You are an English teacher in an overcrowded but unheard-of Chinese metropolis. You teach 500 students a semester and many of them have never seen a foreigner before. They all want to be your friend, but how does one go about befriending 500 people, exactly? Beats me. Beats you.
Turn to page 36.
Your student invites you to The Blue Note on a Wednesday night. It is International Night, she explains, and it is very important that you show up. You would like to join her, but you are contractually obligated to teach Oral English at eight the next morning. You explain your predicament and politely decline her invitation, offering to hang out with her over the weekend. But she is not pleased. She sends you a phone-clogging barrage of text messages, one of which reads, "oh my god.. stupid panda, you had better come right now and bring your friends." She then rapid-fire calls you for the next hour while you're lying there in bed. Finally, there comes a passive rapping at your door, followed by an aggressive pounding, then a passive-aggressive I-know-you're-in-there knocking. The lights are out. You are shirtless and in your underwear. It is 1 AM and you must teach in seven hours. You have no idea how she found out where you lived. You don't answer the door and after a while the knocking ceases, though you can hear her high-heels clacking in the stairwell until you drift off to sleep.
Turn to page 43.
You feel somewhat guilty, so you try to gloss things over by meeting your student and her friends at The Blue Note the following Saturday. Jacob is there. He holds out his hand and you extend your fist, then you switch, then switch again before you finally agree on a clammy handshake. "Smooth," you say. Then you are suddenly set upon from all sides by angry students. It is a passive attack - incidentally, the title of this book, the 639th edition of the Choose Your Own Adventure series.
"Why are you so late?" your student shouts in your ear, barely audible over the slutty flatulence of Britney Spears.
"Late?" you shout back, smiling. "It's only 9:00!"
"...!" she shouts. "...!"
"Why you no come last week?!"
"It was late! I had to teach!"
"That day is very important!" she shouts. "You let us down!"
You smile and shrug foppishly. But she isn't smiling.
A second student starts shouting in your other ear, the one that has been plugged up for a month now.
"What?!" you shout.
"We are very angry you no come last week!"
"It was late! I had to teach!"
She pouts a bit and shouts, "It is very special night! You must come here!"
"I am here!"
"Yes," she shouts, "but that night is very special!"
The owner of The Blue Note gives you a couple of free drinks and, given the circumstances, this is a good thing. You take a sip. It might be champagne, but you're not sure - not sure, that is, until you spot the bottle of wine hiding behind the watermelon/pineapple fruit platter, and the two-liter of Sprite next to it. You are drinking a Sprite and wine cocktail.
"How is it?" asks Jacob as you ganbei the rest of your glass.
"It's not bad!" you shout, to the approval of your hosts.
"But it's not that good either," mouths Jacob, and you both laugh, and everyone at the table cranes their necks to see what it is the foreigners could possibly find so funny about Sprite and wine.
Turn to page 47.
A student - neither Jacob's nor your own - sits down next to you and starts talking about guitars. He has been playing for two years, he says, and he loves the Backstreet Boys.
"Cool!" you shout. "My sister used to like them!"
Whoops. You don't want to insult the poor kid, so you add, "I mean, when she was thirteen!"
Even worse. But he doesn't seem to notice. Instead, the kid changes the subject completely, as Chinese youngsters are wont to do.
"Now you sing an English song, OK?"
You furrow your mouth, if that is possible. You're not ready for karaoke. The Sprite/wine cocktail hasn't kicked in yet, and it won't kick in even if you drink twelve of them (which you do, eventually) because it is 90% high fructose corn syrup. You don't really answer the kid one way or the other, so he runs off to talk to the DJ. Shania Twain fades out and one of the waitresses makes an ominous announcement. Everyone starts clapping and you find yourself on stage with a microphone in your hand. You wait for the music to start - Hotel California, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, You Are Not Alone - but nothing happens. Everyone is staring at you, waiting.
"Where's the music?" you ask the DJ.
"No music!" he shouts. "Sing!"
"An English song!"
You explain with a violent shaking of hands that a cappella isn't going to work. He rifles through his CD wallet.
"You know 'I Don't Know?'"
"I don't know 'I Don't Know,'" you say. "Is that a song?"
"You know 'Take Me To Your Heart?'"
"I know it, but I hate it."
A student runs to your aid with his cellphone. He shows you his MP3 collection. The DJ plugs the kid's phone into the PA system. You settle for your favorite band's least favorite song: "Creep," by Radiohead.
You pace back and forth across the stage. The microphone does not appear to be turned on. The crowd applauds when you forget the second verse and claps wildly when Thom Yorke sings the high parts, though your own voice does not register on the monitor. As you bow and return to your table, one of the waitresses hands you a commemorative Year of the Tiger Beanie Baby that you totally forget to bring with you when you leave The Blue Note some five minutes later.
Turn to page 52.
You and Jacob find refuge in a nearby shish-kebab joint. Much has happened since the last time you spoke with an English speaker. The president of Poland was killed in a plane crash. In America, a castrated version of health care reform passed into law - and in retaliation, Kentucky Fried Chicken unveiled its 1,245-calorie Double Down sandwich. So you and Jacob launch into a discussion, somewhat serious, somewhat absurd, totally cathartic. But somebody has followed you from the club. He sits down at your table. He interrupts with questions like, "What is your happiest thing in China?" and "Can you use chopsticks?" and "Do you want a Chinese girlfriend?" He latches onto words like "fuckin' A" and "clusterfuck" and murmurs them under his breath to commit them to memory. He laughs loudly when you and Jacob chuckle, but the moment the conversation shifts to Obama, your third wheel's mood sours and he calls for the check. Thus ends the night. As Jacob flags down an oncoming taxi, it occurs to you that, although you have seen him several times a week, you haven't really talked to the man in months.
To grab a couple more shish-kebabs for the road,
turn to page 87.
To head straight home and have yourself a nice long sulk,
turn to page 91.
The shish-kebab place has sold out of shish-kebabs.
Turn to page 91.
You head home and have yourself a nice long sulk.