Luckily, the campus where I’m currently living is surrounded by some lovely places to run – sprawling parks full of pretty pagodas and blossoming cherry trees. The weather lately has been gorgeous – spring-like and sunny (with only a hint of smog!).
Both of these factors have made my new regimen almost, dare I say, enjoyable. (Of course, my legs don’t think so. My legs think this new running thing is stupid. They don’t care about cherry blossoms and sunshine. They would like to spend more time with my couch. My legs also think that they look funny in spandex running pants – which they kind of have a point about, to be honest.)
Another enjoyable factor of my new fitness routine is that it gives me a chance to hang out with the locals. Of course, when I say “hang out with the locals,” I don’t mean I’m actually engaging in conversations or, you know, doing what the locals do. No, by “hang out with the locals,” I mean “run by local people and watch their reaction.” (Isn’t that how you define “hanging out”?)The reactions that I usually get from the local people whom I pass on my running route tend to fall into the following three categories:
a. Totally unperturbed: These people don’t stare or point. They simply walk by me like seeing a white girl huffing and puffing in spandex pants in the park is no big deal. And, maybe, to them it is not a big deal. But it is kind of a big deal to me, so a little bit of fanfare would be nice, okay? I mean, do they even know what time I had to wake up to go running? It was, like, 6:00 AM – in the morning! Did you even know the world was alive at that hour? I certainly didn’t.
b. Totally supportive: These people wave and smile. Sometimes they even shout out a friendly nihao. Should they be a gang of construction workers driving by, they may whistle, slow down their vehicle and yell enthusiastically in my direction. I’m not exactly sure what they’re saying, but I’m certain it’s something like, “You go, girl! We appreciate strong, powerful women such as yourself. May your running path be smooth, and your iPod battery be constantly charged.” (Or they could just be saying stuff about my ass… either way, I feel their overall intent is one of encouragement.)
c. Totally freaked out: These people stop and stare. They look as baffled by the sight of me running as my legs feel by the act of me running. Should I try to smile at these people to prove to them that I am, in fact, human and not, say, a sign of the pending apocalypse, they will only look more confused. Should they be riding bicycles or motor vehicles of some sort, they may accidentally swerve and almost run me over.
The last reaction is definitely the most frequent. Admittedly, I am something of a spectacle. In the last few weeks that I’ve been running, I’ve only seen a handful of other joggers. There are plenty of people walking or riding bicycles, but running doesn’t seem that popular in my neck of the woods. Plus, there aren’t a whole bunch of foreigners where I live, either. And, well, there is the issue of my spandex pants.
This reaction should really bother me.
After all, who likes to feel like a freak?
Well, funny you should ask.
Because… I do.
Yep, that’s right.
My name is Sally.
I am a freak.
And I like it.Of course, I haven’t always felt this way.
Like most people, I spent most of my younger years doing everything I could to blend in. I tried to wear the right clothes – even if those clothes were never meant for a girl of my, ahem, stature. (Let’s just say stirrup pants were never a good look for me… or, arguably, anyone… but especially me.) I joined sports teams despite having no hand-eye coordination. When my friends talked about grown-up, adult things like dating or alcohol or MTV, I had to pretend to know what they were talking about. If I had to answer a question in front of class or talk to boys, I would blush so violently that most people thought I had some kind of skin condition.
So what’s the difference between then and now? Why am I fine with standing out when back then I only wanted to blend in? How have I become comfortable in my own skin? (Skin which, I’m proud to say, has been almost blush-free for twenty years! Nowadays, I only blush if I happen to be drinking red wine… or, ahem, talking to boys. Okay, so maybe I’m not completely cured.)
Well, funny you should ask.
I got advice, people.
That’s right. Follow these tips and you, too, can embrace your inner weirdo. Are you ready to get freaky? (Don’t answer that.)
Tip 1: Be born that wayThis will probably require a time machine.
