November 17, 2012
My friends and I learned this lesson the hard way while visiting Shanghai last weekend. We were in search of the Urban Planning Museum, which is right by Renmin Square. While passing through, we noticed a lot of tents and posters set up in one area, with a large group of middle-aged and elderly Chinese people mingling about.
My friend realized what was going on immediately after entering the park, but it was my first time seeing this in person. Every Chinese city has at least one park where, on weekends, parents will go network in order to secure dates for their sons and daughters. I kid you not. The reasoning is that once young people enter the working world, there is not as much opportunity to meet people. In my opinion, the government-enforced retirement age of 65 has a lot to do with it…these parents have a lot of free time on their hands. Oh, and the flyers that we saw? They were singles' advertisements! They listed interests, occupation, age, and height. Some even included salary!
A man noticed us gawking, and started explaining how it worked. While that was happening, a woman began talking to my other friend. Upon hearing foreigners with passable Chinese language skills, a few more people stopped by and joined the conversation. A mere ten minutes later, my friends and I were surrounded by no less than TWENTY Chinese people!
I had to explain multiple times that we had wandered in the park on accident, and that we weren't looking for dates. After loudly and clearly stating that I already had a boyfriend back in America, one sweet, old Chinese man pointed and my bag and said, "Girls switch purses, don't they? Might as well switch boyfriends! Better yet, have several!"
One woman asked me about a million times if I understood what she was saying, because she just couldn't comprehend foreigners having decent Mandarin skills. I get the feeling most foreigners in Shanghai don’t really bother to learn Chinese. Three other people made a point of telling me that they had grandsons working or attending school in America. Then they all started commenting on our appearances! We were all told how pretty we were, I was told that I looked European, and one man kept insisting that I looked Asian. For the record, there is zero Asian ancestry in my blood. He was either blind or else meant it is a compliment, in which case I’ll take it.
Eventually, my friends and I not-so-gracefully extricated ourselves from the ten simultaneous conversations, and with a friendly wave and a “Very nice to meet you," we fled! Don’t misunderstand; these people were all wonderfully nice. But talking with more than two people in Chinese can be overwhelming, let alone twenty. From now on if I enter any park in China, I will do so very, very cautiously!
Major / Minor: Chinese / Studio Art
Activities: Model UN, Student Assembly
Favorite pastimes: Glen runs (especially in the fall!), Diner B, splurging on way too many Cafe Opus cookies and chai tea lattes and intramural basketball, usually found at the gym or the art studio
Hometown: Prospect, Ky.
High School: Kentucky Country Day High School