One of the most bizarre things to happen to me in China was a few months after I first moved here. As you can tell from the title, I went on a date…but I DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS GOING TO BE A DATE.
How do you not know? Well normally you talk to someone and there’s like a clear invitation, some obvious clues you’re going to go on a date together, right?
That didn’t really happen here. Let me back up a little.
I was living in Hengyang, a smaller city in the Hunan province. There were few foreigners living there, so we always caused quite a stir when we walked out and about. People would stare, take photos, and more often than not ask us for our Wechats and English lessons.
I was walking home from the grocery store one night down a particularly dark alley in the university apartment area when I hear a voice in the darkness say “Hi!”
I jump, totally startled.
The voice says, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to scare you. Are you a new foreign teacher?”
I squint in the darkness and try to make out the shadow speaking to me. He’s Chinese, of course, wearing glasses, and a little shorter than me. I was surprised he was speaking in English – quite good English, in fact. People don’t normally stop you on the street in Hengyang and speak English to you.
I tell him I am a foreign teacher new to Hengyang and we have a conversation about the university. He tells me he knew one of the foreign teachers who used to teach here because he’s a doctor at the hospital nearby that’s affiliated with the university. He’s also interested in improving his English conversational skills.
He asked if I wanted to meet to help him practice his English the next day. He mentions something about meeting near the university and just hanging out in a milk tea shop – very casual, right?
“Cool, see you tomorrow,” he says. “Oh yeah, by the way, I’m Davy.”
The next day Davy messages me and tells me he will be come by at 7p.m. And sure enough at 7 p.m. he calls me and says he’s outside.
I go down to meet him. He’s standing outside the apartment building, hanging backwards a little. He sees me and his face brightens, but he also shuffles nervously.
“Hello,” he says, handing me a bag. “I got you a gift… it’s chocolate.”
“Oh, that’s so nice,” I say back. That is nice. Who doesn’t like chocolate?
They were these cute little piggy chocolates.
I take the chocolate and we start walking. I head past the parking lot, but he stops me.
“Wait,” he says. “This is our driver.” He motions to a man standing outside a car smoking a cigarette. Wait, what? A driver? “He’s just going to drive us around tonight.” Drive us around where?
“Okay,” I say, but this is all a little strange coming from someone you just met. But Chinese people are very friendly and welcoming. Maybe this is normal. Maybe he always has a driver.
Then he reaches inside the car and pulls out a giant bouquet of flowers.
He has chocolates, flowers, and a driver. Do I say thank you and get in the car? Do I ask more questions? Are we on a date? Is asking for English lessons a kind of pick up line?
I play it cool, because I am nothing but cool, and I get in the car. I figured he seems nice enough, and I know Hengyang isn’t too big. If I feel weird I’ll call a friend or shout out the window or jump out of the car or something. People will notice a foreign girl yelling.
We talk a little as the driver takes us to the new part of Hengyang that was recently built. Davy tells me he was born in the year of the tiger, and I know my youngest sister was also born in the year of the tiger.
I try a joke. (These can be difficult to successfully pull off, because some jokes and sarcasm don’t translate well.) “Wait, are you a 17 year old doctor?”
He stares at me, shocked. “That’s crazy, Rachel. You cannot be a seventeen year old doctor in China. Does this happen in America?”
I laugh “No way,” and then he thinks for a second, and he gets it and laughs too.
Awkward moment past, his driver parks the car and we we walk around a park, and he tells me he and the driver went to high school together. So are they friends? Or did he just hire a former classmate? The driver walks with us, which is nice and makes me feel a little like we’re famous and he’s our bodyguard. He used to be a policeman, and now he works for the government directing anti-drug programs.
China has this fantastic trend going on with older ladies where they go to the park, set up loud speakers, and do choreographed dances together at nighttime. It’s called Square Dancing (Or in Chinese, Guangchang Wu). They’re such active and cute little ladies! It’s one of my favorite things about China.
We see some ladies dancing near us and watch them for awhile, and I try another joke with Davy. “Let’s join them!” He laughs in this typical Davy laugh I’ve gotten used to, a little awkward, but genuine. “No way.”
“Come on,” I say and walk over to the ladies. I really thought it would be funny to try, but didn’t realize until later this is not something Chinese guys normally do. Like, at all.
But Davy was a good sport and followed me and we joined the little ladies in their dancing – we walked around in a circle following a funny, upbeat Chinese pop song. It was actually really difficult because the leader of the circle would randomly change from lady to lady and it was a constant guessing game.
After the dancing we sat at a table and the three of us talked for awhile. Davy kept giving the driver a hard time about a nurse Davy tried to set him up with at the hospital, which led to a conversation about dating and relationships.
At this point I still wasn’t sure what this evening (or the flowers or chocolate or driver) was about, but I decided to take the opportunity to clear the air a little bit about not wanting to date right now.
“I just moved here to China,” I said, “So I’m happy just to learn about China and try things. By myself. Alone.”
“Okay,” he said, smiling.
They dropped me back off at my apartment soon afterwards – I had classes to teach in the morning, and Davy of course would have a lot of work at the hospital the next day.
I walked inside with my flowers and chocolates, feeling pretty good about how the evening went. It probably wasn’t a date after all, right? Davy was friendly and easy to talk to, and it was nice to have another friend to ask all my China questions to.
Fifteen minutes later Davy called me. “Do you want to accompany me to my friend’s wedding next weekend?”
And I laughed, confused all over again. A wedding? Is that a date, too? We just met!
Honestly looking back I think Davy was just a really nice guy who was excited to meet a foreigner and wanted to be hospitable and welcoming. Davy and I stayed in contact the next two years – no, we didn’t go on a “date” again 😉 Hengyang is small, and we had mutual friends. I even taught a short English course to some doctors at the hospital he worked at, and he would pop in from time to time to help with the English activities.
I’m glad I went along for the night and had the experience with him! I actually went on a real date with another Chinese guy later…but that’s a story for another time.
What do you think? Was it a date? Was he just being nice? Anyone have similar experiences in China?