The Other Gweilo

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Shenzhen on the eve of the millennium through the weary eyes of a full-figured expat.

Submitted: June 24, 2016

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Submitted: June 24, 2016

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Where ever you go, go with all your heart.” Confucius

They woke her up with their usual military sounding music. She tried, in vain, to go back to sleep. For a minute there she thought she was at home. Then the undeniable surreal reality took hold. It was a rude awakening. “What the hell have I gotten myself into?” had become her mantra.

Finally, she mustered up the mental and physical energy to forcibly extract herself from what felt like a bed made of plywood. She wondered how in the world anyone could find it comfortable enough for sex, let alone sleep! 

Even though she had the day off she wasn’t all that thrilled, as there was nothing to do. It’s like a prison without walls, or being stranded in some other dimension, she mused.

She decided to make the circuitous trek from Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, which she called the Twilight Zone, to Hong Kong. It would entail an hour long bus ride to the Luohu Border Crossing and, despite the recent handover, another hour to get through customs. Then there was the hour or so subway ride into Hong Kong proper. Already she craved familiar American cuisine, English bookstores, and if luck would have it a decent movie in English, or at least subtitles.

This was more than a pleasure visit. The optometrists in Shenzhen were apparently incapable of making her prescription. So for now she had to contend with some glare and blurriness. She would go to Hong Kong and get her glasses made by First World people at a First World price, she thought contemptuously.

She filed past her students in the courtyard doing their morning calisthenics in their Star Trek like uniforms. As she passed the security guard and exited the school she steeled herself for the walk past one of Shenzhen’s ubiquitous construction sites. A buxom 140 pounds, and just over 5”5 in her platform shoes she was an Amazon towering over the Cantonese men. She likened herself to Godzilla trying to take a discreet stroll through the streets of Tokyo, or better yet, Anna Nicole Smith walking through a men’s prison. It didn’t help that she was restricted to wearing tight clothes. At least in Hong Kong boobs weren’t such an anomaly that she felt like an X-rated freak show. Unfortunately, normal size clothing remained elusive.

The construction site teemed with tiny men. The colony defied gravity as it moved gargantuan materials without the aid of a single machine. She could feel their lecherous eyes undressing her as they chatted among themselves. Sometimes they made comments, in Cantonese, directly to her. Since most of them were so little she rarely felt threatened, just humiliated. She fantasized about picking up one of those pesky Lilliputians, like a TV wrestler, and hurling him into the Shenzhen River. 

After running the perv gauntlet she was flushed by the time she made it to the bus stop. Waiting for the rickety old exhaust ridden bus she thought about the previous time: The bus driver stopped the bus, said something to her in Cantonese, then slammed the door in her face and drove off.

She boarded the bus without incident and took a window seat. The bumpy ride and erroneous glasses prescription made reading too difficult. As passengers crowed onto the bus she began to feel even more conspicuous and disconnected. Most of the time they just ignored her. Unable to speak or read the language she envisioned herself as a movie character who floats unseen among the living. After many desperate attempts to communicate she finally realizes she’s dead.

Occasionally, she found herself gawked at. Friends would nudge each other to look at the waigouren (foreigner) or better yet gweilo (foreign devil). Sometimes they laughed and pointed, or got in her face and stared. Probably some illegal migrants from Henan Province that everyone complains about. Han China’s internal low caste, fodder for jokes and scapegoating, she thought to herself smugly.

The bus meandered through an endless array of restaurants and shops. She tried to decipher the signs based on their pictures, but the novelty had mutated into frustration. Most advertised delicacies she found repulsive like dog and snake meat. A sidewalk vendor hawked a tantalizing display of frilly AA bras and skimpy panties. 

To her chagrin she had never felt so unsexy in her life sitting there in her maternity bra and old fogey underpants, the only ones she could find barely big enough to fit. She could feel her snug slacks driving the geriatric drawers into her private space again. What an ensemble! At least I’m not worried about impressing anyone, she though reassuringly as she tried to discretely dig the underwear out.

