We have monthly training days in the consular section, and once every year we have a big offsite training day. This year’s offsite was held in a city park, on a beautiful late spring day.
The training activities were very good, we did a lot of team-building exercises. I personally enjoyed the opportunity to interact more with our Locally Engaged Staff (LES). We work side-by-side with them in the consulate, but we officers are busy with visa adjudications, which the LES can not do. Although we work closely together, I feel like we are not working together. Preschool teachers talk about “parallel play,” in which children at a young age can play in the same room, but they don’t really interact with each other. That’s how I feel like the officers and LES usually work. It’s too bad, because I really like our LES.
So this training day was a chance for me to get to know the LES a little better. They are all delightful people who have been working in the consulate for years, and know many of the procedures better than the officers. They understand the strange quirks of Americans, and don’t seem to judge us for our odd behavior.
Here’s a quick picture of a training session, led by our colleague Ted. Look at this picture carefully. Notice the bike path behind Ted. That bike path is important; I will refer to that bike path in a little bit.
As you can see, we were in a grassy place in the park, but we were in full sight of everyone. Many people who were passing by were curious about this group of Americans and Chinese talking together and doing group activities. Some people stopped and watched us for a while before continuing their walks.
One fellow was very, very curious about us. He wandered right in among us, and started to take picture of the Americans. I have seen this before. White faces are still pretty uncommon in this part of China, and the Chinese people are interested in, and curious about, us. They often want to take pictures of us, or even better, have their picture taken with us. I’ve already shot many selfies with Chinese people in the few weeks that I’ve been here.
This guy was not subtle at all. He walked right up to us, pointed his camera in our faces, and snapped his camera.
People who know me know that I tend to respond to obnoxiousness with obnoxiousness of my own. I pulled out my camera and started to take pictures of him, just as obviously as he was taking pictures of us.
He saw me taking his picture, and boldly started photographing me as I was photographing him. We created a photographic Mexican standoff with our cameras:
Right about then it happened. Before I tell you what “it” is, I have to tell you a few things about bikers in China. Some people like to carry radios in their backpacks when they ride bikes, and play music as they ride. Older men like to sing songs from Chinese opera as they ride. I think they are showing off when they do it, trying to attract attention.
Now picture this: an old man riding a ten-speed bike, singing Chinese opera at the top of his voice. Strange, but not unusual for China. Now picture him riding past a group of Americans, noticing them, and turning to gawk at them. He wants them to notice him, so he sings a little louder, and watches the Americans to see if they notice him. While he is singing and watching, he is also pedaling his bike, but he isn’t looking where he is going.
Crash! The singing suddenly stops.
The old man, not looking where he was going, crashed his bike into another old man’s bike. That other old man that he collided with also wasn’t looking where he was going, because, hey look, there’s a group of Americans over there!
We caused a traffic accident, just for being white.
It was the best training day ever.