If anyone’s been eagerly waiting for me to update since last summer, they have the patience of a…census fanatic? It took me a while to think of something that doesn’t get updated often. Oh! The patience of Donald Trump’s hairstylist? Are people still making Donald Trump jokes?
But I digress. I don’t have a good reason for not posting on here for the last couple of months, other than I’ve just been really, really busy. Also, I’ve finally begun reading the Harry Potter series (because I always like to stay one step ahead of pop culture) and that J.K. Rowling lady sure liked to write. So there. I haven’t been writing because I’ve been reading. Tah-dah.
Two things happened recently that have led me back here, however. The first is I’ve acquired a stalker. Just writing that makes me feel strange, because I’m still not entirely sure if he is a certified stalker, and also because I’m not Jody Foster.
It started a couple of months ago, when I was walking out of the metro station by my house, listening to my headphones and generally minding my own business. I was just about to reach the escalator to the street when a pudgy white guy came up from behind me, stuck his phone in my face and took a picture. Startled, I took an ear bud out and asked him if he needed something.
Potential Stalker: No.
Me: Then why did you just take my picture?
Potential Stalker: I didn’t take your picture.
Me: Yes, you did.
Potential Stalker: F*ck you.
At which point he started walking in the other direction. Now, had this guy been Chinese and not just dropped an F bomb in my face, I might have shrugged it off and resumed my podcast. As a tall, bald and very white foreigner living in Asia, I’ve had my fair share of pictures taken without my permission, which I assume are blown up, framed and hung in classy living-rooms throughout the region, providing hours of dinner-party fodder. “We saw this guy in Shanghai. Look at the eyebrows on him. Not a single hair on his head though. Let’s discuss.”
But he wasn’t Asian, I wasn’t standing in a tourist spot and his eyebrows rivaled Andy Rooney’s. There was also just something off about the situation, and I quickly found myself screaming at him across the metro station as he disappeared in the crowd, “Hey! What’s wrong with you?! You can’t just take pictures of people!” Which of course he just proved he could.
And I thought that was that. A couple of weeks went by and I had almost forgotten about him when he popped up again, shoving his phone in my face and snapping a picture of me as we were passing each other on the escalators in the same metro station. Once more, I was reduced to looking like the crazy person, hollering after him but unable to move because I live in a country where people don’t understand that the left side of the escalator is for passing, no matter how loudly I sigh on their necks in protest.
Again, I knew it was strange and slightly alarming, so I spent a couple of weeks looking over my shoulder and taking different exit routes from my home metro station, wary of anyone with a camera phone, which is pretty much everyone above the age of five. The thing that got to me was I had no idea what he was doing with the pictures. Was I posted somewhere online? With what caption? Was he taking the pictures for someone else? And regardless, they couldn’t have been very flattering because no one looks good in the metro station’s fluorescent lighting. Not even Jody Foster.
And then I went back to my normal routine, because I couldn’t let the terrorists win. Or something. But sure enough, about a month later he reemerged, however this time he was at the metro station by my work and I was on the phone with my mother, who is probably the last person you want to have hear your altercation with a potential stalker before hanging up abruptly.
Luckily, my coworker happened to be on the platform to witness the whole thing and was able to confirm that I wasn’t going crazy. This time I had a chance to interact with him – although I was too rattled to think to take his picture, which would have been the most productive use of my time. I learned he’s Italian (as deduced by a strong accent), continually denies taking any pictures of me (his exact words, “You haven’t seen them published anywhere, have you?”) and said he would only show me his phone if the police made him. To which I didn’t have much of a comeback other than “Oh I WILL be calling the police!” which was an empty threat because after a year of living here, I discovered I still didn’t know what number to call in an emergency.
And then, because there wasn’t much of an alternative, we got on the train and I headed home, feeling entirely freaked out and helpless. The next day I went to the police station with my Chinese coworker and security guard from my school – who refers to me simply as “Monkey” and I think just tagged along for the walk – where I was told that because we were both foreigners, there wasn’t really anything they could do. Awesome. This was followed up by a phone call with the U.S. Embassy, where the lady on the other end told me that although the situation sounded “really scary,” she couldn’t really do anything, either. Which I already knew; I didn’t think I’d be admitted to the witness protection program or followed around by a SWAT team, but I had to do something, right?
During all of this, our downstairs neighbor has been knocking on our door roughly once a week registering a new complaint – can we walk quieter? Can we turn our heater off, as it’s making noise in her apartment? Could we not do jumping jacks in the living room at 7:00 in the morning? Over the last three months, we’ve acquiesced to all of her requests; we’ve taken our shoes off, we’ve turned our music down, we bought a space heater, and we stopped attempting to follow a workout video in our living room. Fine. But when she banged on our door telling us water was leaking into her apartment two days ago, we couldn’t exactly not shower for the duration of the lease, so we agreed to call our landlord with the issue.
When he arrived to inspect the situation a day later, he quickly looked around the apartment, saw there was no water in our place, and told us flatly that she is a crazy person. (Turns out the sign language for crazy person is universal – the finger-circle-by-the-ear gesture accompanied by rolling eyes.) He instructed us that if she knocks on our door one more time, we should call the police, and then repeated the emergency number three times to make his point: 110.
I’m not sure what exactly the police would do with a crazy neighbor complaint, but as it’s been just over a month since I last saw my potential stalker, if he’s consistent (and proper stalkers are nothing if not consistent, right?) he should be resurfacing any day now. Part of me is hoping both the crazy neighbor and the stalker show up at our doorstep at the same time, so they can just fight it out between themselves until the cops show up. In the meantime, at least now I know what number to call.