazebo. Before long, it began to fill up with gawkers.
"Okay," said Wendy, clearly agitated. "Just pretend it is you and me and no one else is here."
I've gotten good at that, so I did. But they kept coming. Strangers were seated on both sides of us, leaning over the banisters to get a good look at me, a parade of bikes and bao-bao men and babies and dogs that was as loud as it was endless. It got to where we were being muscled out of the gazebo by the very people coming in to watch us. Every half-sentence I produced was telephoned down to the end of the line and either applauded for its cuteness or dissected for its incorrectness. Wendy was on the verge of a panic attack.
"Maybe we will only have one hour of class today," she said, "since it is raining and there are too many people watching us."
When the street vendors showed up to hawk their wares, it was clear that things had escalated to an unacceptable level of ridiculousness.
"Maybe we can just cancel class today and meet tomorrow," Wendy said. I nodded.
We packed up our things and pushed our way to the street. The crowd lingered, unsure whether they should follow me back to my apartment or remain there in the gazebo to discuss what they had just seen.
I felt bad for Wendy, the poor girl. As comforting as it is, perhaps, to briefly share my claustrophobic existence with another person, it is an insane world that I don't want to subject anyone to, not anyone who doesn't deserve it. We haven't had a single class, indoors or out, that hasn't been disrupted by a curiosity seeker, usually several of them. After my stalker blew up at us last week, Wendy gave me a class on refusing invitations.
I tend not to complain to my tutor about life in China per se - I like it here - but when the crowd gets so tight around us that I have to throw elbows just to finish my vocab quiz, I send a feeble smile across the table, by way of saying, "This is what it's like. The only thing to do is move quickly."