On the Train

Recently I found myself standing on a train seat, singing a song in Chinese. Many of the other passengers had formed a circle around me, cheering me on and helping me sing.

This sounds more glamorous than it was.

It began with simple conversation. I was talking to others around me after they realized I could speak Chinese (I smiled at the right places during their conversation). We discussed the main 3 questions: Where are you from? What are you doing here? What do you think of this place?

All was usual of a train ride. I was poised to do what was necessary to promote harmony; I wore my Chinese skin. Carts rolled by with shouts of "水果,水果!“ (Fruit, fruit!) and the people who failed to purchase tickets early stood in the aisles with forlorn expressions.

The commotion began as a song.

People stood up to see. Others walked over. A crowd began to gather.

I remained in my seat and began to read my book. This will pass, I thought.

As more time passed however, the songs grew louder and more insistent. Chants rose from the animated passengers, ”再来一个!“ or, "Once more!" Curiosity turned into a conversation with myself, "I might as well find out what's going on, maybe I can learn something."

I stood up and turned around. Halfway down the car, where the revelers passed their train ride in good fun, a pair of eyes met my own. It was too late to sit down. That person had whispered to another, and so on, until all eyes were on me and everyone was yelling, ”过来,过来吧!“ (Come on over!), and suddenly I found myself standing in a circle of 20 Chinese College students and young adults, calling for a song. Despite my best efforts to convince them that I couldn't sing (this is true), they managed to learn that I knew a Chinese song (this is only partly true). And after much encouragement and coaxing, I found them ignoring my terrible voice, ignoring my wretched pronunciation, ignoring the forgotten words in the song, and, actually, singing along with me. I was an instant ”外国朋友“ (translates as "foreign friend," but I'd like to say "rock star").

By suffering the small embarrassment of my singing, I bought my way into watching that of so many others as they were cajoled, no, bullied to sing or dance or both, to the great entertainment of all.

It was one of the shortest train rides ever.

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