Monday, August 4, 2008

All for a Smile

If you wanna go and take a ride wit me…Oh why do I feel this way, hey it must be…
Nelly, Ride Wit Me.

Love, sex and marriage were the subject matter this week (i.e. 7/7/08) in Chinese class. And thanks to a coterie of flirtatious French girls that had just arrived on campus for a brief stay, the in-class material quickly became an extra-curricular affair. The flipside of discussing Chinese relationships in class and dodging French entanglements on the side was that there was little time left to get into any trouble with any of the American girls on my program. Note I said little and not none, though in my defense none of what follows quite passes the level of fun and games into murkier territory.

The French girls pounced immediately. I was waiting to enter the cafeteria one day when a few of them started garbling something in a mix of French with the occasional Chinese pronoun thrown in for good measure. As I would soon discover, they spoke little to no English and none of them could carry a conversation past “ni hao” in Chinese. What that says about the arrogance or ineptitude of the French educational institutions I will leave for you to surmise. But I will leave you with the thought that your average urban Chinese student’s much maligned English skills are far superior to anything that emerged from the mouths of my posse of female French admirers.

Nothing would have come of their interest and my curiosity on that fateful lunch-line were it not for the fortuitous arrival of a Mexican classmate, whose French skills quickly deciphered their request for me to join them later in the day for a longer conversation. A few nights later that conversation eventually became a reality, though considering I only spoke in Chinese and they stuck with French, I am not sure how much was communicated over the course of our forty minute back and forth. We did reach a conclusion of sorts, agreeing to meet up on Saturday night to together hit up the Beijing night scene.

Back in the classroom, we put aside our textbooks at the end of the week for an in-class discussion with several Chinese college students on the complexities of the local dating scene. Chinese, or perhaps university, law prohibits college student from tying the knot before they graduate. Although I am curious how prevalent birth control and abortion are on campuses, we never quite hit the steamier material. Instead they shared parental pressures to marry and produce that one precious grandchild (if both parents are single children, however, by law they are actually permitted two kids), the ideal physical attributes they look for in the opposite sex, and most memorably, the order and purpose of the first, second and subsequent dates. Their collective wisdom is that depending on the budget, food or a walk in the park is de rigueur first date material, if you are a guy you aim for the movie date as soon as possible (with little regard to whatever is playing on screen), and no matter what, you wait until there’s a spark before hitting up KTV (karaoke) with your special friend. When the subject turned to what American guys look for in a girl, none of my classmates would venture an opinion so I shared that it all starts with the smile and the sparkle in their eyes—though you won’t necessarily notice those characteristics highlighted on the cover of most guy mags back in the USA.

I had my own run with a remarkable smile earlier in the week. Those wiser than myself have advised that one should stay away from dangers, especially really attractive ones with blond hair and a really pretty smile. I would not be in ZhongGuo (China) if I had taken such advice completely to heart. And I would certainly not have found myself asking the prettiest girl on our program for the use of her cellphone charger at the start of the week. It hardly needs to be said that my stated reason for knocking on her door—the loss of my own charger—was a transparent excuse to come by her room each night for the rest of the program. Our friendship has quickly moved past the point of sharing a single cellphone charger, though nothing has come to pass that I had not expected or that would put be in problematic territory on the Jewishy side of things. So why flirt with the unknown? Mostly because friendship is too valuable to completely set aside for a summer, even if it is restricted for want of language abilities. And also because my friend has a delightful smile, and after a long and blustery day of pursuing fluid, black Chinese characters across the expanse of my mind, there is a lot to be said for exchanging a cellphone charger with a beautiful blond with a delightful smile.

As to my night out with the French? The short version is that it was inspired by a friend in Mexico and concluded with thoughts of a friend up in Wash Heights. For the rest of the story, contact me directly, eh?