Da Yang called me, as had become his nightly habit, and I related the whole experience. Da Yang sounded concerned, but I didn’t think much of it. Mr. Ego called me a few more times, doing nothing more than breathing on the other end. I got tired of his games and stopped answering. Pan observed the whole drama with interest.
The next day after practice Er Yang and Da Yang took me to see Hongkou park. It’s right near Er Yang’s house and apparently very famous. We went and observed Luo shan’s tomb, the artificial mountain, the gardens and the English club. The foreign language institute is also nearby and many Chinese people came to the park on weekends to practice their English. The Yangs left me at the mercy of a crowd of enthusiastic English students, only to save me when a few of the young men looked too interested in the pretty young foreigner.
We went to lunch at a small noodle place. I’m not much of a noodle fan and eat much slower than them. When they had finished inhaling their steaming bowls and I was still picking at mine, they dropped the bomb. Both of them looked at me very seriously. Da Yang, being the chatty one, was the first to speak.
“Yin Mu, we consider you to be like a daughter to us.”
Really? I got that warm fuzzy feeling when someone says something especially nice to you.
“I related your story about that young man at dinner the other day to Er Yang. We think you need to be more careful. There are a lot of men interested in you and you need to learn how to turn them down gracefully.
Say that you have a boyfriend.”
“But I don’t have a boyfriend,” I shot back automatically.
Er Yang rolled his eyes.
“Yin Mu, don’t tell everyone that. Just tell them you have a boyfriend back in the U.S.”
“Exactly,” interjected Da Yang. “You should lie to them and tell them you have a boyfriend back in the ‘states. That way they won’t try to pursue you and you won’t have any more trouble.”
I’m not very good at lying, but they seemed to have my best interests at heart. I vowed to try my best.
As it turned out I got a chance sooner than I imagined. When my father and I were in Vietnam we had met a man who bought goods from Vietnam to sell in China. He was from the Shanghai area. At the time, I had so much trouble understanding his southern accent that we had to communicate mostly by writing. He had said he wanted English lessons and given me his phone number. Not suspecting a thing I had called him when I got my cell phone and given him the number.
Now here he was on the phone three months later. I suddenly felt suspicious of his motives and mid-conversation dropped a line about my boyfriend. I wasn’t subtle. I think it went something like this
“Yep, I’m doing well. Family is doing well. And my boyfriend, he is doing well too.”
“You have a boyfriend?” He exclaimed, sounding clearly startled
“Yes, back in the ‘states.”
“Does he like you?” Suspicion laced his voice.
“I like you.” He declared.
This was the first time outside of a soap opera I’d ever heard a guy say ‘wo xihuan ni’. I suspected this was the romantic kind of liking.
“That’s nice. Me and my boyfriend are really serious.”
“Are you sure? Maybe he doesn’t really like you.”
“Oh he does, we’re engaged actually. Yeah, we’re planning to get married soon. I’m really crazy about him.”
“I have to go, zai jian.”
And that was the last I ever heard of him.
There was also another fellow I met in the apartment complex my second week in Shanghai. He had seen me staring intently at some old guys playing Chinese chess. He had offered to teach me when he had time, but couldn’t for a few months, because his wife was heavily pregnant. We did the phone number waltz and he rang me up months later wanting to teach me. By that point I had already gotten Wister, Xiao Zhang and Da Yang to teach me. I was always up for new partners, but the warning bells were ringing.
“My wife had the baby. Now she and the child have moved out to her folk’s home, so I’m all by myself here. Do you want to come over and learn chess?”
“Ok, but I don’t think it is proper for a young lady to be over at a man’s house unchaperoned. You can come here when my roommate is around.” I quickly replied.
I even asked Pan when she would be around, but in the end this guy dropped off the face of the earth too. I can only assume playing chess wouldn’t be fun for him if he didn’t have the prospect of sex at the end of it.
I used AIM daily to talk with my friends in the ‘states. I saw them more online than I would have if I was in the U.S., because of the time difference. My friend Sayaka, from college, told me to watch out on my trip to Japan, because the place was famous for perverts. Worse than China? I’m not sure I could deal with that, so I started making plans to cross dress the whole time.
I found a store selling cheap cargo pants down the street. They had a large cardboard box full of different sizes, colors and styles. I rooted through it looking for anything that would fit me. The clerk was most unhelpful and made it exceedingly difficult for me to even purchase them, once I did find a couple of comfortably fitting dun colored pairs.
“You can’t buy those! Those are boy pants! You’re a girl.” She told me, arms folded over meager chest, eyes disapproving.
Really? Fancy that. “But I want these pants. How much are they?”
“They will be too big on you, you can’t buy them.”
Yeah, yeah, I’d buy a belt. “How much are they?”
She sighed. “40 kuai, but they won’t look good on you at all. You are thin, you should wear something that shows off your nice legs.”
No thanks! Like I didn’t have enough trouble as was wearing clothes that men couldn’t see my legs in…
I was going to be in Japan for about ten days, my plans were to go to Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara. The pants would come in handy for making me look androgynous. Tokyo was added in mostly as an after thought. My Kendo/Iaido teacher back in the ‘state’s father lived in the Tokyo area. I really wanted another Iaido lesson. I’d met the man twice. He had a strong aura and a warm personality. My teacher, Kensaku, said that his dad would be happy to see me. The other reason for me to stop in Tokyo was this internet pen pal I had acquired over the last couple months. Uncle Noah, in his usual matchmaking fashion, had tried to set me up with this Jewish guy who was spending the year in Japan. Neither of us was interested in a cyber romance, though open to the possibility that something might work out in person. I loved corresponding with him. He was extremely opinionated and had many of the same interests as me like chess, Budo, imagination games, SF, history and arguing.
My roommate Pan had a hay day joking that we were writing love letters to each other. I told her she was welcome to read our correspondence and I believe she was disappointed to see we simply debated for three pages about the efficacy of Iaido as self defense and what was the strongest part of the book Ender’s Game. My friend Rikki even wrote me a sketchy e-mail just so I could leave it up on the computer and Pan could make up steamy fantasies about my correspondence. I couldn’t wait to leave. I wanted to get a change of scene and hopefully stop getting sick. I expected that Japan would fit the bill.