Thursday, April 13, 2006

Excuse Me, Sir.

Yesterday my teachers announced that our schedules were going to be changed for today. Instead of our normal 10 minute break in the first class, we were going straight through (8.30 - 9.50). After that class, we would have a 20 minute break, then attend our next class. Our next class would conclude at 12, instead of the usual 12.30. None of them were really sure why we were having the schedule change.

The first class today was a little agonizing. I realized that I really need that 10 minute break to bring myself back to sanity during class. During the 20 minute break, everyone I talked to was a little loopy. That break flew by quickly, and I arrived to my next class in the process of my teacher calling attendance. I knew I was late because no one was in the hallway. She didn't seem too mad about it, though, and she started class as usual.

I was unclear as to whether or not we were getting a break in the second class, but our teacher gave us one anyway around 11.00. I was the only person to get up and go outside. As I walked through the door, I saw that there was a huge group of people in black suits in my way. I politely walked through them, nodding and slightly bowing the entire time. I noticed that there were people with cameras (still and video) and microphones. I had no idea what was going on, but I'm not one to stand and gawk.

I proceeded to the stairs nearest my classroom. There I met with a worker in pink, guarding the door. "Excuse me, please use the stairway down the hall. You're not allowed to use this one." I gave her a weird look, but conceded. I've had weirder things happen to me in China, I really wanted to have time to get water, and so I didn't argue with her. I proceeeded to the next stairway.

There I was met with two workers in pink. "Where are you going?" one asked. "I'm going downstairs."

"To do what?"

"Um, to buy water."

"You can't take this stairway. Go down the hall."

At this point, I started to get a little irritated. I knew that the reason I couldn't take these two stairways had something to do with the people in the suits, but it was ridiculous nevertheless. This was the only day the workers were working, too. Nevertheless, I was very thirsty, so I headed further down the hallway.

Halfway to the next stairwell, I was met by an official-looking woman from my school. "Where are you going?" she asked. "I'm going downstairs. I want water. I am very, very thirsty. Which stairwell am I allowed to take?"

"The one furthest down the hall."

I thanked her for the information and walked the rest of the way down the hallway. I went downstairs, purchased water, and then stood overlooking the empty rest area. "Why is no one on break right now?" I wondered. I started to wonder if my teacher didn't really intend to let us go, and that I had misheard her; so, I went back upstairs via the stairway furthest from my classroom.

On my way back to the classroom, walking past the two-worker station I mentioned above, the last woman who interrogated me stopped me. "Where are you going? You're not allowed to be up here."

"Um, I'm..."

"Are you going back to class?"


"What room are you in?" she asked gruffly.

"Um... Eight hundred... eight hundred... two," I said, struggling in Chinese because I was getting nervous.

"Alright, hurry along."

Well, excuse me, crazy lady. You saw me come from class. I can't help that your memory is failing you. I headed back toward me classroom, and thus back toward the hoard of suits.

I reached the group of people, and started politely maneuvering my way through them again. All of the sudden, a man walked out of the classroom neighboring mine, and almost straight into me. We both stopped abruptly before running into each other. "Sorry," I said, bowing slightly and looking at the ground. I nodded in apology to the other people, and made my way to my class. In those few seconds, though, I realized that the man who nearly plowed into me looked a little familiar. I had no idea why. I think that alot about people, though, so I disregarded it.

When I got back into my classroom, I asked if anyone knew why all those people were out there. The Singporean woman who sits next to me in class said, "Oh, it's a delegation from Singapore. The former Prime Minister of Singapore is here."

And then I realized who the man was. I had seen pictures of him in my Government and Business in East Asia course with Professor Kennedy. It was the former Prime Minister of Singapore.

Only in China, I say. This place is so surreal sometimes.


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