So a very unexpected encounter with a stranger (two actually), which I will call a stranger encounter, took place at my local park this week. In truth, it really should never have happened because I had envisioned spending my lunch at home, for a change. Instead, when I left the mall in search of food, the beautiful Spring heat – a marvellous 20 degrees in Beijing – hit me and my feet wandered in the direction of my favourite local park. Twenty minutes was a perfect amount of time to sit, eat my noodles and gaze upon the absurdities that always occurred there.
Today was not the day for Mr I-Have-A-Very-Large-Chain-And-I-Like-To-Whip-The-Ground-With-It, nor was it early enough to observe Tai Chi masters amongst the trees. Instead, I caught glimpse of a bright red flag being waved around by a man old enough to be my great grandfather – perfect. The paved grounds were full of interesting characters in fact, so I remained standing and casually turned in time with the hip-hop-Chinese music (that blared loudly from the speaker by my feet) and soaked in the atmosphere.
Retired ladies proudly exercised on the outdoor gym to my right.
Children ran between the old boys playing cards to my left.
In front of me Great Grandfather and Co. bopped to the beat in no particular fashion – one swirled the red flag slowly as the lady with no teeth fiercely moved her feet, seemingly not noticed by the man (let’s say her son) who stood rooted to the ground beside her, his head back, eyes closed, moving his arms slowly up to the sky.
Behind me loud conversation passed between young families enjoying the welcome heat and at no point did I witness confused, judgemental or alarmed faces.
In China, nobody has inhibition. Nobody is bothered by what others are doing, they are happy just being
in the moment. Chinese people are, I think, the definition of human being.
I hear a “Kelly!” to my right but see no one as I turn. Oh hold on, there’s a small child poking at my leg. Oliver is in my stage 2 class and the first student I have bumped into outside of school. I ruffle his hair and wonder where his mother is – just yesterday she gave me daggers during the entire open class and it left me feeling very disheartened as the day came to a close.
To my surprise she approaches me and asks the typical questions that put me at ease. Can you speak Chinese? Where do you live? Where are you from? As I answer politely, I realise this is the most interaction I’ve had with a parent during my 7 months as a teacher.
She tells me “Oliver likes you very much” and assures me that she understands “he can be very naughty” – what would appear to be an agreeing, if not somewhat sympathetic smile to her, is in fact a smile of relief: the apparent daggers yesterday were aimed at her misbehaving child rather than at my inability to get him to sit down.
I attempt to gobble food in-between pleasantries, but the final encounter ensures I will wrap it up and save it for the office; for now, I must allow the lady with no teeth to drag me away towards Great Grandfather and Co.
Oliver’s mum runs alongside, an expression of sheer shock that I thought might cause her to fall over.
“Don’t worry” I said “I’m happy to dance with her!”
Well aware that my twenty minutes is up, I choose to ignore this fact whilst the youngest of the bunch finds the appropriate song for his newly acquired member.
First a little foot dance with the toothless lady – both a memory and a sentence I never thought I’d create. Followed by a rather charming hand-to-waist dance with ‘the son’ which involved twirling, swaying and lots of giggles (mostly from me). A quick glance to the left, right and behind, I see my previous views have been obscured by different people, only this time they stare in disbelief as the foreigner with fiery hair forgets her inhibitions and joins in the fun.
By this point I think Oliver had run away in horror of his teacher’s actions.
I like to think I had gained some respect from his mother, if not from the Great Grandfather and Co. And as for me? Well, I was now running 10 minutes late for work and my food was cold. But in that moment during my stranger encounter, I was thankful and aware of only 3 things: the sun on my face, the fun gentleman teaching me to dance and the realisation that inhibitions are sometimes so insanely boring.
Thank you once again China for showing me how wonderful and refreshing it is to be a human being.