I haven’t seen a rat that big since I lived in Chicago. It was scruffy, looking like it had better days, huddled next to great wall of soy sauce in my favorite local store.
That’s when universal phrase for “I just saw a rat!” came flying out of my mouth:
A group of young female employees came over to see what I was screaming about. They too, got on their tippy-toes and squealed, pressing their lean bodies against the wall.
Still, the rat didn’t move, not even when an older lady with the face of raisin tried shooing it away.
Finally, a curious toddler came to check out the commotion. He squatted on his haunches, getting right up into the rat’s furry face and let out a shriek before his mother dragged him away.
It’s not that I haven’t seen rats in stores before. The Treasure Island in Chicago had more rats in their wine section than bottles of Merlot. It’s usually because if a child shrieks in a store—it’s because that child saw me.
It goes like this and I mean like, every day. There will be a toddler clinging onto his mother’s legs while she is sorting thru fresh eggs, flicking off pieces of straw.
Then suddenly, the toddler’s eyes drift from the cement size bags of rice to me. His almond eyes bug out into black cherries as he seeks cover behind his mom, poking out occasionally to see if I’m still there. Then. I’ll squat low, smile, give him a Romper Room wave and say, “Ni hao, ma?”
He’ll pop out one more time, this time a little agitated that I’m still there, waving his booger finger at me, hoping I’ll leave. But when I don’t, the kid will let out that Psycho shriek, one that gets the attention of his mother, every shopper and even the security guard taking a cigarette break.
So why do the kids shriek?
The little ones have never seen a platinum haired měi-guó rén before. So, they think I’m a ghost.
I’m not a ghost, kid. But I have introduced myself as, “Wǒ jiào Beetlejuice,” on more than one occasion.
I wish I had a set of vampire teeth to pop in my mouth and really make kids crazy.
Or take lessons from my first graders on how to make my eyes roll back into my head. They do this every time I say, “Get out your books!”
The mother usually finds it funny as does the cashier. But if the toddler is still wearing split pants, there’s a fifty-fifty chance he’ll leave a piddle right there.
Which is my cue to leave.
So sorry, the mother apologizes. “Son never see white woman before.”
“No problem,” I smile. Then I tell her in Chinese that either her son is cute or if pronounced wrong, that he looks like dog.
“Hello, How are you?” I ask.
“And what’s your name?”
“Very good English!” I say.
Then he gives me a bootleg Pokemon card as thank-you gift.
And yes, he’s wearing a smart watch. China has marketed them towards kids, as a protection against child-snatchers and as a wearable “panic button” in case the kid gets lost or sees an American.