John is a pianist and very talented musician. When he found out that I play the piano as well, he was very excited and insisted we play the piano together. The first time we played, I brought along a Nat King Cole songbook, and played some old jazz standards, or as John said, "American jaws." After that, not only did he ask when we could get together to practice English conversation, but he started asking repeatedly when we could play piano together next. Also, every time I see him, he tells me to go to China, where he could get me a really good job as a professor making $10-20,000 a year. You work too hard at the library, he says.
I learned from Katie and now from personal experience that there is not really a word in Chinese for no. Seriously. So my attempts to turn him down gently for after-work meetings, piano rehearsals, and moving to China haven't gone well. At first I say, "Maybe," then "We'll see," then "I don't think so," then "I can't," then "No," and I still think something's lost in translation.
And I feel so guilty that I can't stand it. I'll never forget how frustrated I was when my family and I visited China. I couldn't figure out the currency or the subway system, the ticket machines didn't take credit cards, and the attendant didn't speak English even though he claimed to. It was a nightmare. I can't imagine how frustrated John must be.
Not only do Chinese people never say no, they're also incredibly giving and would do anything for a guest or friend. In Taiwan, one of Katie's friends that we'd only just met bought us dinner, a birthday cake for my mom, and as we were about to leave on the train, she even took the barrette out of hair to give to Katie - they're that eager to give. John took my picture and drew a pencil sketch of me. It was very beautiful - not that I'm beautiful, but the sketch was very good! I'm getting enough Chinese paraphernalia from people I've helped at the library to decorate my office with an Asian theme.
John kept inviting me to go eat Chinese food with him at Lin's Chinese Buffet. I took him to China Town instead. He ordered the food, and we had salted duck and bamboo shoots with a brown sauce. I thought I was pretty open-minded when it came to food, but I could only eat a few bites of that meal. I concentrated on my hot and sour soup. John saw that I liked it and sent for another bowl over my protests. John kept repeating that we should go to Lin's Chinese Buffet. He described the huge room full of good food, to which I said, "No. I do NOT go to Chinese buffets," but he couldn't understand me, so he kept asking, undeterred.
Last week John asked me if I would perform a piano solo at the TTU Chinese Students Association Chinese New Year party. He asked me to play some American jazz. He doesn't take no for an answer, so despite my qualms, I finally agreed to play "Night and Day" by Cole Porter.
He had written down the time for the rehearsal: 1500. I understand the 24-hour clock, so I said "Three o'clock?"
John answered yes, that it was at "One o'clock."
"Oh, ONE o'clock," I repeated.
"Yes, thirteen o'clock."
It was the same routine trying to find out what time the actual performance started. I wasn't entirely sure if it started at six or seven until I saw a formal printed invitation.
Saturday afternoon (at three o'clock) I played my song at the rehearsal. I was pretty nervous because I was one of the only non-Chinese speakers in the whole theater besides the sound and lighting techs, who seemed to be as confused as I was. My heart was pounding because I had no idea what was going on or what I might be asked to do. Sure enough, John asked me to accompany him on a traditional Chinese song he was going to sing. I ended up sightreading the music he had handwritten, and his singing, although good, was not in rhythms, pitches, or words that I could follow, so I was pretty sure this would end in disaster.
At the performance, I told the stagehands to push the piano onto the stage when it was time for John's song, but they either didn't believe me or couldn't understand me. They were late pushing the piano onstage, so John improvised and spoke to the audience in pure Chinese - again, I had no idea what was happening. The stagehands put the piano directly under a vent, so my music was blowing off the stand the entire time. I had to hold the music in place with one hand while playing with the other (see minute 1:48 in the video).
As for my jazz performance, I was the only American in the middle of two hours worth of Chinese performers singing and dancing to traditional Chinese music.
It was COMPLETELY WEIRD that I played my song at that program. I know that the audience was thinking 'What the ?' when I got onstage. I felt like the pianist in this Seinfeld episode.
Mom, Dad, Katie, and Porter attended the performance and confirmed that my inclusion in the program was as out of place as I thought it was. It's not as if I'm some honorary member of the Chinese Student Association, or like I asked if I could perform, but there I was, crashing the party and bringing the coolness level down.
Who's the foreigner here?