Acts of Violence

Act 1.  Returning from lunch at the student cafeteria yesterday, a guy stopped my on the stairs and asked, very politely, if he could talk with me.  Nothing unusual in that; it’s nearly a daily occurrence, as students of English want to show off their skills.

I’ll call this guy Frank — because he was. Without many niceties help to titrate one another’s English, Frank got right to his issues: What were my attitudes towards gays and lesbians?  Were these — my tolerant stands — typical of America?  How did it come to be that American culture has come to be so accepting of gays (relative to Chinese culture, was his context)?  I invited Frank to walk along to the bank with me and back, realizing that this was my first conversation ever with a Chinese on the subject of homosexuality.

“Closeted” scarcely describes Frank’s situation.  He has admitted to no one at Hubei University (nor previously at this high school) his orientation; says there is no such thing as a gay-lesbian group here; fears total derision and ostracism if it became known; felt safe only talking to me since I am a foreigner.  He has had the guts to divulge his sexual awareness to his parents, who seem sympathetic — though, if my linguistic extrapolations are correct, sympathetic in the way they might be if he told them he had terminal colon cancer.

“Sometimes I felt the only option was to commit suicide.”  My alarm bells were quieted somewhat as he assured me this was his state of mind in high school.  As a student of international law, he feels more confident now, and hopes to parlay his legal education into a ticket to some more hospitable country.

We exchanged mobile numbers.  I raised the issue later with a third-year, fairly enlightened psychcology major.  She gave me contact information for a campus psychological counseling service.  God-knows what they might prescribe.  I passed the info on to Frank a day later, over lunch.  He folded the slip carefully into his wallet, expressed his gratitude, but with a tinge of skepticism.

I hurriedly assured him that I had been totally discrete.  And the conversation moved to his growing up in Urumqi with a Uighur father and Chinese mother…

Act 2.  I had worked fairly late into the evening, well past closing time for the student cafeteria, and so headed for a little cafe in the quarter across from the university campus, among whose virtues was to serve a passable cup of espresso.

By 9:30 I had returned across “Friendship Boulevard” and was sauntering along the sidewalk, parallel to the fence, towards the West Gate entrance to campus. Cries caught my attention, and I looked to see a guy dragging a girl, literally kicking and screaming, by one arm along the adjacent bicycle path towards me. Her light summer clothing surely offered no protection against abrasion by the concrete pavement.

It was not an isolated spot.  They were coming from the West Gate, whose uniformed guards (I wonder whom they guard from what) were unaware or unconcerned, though scarcely 100 feet away.  A bus stop with at least a dozen people waiting was closer at hand.  There were others, like me, strolling in the cool evening air.  If any one noticed, it was only transitorily.  Not a voice of admonition; not a gesture of intervention.  Just a wailing women being dragged by on the pavement.

I intervened. My Chinese is poor at best, and worse under duress, but “help me” must have come through.  No one stirred.  I accosted the man, startled, he let go of the girl, who ran towards the gate, as I restrained her assailant.  He wiggled loose of my grasp and pursued her, nailing her to the campus fence.  I followed, pinned him to the fence, providing a second chance for her to flee.  “Run, quick!”

I was stronger than he, but slower on my feet.  “Not your business, not your business”, he cursed at me.  I don’t suppose he understood by explanation why it was my business. He managed to struggle loose again and caught up with the girl in the middle of the boulevard, where her progress had been blocked by the median fence. I weighed the risks in braving the stream of ruthless Chinese drivers, and having a further encounter in the middle of Friendship Boulevard.  But rationalized that the risks were too great and the violence of the altercation seemed to have subsided. They walked down the median strip; I followed in parallel, then turned into the campus gate.

Everyone else just went about their business.  No cheers, no boos.  In Atlanta I probably would have been knifed or shot.

One Response to “Acts of Violence”

  1. Judy in Atlanta says:

    What an exciting series of events!! Scares me to imagine it.

    I must speak in defense of Atlanta. I doubt onlookers here , nor cops, would have been indifferent. They might not have physically engaged w the guy, but at the very least, they’d have called 911.

    Unless you mean knifed or shot by the perpetrator?? We in Georgia have the right to bear arms in bars, parks, on public transportation….

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