Shanghai rush hour. My conviction that I absolutely cannot study without flashcards brought me on a ‘compulsory’ trip to the stationary district. As I dreamily stepped out of the metro and on the escalator, picturing the cute little items I was bound to purchase in my new favorite shop, I felt a tug on my sleeve. I turn around. “Hello!” said a normal looking Asian man with a huge grin on his face. Thinking this was perhaps the only English word he knew, I replied with a shy “nihao” and glanced back towards the top of the rolling steps.
Before I could return to my day-dreaming, however, he took a hold of my hand and shook it. “I am Korean!” Now confident, I look up and declare that I’m Dutch, one of the few phrases I’ve learned how to perfect in Chinese. His grin expanded. “You look like my teacher!” He didn’t let go of my hand. “You’re so white, you look like Snow White!” It took me a second to remember that while us Europeans associate paleness with sickness and thus spend thousands on sunbeds and fake-tan (yes, I’m largely talking about what I witnessed at an English university) or better yet, sun-filled holidays in which you ‘forget’ to put on sunscreen and thus accidentally burn and hope your red-lobster look will turn into a golden-goddess color (let’s face it: we’ve all been there) being pasty is desirable in China. Accepting complements here is a big no-no, and thus I stuttered in-between forced giggles that I was definitely not a Disney-princess look-alike.
If I thought he would let go of my hand once we reached the top of the escalator, I was mistaken. I slowly withdrew mine from his sweaty palm under the pretext of getting out my metro card. The man chatted happily on in broken English about being a dancer, and that I look like a dancer and should be his new teacher. By now convinced that this encounter is perhaps getting a little bit strange, and catching a faint whiff of alcohol, I hurried through the growing crowd of people pushing to swipe their card and leave. Grinning-Korean-man followed me through the exit-portal. I stood in front of the exit-map, having temporarily forgotten which of the 4 tunnels to take to my safe-haven, my beloved stationary shop. He asked if he could take a photo of me, Snow White. Mumbling a faint ‘no’, I gave a small nervous smile to my new ‘student’ to say goodbye. He grabs my hand and leans in. Stupefied, I stood stock-still as he planted 3 kisses on my cheeks. And no, not normal pecks, but 3 big, wet smacks.
I’ve never been good in uncomfortable situations. My brain needed a minute to process what had just happened. Kissing strangers does not happen in China. In fact, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t even happen in my famously open-minded home-country. Unsure that what I had just experienced had actually really happened, me and my stunned face walked away in a confused daze.
It’s safe to say that what I thought would be a pleasant day browsing shelves of notebooks and flashcards turned into the strangest thing that has happened to me since moving to Shanghai. But hey, it’s not everyday that you get called the “fairest of them all”!