I slept until 10:30 this morning, which was both glorious and unusual for me. Also unusual was the rooster that was crowing at 10:35 when I stepped into the shower. This city, though nearly 3 times the size, reminds me a lot of Chicago, so the rooster was unexpected because it was late morning and because we’re in a pretty urban setting. At the first crow, I thought it was really quaint. Oh China, you’re so unexpected and curious! By the tenth crow, I was ready for it to be done. It’s the year of the rabbit, dude. After 2 minutes of straight crowing, I was hoping that someone was eating chicken soup tonight. By the fifth minute of constant cock-a-doodle doos, I was ready to kill that rooster and every member of his fowl family myself.
Clearly, I needed to get out of the house. But what to do? Even though a lot of places have reopened, most are operating under strange hours. Yesterday, I walked down to Feng Du at around 3:30pm for a late lunch. People were inside eating, the doors were wide open, but when I walked in, the serious woman at the desk shook her head. “Not open?” I asked. More shaking. I wanted to suggest that if they were closed, they might want to at least shut the doors, but whatevs. I’ll try back next week. So instead of eating out today, I decided to walk down to the lake and follow it in a new direction. Bring my journal and do a little writing at a quiet bench somewhere. The high was in the 60s, so I put on some jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and my sunglasses, and sans jacket, headed out.
I mention what I wore only because with sunglasses and without a jacket, I was in the minority of people who were out and about today. If I hadn’t told you today’s temperature, what would you guess it was, based on this picture?
I was confused. This is the kind of weather I would wear shorts in! (Although I haven’t shaved since I arrived in Hangzhou, so no one here is actually ready for me to wear shorts.) These 3 make it look like it’s 35 degrees with a windchill, and they’re not alone: a vast majority of people who were out today wore their winter coats. The only reason I even wore long sleeves is so that I wouldn’t stand out too much (more on this later). Maybe Chinese people don’t sweat.
And check out this baby! I don’t know how easy it is to tell, but this kid has on so many layers that he can only move his head. You could hackey-sack him around (but of course you never would), and the worst he’d suffer is maybe some motion sickness. He must have been dying under all of that.
The sunglasses thing is a related issue. I’ve been wearing them since I got here because…it’s sunny. Just how I was raised, I guess. But no one else here wears them. When I asked Liz about this, she said, “Well, it’s winter! People don’t wear sunglasses in winter.” Forget that it’s been so sunny that I actually have a little bit of a sunburn on my cheeks and nose. I have a feeling that her explanation of the winter coats, boots, and scarves I saw today would be similar to the sunglasses.
So I set out for the lake in my long sleeves (black, so when I started sweating like crazy, no one would be able to tell) and the lightest scarf I could find. About thirty feet from my apartment, a car full of boys drove up, slowed down as they passed me, and yelled, “Hah-LOOOOOO!” This has happened a few other times. Mostly groups of kids who say “Hello! Hello!” and then giggle when I return the greeting. Aside from that, I’ve generally felt inconspicuous here, which, now that I think about it, is maybe not an accurate perception. But in these massive crowds of people, I know I won’t see anyone I know, and I assume I’m sort of invisible. I don’t mean that at all in a negative way. I feel more comfortable blending in, especially in new situations.
So first there was the car of boys, which was fine, not a big deal. Then, as I stood at the intersection of Baochu and Wensan and waited for a particularly long light, an old man walked right up to me (well within my Comfort Bubble), pointed at my hair, said something in Chinese, and started laughing. I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Chinese.” More laughter, more Chinese, more pointing. “Um, I’m really sorry. I’m not sure what you’re asking?” More laughter. This went on for an uncomfortably long time- maybe 20 seconds or so. And he was really close to me the whole time (although I did have probably 3 inches on him; if things had gotten too weird, I could’ve taken him). When the light changed, I planned to burn him to the next corner (thank you, speed walking lessons with Liz), but he turned around and went back the way he came! Still chuckling to himself. Hmm. It’s hard to say if he was the Town Crazy or just the only person with enough temerity to come up to me and say, “Who do you think you are in those sunglasses? It’s February! And where is your coat? You are going to freeze out here!”
Eventually, I made it to the lake, which was absolutely packed. My plans for finding a quiet bench somewhere evaporated. I shouldn’t have been surprised, since one and a half billion people are on vacation right now, but I sighed and resigned myself to getting some ice cream and just taking a walk. There was a lot going on. Lots of small groups gathered around people singing into microphones (West Lake karaoke!), lots of street food, lots of groups on small tour shuttles. As one of these shuttles passed me, I stepped aside to get out of its way, and the 2 people sitting in the last row of the open-air vehicle, facing backwards, scrambled to take out their camera and snap a picture of…me. I think. I’m pretty sure. I could be wrong, but they pointed the camera right at me, and then craned it out to the left as the shuttle curved right.
I had decided to get off the path with the shuttles anyway, since they don’t reaaalllly look out for pedestrians, so I turned to cross this square, and as I did- and I wish I was making this up- another old man ran up to me, right inside the Comfort Bubble, and started pointing, laughing, speaking in Chinese. I was too baffled to try to make conversation with him; I just walked a little faster and fell back into the giant crowds closer to the lake. He followed me for maybe ten feet, but then gave up.
I hope I’m not giving the impression that I attract tons and tons of attention, or worse, that I secretly really like it but am pretending to be burdened by my sudden fame (haha), because neither of those scenarios is true. I was out and about for 3 hours today and saw many, many more people than just those few who seemed to notice that I look or dress differently than most here. And I don’t even know for sure if that’s the reason those 2 men came up and talked to me. I’ve just been feeling very content as the observant fly on the wall, and it was a little jarring to have strangers interact with me. (Rereading that last sentence, I sound like a total antisocial or uppity jerk, but I’m hoping you know what I mean.)
What it all boils down to, I think, is that I have never lived in a community as a minority. And it’s okay. It’s really good, in fact. It’s something I might have never experienced if I hadn’t come to China. It’s another part of this whole opportunity to process, to remember, to learn from. And if nothing else, I am here to learn.
And you know, it’s not enough to make me wear a winter coat when it’s 60 or take my sunglasses off. When I told Liz that at first I felt weird wearing them, she said, “Bah, who cares. In America I used an umbrella when it was sunny and hot, and people there thought it was strange.” She’s so wise.
I thought about all of this on my way home (walking everywhere affords me a lot of quality thinking time), and I turned onto our alleyway, smiling to myself and feeling pretty good. And then I looked up, and I was face-to-face with a man who was plucking- I swear this is true- a freshly dead black rooster.
O. M. G.
Is it terrible if I say that I hope the loud little guy is tasty?