When my friend was finally able to drag me out of my little room and into the swimming pool for some well-needed exercise last week, it turned out to be a surprising experience.
I was sore all over the next day, not only from the sudden unwarranted exertion I put my body through, but also from a rather pervasive intrusion of my privacy.
At the pool and almost everywhere else, people usually minded their business and went about as if they were the only ones alive in this world. Unless you do something out of the ordinary, like doing slow-motion aerobic exercises in the middle of the lane or swim like you’ve never been in water before, no one cares to even acknowledges your existence. This is just fine by me. I mind my own business and people mind theirs. I was perfectly content with that setup.
Unfortunately, I forgot I am in China. Even uttering the slightest English word turns heads. Being Chinese only in name and appearance, my mandarin was woefully inadequate to carry a long, meaningful conversation with my friend, let along know all the vocabulary necessary to teach her how to do freestyle. So, I used my characteristic Chin-english to communicate with her at the pool and that apparently, got the attention of one nosy swimmer.
At the end of my 20 laps, I looked around for my friend so I can collect her and exit the pool to do some communal showering together in the changing room. Standing at the end of the lane, with my neck stretched out and my eyes roaming over all the swimming bodies, a guy suddenly jumped in beside me in the lane and said in Chinese, “you’re face is red.”
“Yes, it tends to happen when I exercise.” I responded in a friendly manner.
“So are you an ABC?” he continued. For those of you who might not have been in contact with this abbreviation, it stands for American-born-Chinese.
“No, not really.”
“Oh, I heard you speak English.”
“Yeah, I was born here but immigrated at a young age.”
Alright, small talk. I don’t mind.
“So I saw you doing freestyle.”
“Your arm strokes are not quite in the correct positions.”
To say the least, I was slightly taken aback.
“Really?” Was all I could muster.
“Yes, you see your elbow needs to be like this instead of what you are doing.” He began demonstrating it to me. I was getting increasingly uncomfortable, and extending my neck further to try and show him I was rather busy, looking for my friend. I even uttered inbetween our short conversation about where my friend suddenly disappeared off to.
He kept on instructing me. Then, he told me extend my arm out like I would mid-stroke. Taking my arm, he demonstrated on me how I should move it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being touched by strangers unless it’s for a handshake. In this scenario, it’s even more uncomfortable than usual because I was exposed all over, except for the areas covered by my swimsuit.
I laughed nervously and nodded as he continued his impromptu lesson on me.
“Yeah, I also saw your backstroke as well.”
How long have this guy been observing me?! I was getting sufficiently creeped out. It’s not a crime to look at someone at the pool, but still, I felt my privacy being invaded.
“And why do you wear two pieces of swimsuit?” He even had the audacity to ask that.
So, being the passive-aggressive, conflict-averse person that I am, I kept moving away from him, pretending I was going into the other lanes to search for my friend. By that time I had realized my friend was no longer in the pool, thus, she couldn’t unintentionally help me get out of this situation.
“So, where did you immigrate to?” He asked.
“Oh I thought you went to America.” Well, dear sir, technically Canada is part of the Americas. But I can see you are disappointed with my un-American-ness, so I won’t point that out, to further your disappointment.
“Well, I’m going to do another lane.”
And with that, he was off. And I was finally released from the awkwardness and invasiveness of it all. I ran off to the changing room the second he kicked off from the wall.
Being from a country where privacy is guarded with gates, votes and the occasionally angry accusation, this was way out of my comfort zone. Plus, I was quite offended that he didn’t quite like the fact that I was Canadian rather than from the land of the American dream. Let’s hope the next time I head to the pool, he won’t be there to further his observations.
China, never a dull (or private for that matter) moment!