Published: April 20th 2008April 20th 2008
Riding the Subway
Keep in mind, this is not even rush hour
It's raining today. Most people I know are either indifferent to rainy days or get depressed by the steady downpour and overcast skies. I'm usually an avid member of the second group, but today was different.
Today I was on a mission.
International Labor Day (May 1st) is coming up, and since it's a government-recognized holiday here in China, I have 3 days off from school. I'm planning to travel to Hainan Island, off the southern coast of China near Vietnam, for some fresh mango juice and lots of relaxing on the beach. Thus, I required an appropriately relaxing book for beach reading purposes.
When I woke up this morning, I was at first dismayed by the rapid streams of water pouring down my windowpane, but I soon realized that the rain meant less crowds to fight through at the bookstore and breathing space on the subway. I was sold. I grabbed my umbrella, put on some sensible shoes and headed out into the deluge.
As I leaped and twirled down the sidewalk dodging puddles, I soon realized the extra bonus of venturing out into a rainy day. Instead of being made painfully aware of how different
I look courtesy of the lingering looks of passersby, such as I am subject to on any given day, I had become one of the rain dancers. Together, we pirouetted and danced around the great pools of water, gracefully weaving around one another, our umbrellas held aloft. The rainbow of umbrella colors only added to the giant chorus-line I had become part of. I felt like I had stumbled upon an impromptu Broadway musical in the street. It was glorious.
When I finally made it to the subway, our big dance number ended without fanfare. People around me shook out their umbrellas, unfurled newspapers, plugged in iPods, and we were strangers again.
After the excitement of the journey to the subway, the ride to Xidan shopping district passed quickly. I found the bookstore and went straight to mecca: the huge basement of first-edition English language books. An hour was spent happily browsing the wares, immersing myself in the language I've started to forget. It was reassuring to discover I could still understand my native language now that I speak, think and dream in Chinese- which, incidentally, is supposed to be a sign that you are now fluent. Here's
On my way home, I remembered I was out of peanut butter (another of my foreign vices) and so made a stop at the Lotus supercenter near the Wudaokou subway station. That was my first mistake.
For some reason, the Lotus is always unnaturally hot and humid-- as if the management is interested in saving the sweat pools that must surely remain after the customers go home for the night. I headed straight for the 'sauce' section (as the English translation stated), found peanut butter, paid for it, and attempted to make a break for it.
That was mistake number two.
In all honesty, trying to quickly exit the Lotus was a rookie mistake. For one thing, I don't exactly blend in with the crowd, thus rendering me more noticeable and, apparently, an easy target. Second, any time you attempt to exit a shopping area with more than a dawdling speed, you are sure to be stopped by a bored employee eager to escape the dullness of their job by attempting to engage you in conversation. That is what happened to me.
As I was striding towards the exit, I was suddenly yanked
back by the arm by a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young woman jabbering at me in rapid-fire Chinese. Although I was flattered that she wasn't dumbing down her Chinese for me or attempting broken English, her question sounded like this to me: "We just opened a new $%#%@ and we need you to &%*&%*#(* in order to &*#&%*#(%#. What do you !$#*%?".
I took out my earphones to attempt to understand her better. Ah, that was the problem. Apparently a new spa had just opened, and in order to advertise and give the employees more experience, they were offering free facials that afternoon. Was I interested? Actually, I was not. All I wanted to do was make it home through the pouring rain, change my clothes, and watch some Chinese TV. I didn't want to stay in the stifling hot Lotus Center, having my face rubbed by someone I didn't know and make idle conversation. However, unfortunately for me, I didn't get a say in the matter. She dragged me back into a tiny maze of elaborate hallways, and by the time we reached my room, I was so disoriented, I couldn't have made a break for it if I'd tried.
I decided to seize the opportunity to practice my Chinese and get a free facial, something I'd never done before. The young woman bid me take off my shoes, lie down and relax while I waited for my facialist. At that point, I was already sweating profusely. The thought of lying down in a tiny, stuffy room, on a bed that some other poor, sweating soul had just vacated didn't really appeal to me, but I didn't see another option. I lay down, cringing inwardly. The hostess came back and, to my utter dismay, draped a heavy blanket over me. I had never been so uncomfortable in my entire life.
Next, my facialist arrived. She immediately wiped my face with nice, cool, wet cloths, which felt great. However, for the next hour, she slathered layer after layer of greasy, oily lotions and creams all over my face, digging into my eyeballs and smearing lotion into my hair. A giggling group of unoccupied facialists had trouped into the tiny deathtrap of a room by then, and were standing in a circle around me. Apparently, having a foreigner as one of their first customers was quite a sensation.
The facialist was talking to me in overly loud, excited tones. She kept repeating how dry my skin was, how bad it was, how I should definitely buy the 2,000 RMB membership so she could help me fix it. I wasn't buying anything. I just wanted to peel myself off the bed and go home. I politely told her I'd think about it. She replied that I had to get it that day to receive the discount (2,000 RMB was a discount??). Suddenly, I was bombarded by the gaggle of girls surrounding me, telling me I had to buy this membership. My facialist was menacingly pressing her thumbs against my face, digging into my cheekbones. I didn't know what to do. Finally, I sat up and said "I think we're experiencing a cultural difference. I appreciate the free facial, but I'm not interested in the membership". With as much dignity as I could must, I gathered my shoes and peanut butter and walked out the door.
I must have made quite a spectacle walking home. The heavy lotion was dripping down my face as my clothes clung to my overheated, sweaty body. The rain pounding down felt quite nice by that point. I was hesitant to forgo my umbrella, however, because China really does experience acid rain from time to time.
By the time I got back to my apartment, I had never felt so happy to be home. It was like my own personal heaven. After I'd changed my clothes and washed my face, I felt better. I could actually see an improvement in the softness and complexion of my face, but that wasn't enough to make me want to go back to what I now consider to be hell on earth.
Living in China has brought me experiences I never thought I'd have. Some I'd rather never experience again, but the majority of my time spent living here has been really eye-opening, in a good way. It makes me appreciate what's waiting for me back in the United States. But I also know that there are so many things about China that I will miss once I leave. With only a few more months left in my time here, I'm planning to make the most of it and not miss out on a single day.
Although, I could have done without today.