Sadly, should you live in China, you are out of luck. China recently banned time travel. Yep, that’s right. First, it was Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. Now, it’s time travel. China bans all the fun stuff! What next, China? Cookies? Puppies? Unicorns? (Just you try, China. Unicorns won’t let a little thing like a ban get in their way! Heck, they’ve been extinct for years ever since that little Noah’s Ark mix-up, and that hasn’t stopped them!)
You see, the best way to come to terms with your Inner Weirdo early is to simply be born weird. But, seeing as you’ve probably already been born, you’ll have to go back in time to mess things up — maybe give yourself a tail or an extra ear.
Lucky for me, I was a freak from the get-go! You see, I was born a triplet. Do you know what the statistical odds are of that kind of thing? Do you? Because I don’t. But I’m willing to guess it’s crazy unlikely. (And, yes, “crazy unlikely” is a term used by statisticians everywhere.)
After thirty-five years of explaining to people that you were born a triplet, you get used to people staring at you like you’re a freak of nature. Because, well, you are a freak of nature.
Tip 2: TeachI’ve taught hundreds of students over the last twelve years.
I’ve had many great students – well-mannered, bright, intelligent, inquisitive, respectful and hard-working students.
Yet, honestly, it’s the freaks that I remember the most.
In a good way, of course.
There was the girl who wore Little House on the Prairie dresses to class while all the other girls showed up in mini-skirts. There was the guy who arrived to class one morning with a blue Mohawk and a tattoo of an eyeball on his leg. And, possibly my favorite was the one who performed a puppet show when he was supposed to be giving an argumentative speech.
These students were maybe not the most popular or even the best students in the class, but they were, definitely, the most memorable ones. They’re also the ones who tend to speak up in class more. They create the most interesting papers and most creative presentations. (I mean, puppets, people! Presentation gold, that is!). They make you laugh, and they make your day enjoyable.
But, most of all, they make you proud to be a fellow freak.
Tip 3: Give that whole fish-out-of-water thing (you know the one where you feel like one of those weird-looking fishes with the tentacle-eyeballs) a few more years.
When I first moved to Asia twelve years ago, I lived in a tiny fishing village in Northern Japan that didn’t have many foreigners. I was stared at all the time. I stopped traffic. Once, I made a child cry.
After a couple months, the novelty of being the town weirdo quickly wore off, and I spent a lot of time feeling hostile and angry. I also spent a lot of time locked in my house watching reruns of Full House. (Hey, don’t judge. It was the only English language television program I had at the time. And, you have to admit, John Stamos is always going to be sexy no matter what context he’s in.)
Now, after more than five years of living in Asia, the staring doesn’t bother me as much. It’s a part of my Asian life – like the language barrier and lack of a decent selection of cheese.
Tip 4: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘emYou know when you were growing up and your mom told you not to stare because it was rude? Remember all those other things your mom told you were rude like snapping your gum and hoarding all the cake and hitting boys? Remember how you still used to do those things even after your mother told you not to? Remember why? Because it was fun, right?
Well, the same goes for staring. Staring is totally fun! You should really try it sometime! (But not if you’re back in the States or somewhere where staring might get you knived. Trust me on this.)
After all, haven’t there been times in your life when you’ve wanted to stare — like really, really wanted to — but you’ve thought, “No, I shouldn’t do that. Staring is rude.”? Well, not in Asia, my friend! Go ahead, stare away! (Just make sure you’re not riding any motor vehicles when you decide to do it.)
Nowadays, I stare all the time. If I see another foreigner that I don’t know in my neighborhood, I stare. If I see someone eating something I’ve never eaten before, I stare. If I see someone wearing a sparkly fashion get-up that appears to be made out of tinfoil and rubber bands, I stare. If I see a block of cheese in the dairy case at my local grocery store, I stare. (And hope that it’s not a mirage).This morning, when I went running, I happened upon a group of teenagers dressed up as anime characters. A crowd had formed around them to gape at their hot pink wigs, Nutcracker-like jackets and French maid dresses.
I stopped for a minute to stare slack-jawed with the rest of the crowd.
I was baffled.
I was confused.
And, frankly, I was a bit miffed. After all, didn’t these kids know that I was the main attraction at this park?