Making Friends

Meeting new people after college is hard. I am slowly starting to find my place in the beautiful crazy mess that is Shanghai and I’m lucky to have both roommates and co-workers who I love spending time with, but it’s meeting people with whom I don’t share an apartment or a work office six days of the week (did I mention I work Saturdays?) that is proving to be difficult. How do you meet people in real life? Online-dating? (too cliché) Saying ‘hi’ to a random person on the street? (I tried that, but I think it’s too American) Salsa nights? (only if I’m trying to meet 50-year old Columbians)  Singles nights? (but what if I just want to mingle?).

And so I’m still trying to figure that part out. I went to an alumni mixer on Thursday, but felt a little alienated by the 40-something alums and the 80% of the room that spoke only in Mandarin (and yes, I shouldn’t be complaining because I am in China). When I’ve tried to meet people in other ways, they tend to shut down a little when I tell them where I went to college. I am considering starting to lie, just because of how infuriating it has been. Yes, I am a geek, I like fixing computers and thinking of Spock sets my heart aflutter, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all you should talk to me about. Stop asking me if I’ve heard about your college or if Yale was hard. Yes, it was hard, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t about the classes. It was about the people. It was about Sundays on Cross Campus, drinking beers on the Elmhurst fire escape, or 2am heart-to-hearts at Ivy Noodle. It was about meeting people who no longer felt the need to define themselves by their accomplishments (and had a penchant for naked parties, but that is another story for another day). And while the topic of college inevitably comes up when you’re in your early 20s and try to make contact with someone new, it has been a little frustrating to be judged by the four blue letters on my diploma.

So yeah, finding sincere people to hang out with is a little hard. But when it does happen, it’s been quite wonderful. In the course of the past week, meeting new people has taken me on some crazy adventures:

  • Accidentally walking into a semi-professional porno shoot (in a public apartment building, no less)
  • Being wined and dined in a four-star French Restaurant by someone who owned the entire six-floor waterfront property the restaurant was located in.
  • Cracking open and sucking the meat out of cicadas (vegetarianism be damned).
  • Getting a $5 massage at 11pm on a Thursday night (there is no way to make this not sound sketchy, but I swear it wasn’t)

On Thursday night, during the aforementioned mixer, I met three guys who knew a mutual friend. Less than an hour after meeting, they asked me if I wanted to get massages. Now, my only experience with massages in Shanghai were that they were:

  1. really cheap
  2. potentially quite sketchy, if the stories about girls coming up to every guy and promising them a ‘massagy’ were true.

It was 10:30pm on a Thursday night, but what do you know, apparently the thing to do in China that late at night is for a group of people to get massages together. Maybe it’s because all of us don’t really get out of work until 7pm, by which time the 95ºF heat with 90% humidity is completely overbearing, or because I was craving any sort of a distraction from editing college essays, but a massage that late began to sound like a good idea. And so I said yes, even though I had known the people who invited me for about an hour. A short subway ride and a walk through an alleyway, where a horde of rats (or were they ferrets?) dispersed as four rambunctious foreigners made their way through, and we were in a massage parlour that smelled of cheap cigarettes and the belly sweat of middle-aged Chinese men. For the next hour, the four of us (still in our business-casual work clothes naturally) got our backs, neck, arms, and face (yes, apparently they do face massages) thoroughly kneaded and pounded by a horde of Chinese women. And it came out to 30 kuai each (that’s less than $5!). These are the sorts of things in Shanghai that I am slowly started to get used to.

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