Emily, the Awkward Turtle

I just taught one of my Chinese students the meaning of “awkward turtle,” a phrase my college friends commonly used to break moments of, well, awkwardness. Then last night, I realized that I am an awkward turtle.

When I was living in Brooklyn, I went out more often than not. I loved going to bars by myself; who knows who you might meet in this wild world? I was a social butterfly! I talked to everyone; the bartenders (I love bartenders), men, women, the underage, war veterans, the elderly… it was the best of times. Since I moved to Beijing, however, I’ve been spending my weekdays exhausted at work and weekends with my parents. Sporadically I’ll go out with Dingding (my only friend–I don’t know what I’d do without her), but she’s always busy (with her boyfriend), and I can’t depend on others all the time. I need to make friends! I crave entertainment (aside from WordPress)! So, I looked online and found a show to go to by my lonesome. Actually, I was quite excited because I thought it would be a great chance to get myself out there and make some new friends!

Boy am I naive.

I went to a bar called D-22 to see an indie rock band from Shanghai–Boys Climbing Ropes–which consists of three tall Canadian men and one little Chinese vocalist who they call Little Punk. She was AWESOME. They were awesome.

While I was sitting at the bar slurping down my whisky ginger waiting for the opening band, Me Too, to start,

I noticed a very studly foreign lad looking my way. Sure I threw him a few glances, but I got tired of doing that and was too nervous to walk over so I opened up an issue of Timeout Beijing, which got me to the show in the first place. While I was reading and pretending I was totally independent and cool and didn’t need any friends, Studly Lad came over and fiddled around with the drink menu on the bar. I thought I would just raise my head ever so slightly to perhaps make eye contact, but instead–I don’t know what came over me–I blurted out “HELLO!” like an overeager beaver. The bartender had also just come over to offer him a drink. Studly Lad became flustered, looked back and forth between me and the bartender and walked away. I wanted to sink back into my hard shell and never come out to face this harsh world ever again.

No, this is not Studly Lad. But close.

And this wasn’t even the first Emily, the Awkward Turtle moment of the night. This incident occurred after my encounter with an American who worked at the bar. Though this conversation wasn’t as awkward as the Studly Lad one, I noticed that while I was “conversing” I had trouble thinking of things to say or even words to express what I wanted to say. When the American introduced me to one of the band members of Boys Climbing Ropes, I said, “Oh wow! Good luck!” to which they responded with chuckling. Do you say “good luck” in that kind of situation?  I can’t remember! Was I supposed to say, “Have a far out show!” or “You guys are awesome (even though I have never heard of you before). Can I have your autograph?”

Anyway, I got over my Studly Lad tragedy and hoped things would improve as the night progressed and I had more to drink. When the music started playing, I wanted so much to dance my brains out as I used to do, but I was too shy. So, I just bopped my head to the beat of X is Y in the corner.

Here and there I made small talk with Chinese girls, too intimidated to approach English-speaking foreigners. And when Boys Climbing Ropes came on stage, I was front and center and even jumped up and down to their heavy beats. They even dedicated a song to me–Socially Awkward. But as soon as the show ended, I walked straight out that door–no goodbyes, no telephone numbers, and no new friends– without looking back except to take a photo to remember the place where I changed forms.

What has come over me? And what am I afraid of, you might ask?

Well, here are my theories as to why I have traded my wings for a hard shell:

1) I have been living with and hanging out with my parents too long. Besides Dingding, I don’t socialize with people my age.

2) My opportunities of speaking English are limited and I am forgetting it orally, as was the case with my Chinese.

3) I felt awkward to begin with because I showed up at a bar alone (even though it used to be a favorite sport of mine).

4) I am currently facing an identity crisis which I shall elaborate on in another post.

Whatever the reason, I have forgotten the art of socializing and I desperately want it back. That night was a kick in the butt I’ve been needing to get my groove back. It might take a while, but I am determined to make friends while I’m here, because life just ain’t worth livin’ if friends aren’t in it.

Anyway, less talkin’, more walkin’. Wish me luck (this is a more appropriate situation to wish someone luck, right?)!


10 Comments on “Emily, the Awkward Turtle”

  1. mooselicker says:

    Hahaha I’ve had nights like that before. Go out to a bar by myself sure that I’ll meet a cute girl and instead I end up talking to a tow truck driver for 4 hours. He did buy me a drink though and I didn’t have to touch him.

    I wish I had some advice for you, but I am as socially awkward as you. If I’m with a group of people I can usually come off real cool. Unfortunately I rarely go out in groups. Go out enough and maybe something will happen. Right on with the eye contact thing! I know if a girl looked at me and was obviously smiling I’d go over and at least give her a shot.

    Good luck! (it’s okay to say that, you’re not a band)

    • E. He says:

      I would’ve chatted it up with a homeless man/woman all night long, but of course that would require courage to strike up conversation in the first place and then communication skills to keep up the conversation. Alas, there were no homeless people at the bar…I’m going to keep trying though. Thanks for the luck! I need it.

  2. Colette says:

    Hey Mei-Mei
    I haven’t been able to read your blog as often as I would like but, I do have something to say about your groove! Girl, just be yourself, you are a good person to be like! I would suggest giving them some of that, “Brooklyn Favor!”
    😉 ting!

    • Emily He says:

      Thanks for the advice, Coco! I will be sure to contact Margarita because any friend of yours is bound to be AWESOME! I’m gonna get that groove thang back no matter how dark the bags under my eyes will get (though that might prevent me from making friends, too)!

  3. Colette says:

    P.S. friend Margarita on facebook, she will show you a good time.

  4. Shiv says:

    Awwwww well let me assure you I can relate to this big time! Since I’ve been in Japan I’ve been losing my vocabulary and my…ease. I think it has something to do with the rigid nature of social interaction here. At the beginning I was so afraid of being ride or messing up that it stifled me big time. Lately I’ve been meeting lots of super cool Japanese folks though, who don’t conform to the norms here. And that helps a lot! Not surprisingly some of them are bartenders/bar owners/musicians. You just have to find your niche.

    • Emily He says:

      That’s great that you’re meeting cool locals! I think a big problem for me is that I haven’t had the chance to meet more people my age who are into the same things as I am. Overworking is a major factor to my setback, but I’m determined to do something about this because I (used to be) a naturally social person. It’s just that I have no idea how to communicate with foreigners anymore. Whenever I speak English, I become tongue-tied.

      Oy, I’m gonna quit my yappin’ and do something about it.

  5. […] could speak English), but they don’t see the bond with me because outwardly I appear Chinese. The one time I actually was approached by someone, I startled him and he ran off. My newly acquired inability/obvious discomfort/awkwardness in socializing with strangers makes the […]

  6. […] We are all chatting having a grand ol’ time until May decides to set me up with one of her friends. John, the Taiwanese fella, lives nearby, so she calls him up and he comes on over. Black button up shirt, black slacks, a shoulder bag. Meh, not my style, but not terrible. He says hello cheerily to all the others and looks at me like he knows what May was stewing. I give him an awkward, overly friendly wave, he sits down and begins chatting away with Frank and May. Fine with me! Then May nudges me and asks me why I’m not talking to John, who’s sitting just a few seats away, putting me in a very awkward situation. Well because he’s sitting there waving his hands and fingers all over town like a valley girl, not looking at me ever, WHICH I AM FINE WITH, and to be honest, he’s not very interesting. Did I forget to mention that I’m not into Asians? “Oh, he’s really nice. I’m just really awkward.” […]

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