I’ve always been a bit of a wallflower. I like watching from the sidelines and fading into the back of the crowd. So I am still having a really difficult time adjusting to being the center of attention wherever I go.
It’s silly, but I half hoped that maybe Justin was the one drawing all of the attention because of his red hair. So earlier this week, when I stepped out of the apartment solo for the first time, I was a little surprised to see heads turn as I walked down the street. Some people stare hard without blinking, until I’m completely out of view. Some people try saying a quiet “hello” after I’ve passed them by, just to see if I’ll turn my head. Some people are so shocked at my appearance that they can’t even pretend to play it cool; they point and yell “lao wai!” (“foreigner”) or “Meiguoren!” (“American”) and beckon their friends to come look, or snap a picture on their cell phone to show their friends later. I can’t tell you how many random Chinese people have a picture of me in their cell phone at this point, but it’s probably in the hundreds.
And the paparazzi didn’t even stop when class started. When I stepped into my classroom for the first time, the students were all excitedly talking and laughing, and a sudden hush fell over the room. Some of them spoke a shy, “hello,” and when I said “hello” back to them, they erupted into embarrassed giggles. As I set up my materials for class, I could see students taking pictures of me on their cell phones out of the corner of my eye. One student was bold enough to ask my permission to take my picture, and when I made the mistake of giving her my permission and smiling for the camera, there was pandemonium. Thirty students all simultaneously and frantically shuffled through their bags to find their cell phones, and suddenly cameras were everywhere snapping and flashing! Some people even started moving in to get a closer shot, and then they all started moving in closer, surrounding me, their cameras flashing until I was nearly blind and the facial muscles around my mouth started twitching. I finally had to say, “Enough! Enough! NO more pictures. Please!” They all looked so disappointed, and some even protested by saying, “You are so beautiful! Just one more picture!” I had to get out of it by saying, “Maybe later, after class,” and just hoped that they would forget by then.
Admittedly, I’ve spent countless (shameful) hours watching marathon episodes of America’s Next Top Model, but none of Tyra Banks’ sage advice to her would-be models has prepared me for this situation. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for my new celebrity status. It just seems so absurd that I need to take out-of-the-way routes to class, through bushes and shrubs and alleyways, to avoid my excited followers. It’s ridiculous that I can no longer make it through the day without people telling me that I’m so beautiful and requesting to please take my picture. All of the pointing and giggling and whispering and staring…..it’s just too much!
I once saw a clip of an interview with Justin Bieber in which he claimed to be tired of running into screaming girls wherever he went. He was sick of all of the adoration…he just wished the girls would “act normal.” When I heard him say that, I thought he was just some punk kid who didn’t appreciate all of his success. I hate to say it, but I can understand his viewpoint just a little now. I find myself wishing that these Chinese people would just act normal around us. The other day, a few girls walked up to us (mostly captivated by Justin) and shyly said, “Hello.” Justin looked at them and said, “Hello, how are you?” The girls erupted into giggles and turned away, covering their faces. They had out a camera and had obviously planned on taking Justin’s picture. They were far too shy to ask, but Justin offered, and even put his arm around one of the girls for the picture. She was so happy she was on the verge of tears, and she could not stop giggling! Justin DeAngelis turned Justin Bieber….
Oh well…this weekend we are going to Shanghai, which I have heard is a much more western city (where they are probably more accustomed to seeing foreigners). Maybe we will meet Chinese people there who “act normal” around us, and have a little break from our celebrity status. We’ll see!