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Monday, February 2, 2009

Don't Go There

The sun shines brightly and feels warm, a nice respite from the cold damp air. I close my eyes to feel the warmth when I hear a voice. “Do you speak English?” asks one of two girls smiling at me. Why yes, I do. We chat for 10min. They are charming and I get up to walk with them. They are about to rob me.

I’m sitting in People’s Square, a vast expanse of people watching, a huge metro station with 10 (or more?) exits. I’m waiting for a friend to show me around, be my guide to some local attractions. There is shopping everywhere. Just an incredible amount of stores and merchandise, one cannot exit a metro station without walking through a mall. My friend is late, but I’m enjoying the spectacle. It’s Sunday afternoon, I’m done apartment hunting for the day, time to finally relax a little and explore my new city. It’s nice to just sit and be.

Living in a big city, one gets used to constant barage of selling. But nothing like this. I guess I’m a target, a foreigner, a lone foreigner. Shopping trip? Watches? DVDs? Bags? Hawkers abound. In a brief walk around People’s Square, I became an expert at saying ‘No’. I find a place where there seems to be fewer of them…but much sun. And sit down to enjoy the light and heat on a crisp winter day, watching people go about their lives. My eyes are closed, but I can sense someone approaching. I prepare my ‘No.’ but open my eyes and am pleasantly surprised.

Two cute, smiling faces asking me to speak with them. They are not selling. They are English students and would like to practice English, would I mind to speak with them for a few minutes? I would not mind at all. Speaking English here is one of the few things that I can do well. Makes me feel momentarily competent. And they are friendly, charming. But they have to leave, could I walk with them for a little bit longer? Why yes, of course I would like that.

They are college seniors, they walk fast. They are full of energy and its wonderful to think this city is full of such people. It’s sunny. Happy. We walk through another mall. All smiles, harmless flirting. We are in shadow now. We come to a stop in front of a Tea House and there are three people waiting for us, expectantly. Something is wrong. I don’t want to go in. I say I have to leave and they look lost, not sure what to do. I hurriedly walk away before they can charm me. I have escaped. Undamaged, but changed.

Other expats were not so lucky. Going into the tea house is nothing sinister, it’s as banal as a simple swindle. $200-$300 for a pot of cheap tea. Don’t go there.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, just a few dollars short of a cup of coffee in Paris!