Her mind wandered back to an incident with a sidewalk clothing vendor: She had perked up at the sight of a beautiful bolero jacket with a frog button closure at the neck. She held her breath as she searched for the tag. Hallelujah! It was an extra large! At last, she thought, here was something dainty she could wear. Excitedly, she slipped it on only to have it get stuck. As she fought delicately to extricate herself a wizened Cantonese man burst out laughing.“Tai xiao, too small! he kept repeating his ancient voice creaking and crackling.Embarrassed, she tried to ignore him and the giggling crowd that had gathered to watch the spectacle.

She heard a man clear his throat. Then she felt an intense pressure as he rudely pinned her against the window. Unsure what exactly was happening she cringed forward trying to escape. The pressure only intensified as her already snug cheongsam style blouse stifled her breathing. He leaned out the open window and spat. She heard something rip and felt a release. It all seemed to happen so quickly she didn’t even have time to shove him off of her. He had disappeared into a sea of black hair. She looked down. The left seam of her blouse was ripped several inches. Thankfully she was wearing a jacket, which she now struggled to zip closed. 

At the next stop a cantankerous middle-age woman holding a screaming toddler boarded the bus. She was barking out what seemed to be orders to a miserable looking young woman, probably her daughter-in-law. Her loud nasally Cantonese had the uncanny semblance of a provincial New Yorker sounding off. 

She noticed the slit in the toddler’s pants: The developing world’s answer to diapers. The brat was menacingly waving a wooden meat skewer, with a few scraps of mystery meat left on it. Xiao huang di (little emperor) she thought angrily to herself, an unwitting byproduct of China’s notorious one-child policy. 

Her blood pressure rose as the woman neared. Then, to her horror the termagant plopped into the seat next to her. Her first impulse was to get up and move. Deciding it would be too inconvenient, she remained in her seat seething as she dodged the meat skewer and tried to block out the buzzsaw of impossible phonemes.

She looked out the window at the abundance of red taxicabs on the road. If she had taken one of them she would already be in the immigration line at Luohu, she fumed. She just didn’t have the energy for an altercation over the gweilo price. So far she had memorized only one phrase: Bie pian wo!, Don’t try to trick me! It only worked part of the time. Tired of haggling she had opted for the bus. 

She was ripped from her angry rumination. Her heart skipped a beat as the bus sped past a department store. There among the Cantonese shoppers was another blonde! Immediately she was overcome with curiosity. She had been certain that she was the only gweilo in the neighborhood.

Her first thought, as disappointment set in, was that the other gweilo was too slender to be an American. She must be from some impoverished Eastern European country. Nonetheless, desperate to make a friend she jumped up struggling against the momentum of the moving bus to get a better view. She pushed past the grumpy granny accidentally stepping on her toe. Assailed by a cacophony of expletives she ran to the exit.

Yaolo engoy she yelled like she had heard other passengers do when they wanted to disembark. The bus came to an abrupt halt. She ricocheted off the door and fell out as it opened. 

As her hands hit the sidewalk, breaking her fall, she recoiled at the sight of a glob of snot on her shoe. Oh well, it offsets the urine on my ankles, she rationalized. She had yet to master the art of the squatty-potty. Quickly she put all gross thoughts aside as she was determined to meet this other gweilo.

Alarmed she noticed her would be alter ego was moving away. She picked up her pace and practically ran into the department store. She thought she was in the children’s department, until she realized that the little dresses and suits were vaguely hourglass shaped. 

Shit! she said to herself as she lost sight of the other gweilo. Confounded, she stood there in a daze. She was startled by a searing pain in her scalp! Instinctively, she turned, and then looked down, to see an equally shocked employee make a gesture of apology and quickly run away. 

Stunned, she was still determined to meet this other gweilo. Squinting through her blurry glasses she scanned the clothing department. She felt an adrenaline rush as she spied the other gweilo in a corner surrounded by employees! She appeared to be falling down. Did she passed out or something? She moved in closer to get a better look. There on the floor she lay, topless with her hair askew! The group of employees was removing her arms and promptly slipped her into a gorgeous cheongsam blouse complemented with a bolero jacket.


© Copyright 2017 D.B. Goodpasture. All rights reserved.

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