Sunday, April 11, 2010

He Said’s Birthday in Beijing – The Beginning

Posted by She Said

Sporting his new Tommy Bahama shirt that I bargained for in The Silk Market several weeks ago as a birthday present, Greg, the kids, and I headed out for a busy day. Our first stop was Emily’s doctor’s appointment for an ear check up. What a better way of starting your birthday, right? I know, right!? I’m so awesome that way. I was totally thinking “kick ass birthday” when I scheduled her appointment on Greg’s birthday. I’m a great wife that way.

We headed toward the subway for our long trek toward the English speaking clinic in Beijing. It was a very crowded morning on the subway, but we managed to score seats – a huge bonus when it is as busy as it was. Emily was sitting in my lap, and as is par for the course, we received glances, nods, and smiles in her direction. And then something happened that I could neither have prepared myself for emotionally or could have foreseen coming. A young man in his late teens or early twenties headed our way. Looking at him, it was immediately clear to me that he had some sort of mental disability. He smelled atrocious, a mixture of dirt, body odor, and bodily fluids, and his clothes were filthy, which implied to me he was most likely homeless as well.

He stopped right in front of Emily and pointed and smiled. I smiled, believing this young man was just doing what so many others have done with Emily since our arrival – admire. Then like a child acting like a bear, he pulled his hands up toward his face and turned them into claws, as if ready to growl. He thrust his hands and face toward Emily as if to scare her. He didn’t touch her, but he came too damn close. He laughed and pulled back. I looked around to gage people’s response to his actions but received none. I averted my eyes from his gaze, hoping that he would just go away if he saw that we were ignoring him.

Then he did it again and laughed once more. Emily was turning her head into me, so I turned her around in my lap to face me. Greg and I were each searching for a response from someone to help us understand what we could do to make him stop. We didn’t want to get angry with him and rock the communal harmony, and we didn’t want to yell at him and be scorned for doing something considered culturally wrong. I turned away from him, again hoping that he would just go away. Once more this impaired young man lunged toward Emily, and Greg put his arm up in front of us. Finally, he moved on.

Thank god the next stop was ours, and as we got off the subway, we headed in one direction but then stopped to try another (a very common occurrence for us here). As we turned I saw something that made me uncomfortable on so many levels. Two uniformed security guards, maybe police officers, pushed the impaired young man off of the train and into a wall. He started to rise and they pushed him down again.

Immediately I told Greg, “turn around, turn around, turn around!” We quickly headed in the opposite direction. I was the only one who saw this, and for that I am grateful. We got on the escalator to exit the station, and I reacted in way that I can only describe as honest. I cried. It was an emotionally rough experience for me. I didn’t like how the young man had treated Emily at all, but I also didn’t like the way he had been treated. I have no idea how many people he may have bothered on the train, but it was as if security was ready for him when we stopped.

Now that this very uncomfortable experience was behind us, I was grateful we had Emily’s rockin’ doctor’s appointment to look forward to.

1 comment:

  1. Uncomfortable exchanges on public transit is one of the things I miss least about Boston. For most people, it's every man for himself with the strategy of headphones, reading material, and never make eye contact, much less talk to anyone lest you attract a panhandler, a solicitor, or a mentally impaired person. I don't know how you handle it as a family in a different culture with a different language, though. Scary. Glad the kids didn't see more than they needed to.