You’re Too Fat for Everything

Our story of obesity begins in a “medical clinic” in Shanghai’s city center. I and about 20 other teachers who are new to the faculty of this innovative international school have been bused down to get another medical check although we each had one done in whichever country we were residing when we accepted this post in order to obtain the month-long visa that would get us into China. But, we are told that the Chinese trust no medical reports but their own and so…

Off we go to this “clinic.”

It all happens quickly. The human resources manager is directing each of us quickly to the reception desk where we hand over our passport, get a number, fill out a form and then get handed a robe that we are told is “one size fits all.” I am skeptical when I go into the changing room and actually open the robe. Will the entirety of both of my breasts fit into the confines of this cotton? I share my concerns with the tiny little lady standing outside the changing room who is quite aggressively trying to quickly get me out the room and onto a scale.

“Uhm…yeah…Miss…this robe is too small.”

“No,” she quickly responds. “It is one size fit all.”

I look at the robe and then at my breasts. Look at the little lady. Then back at my breasts. I eye the robe one more time. “Mam, I am sure there is a robe that is one size fits all, but I don’t think it is this one.”

“Just put on robe.”

I do as I am told and proceed to walk out the room and flash my new colleagues.

The little lady rushes up to me saying something like, “It is all out. It is all out. I will help you.” As she tries to refashion the ties on the robe, I tell her that I have the breasts of a black woman from the American South and they cannot be forced into this handkerchief with string. The little lady is not a quitter; she is quite diligent. She works this robe around my impressive bosom and somehow manages to make me modest without a large piece of duct tape around the northern region of my body.

Once I get on the scale, two sets of eyes widen in shock. Mine and the little lady’s. I am thinking to myself, “Oh shit…look at me dropping these pounds like it’s nothing. Getting all sexy without sending folk a note of warning first.” The little lady’s widened eyes register something a bit different. They seem to be wondering why the numbers keep getting higher and then when they settle why I am doing a mini-twerk on the scale instead of crying.

Once we leave the medical clinic, where all of us were hoarded from room to room to get poked and prodded by gruff people who may or may not have been doctors, we are told we will be taken to look at electric scooters with the chance to purchase. “The nearest subway station is only a 10-minute scooter ride away from school…on a good traffic day,” one of the teachers on the welcoming committee informs us. “But, in general, it is a good idea to have a scooter if you don’t live in the city center because suburban life is suburban life no matter the country, ya know.”

I spot my scooter immediately. It is a cute little red number with a black basket and more importantly, a seat that can encompass a black girl’s booty. I plant my flag on this scooter by sitting on it and threatening the other teachers with, “Listen, if any of y’all sneak and buy this one, I know where you work and I can easily find out where you live.” I am just imagining myself scooting through Songjiang with fresh produce in my basket, honking at bad drivers and spouting out the few cuss words I plan on learning in Mandarin next week.

The owner of the scooter shop calls over the Chinese co-worker who is our translator on this trip. She turns away from me and says lots of words that I don’t understand to my co-worker. My co-worker uses much less words when she turns to me and says, “Uhm…she wants to know if you are sure you want this one?” She pauses and tries to find more words. “Like, will you be comfortable with this seat?”

I wiggle on the seat again and chuckle that my ass is not spilling off even a little bit and it is better than most seats on the bikes in most spin classes in New York City. She sees that I don’t get it. And for some reason, the owner of the shop who cannot speak a lick of English sees I don’t get it either. So, she turns away from me again and says more words to my co-worker, complete with hand gestures and pauses and attempts to find the right words.

“She thinks if you get this one, the ride will not be stable and you will just be back to get one of those bikes over there.”

Still clueless, I innocently ask, “Why wouldn’t the ride be stable?”

Finally, my co-worker cannot find anymore words and whispers, “Body size does matter.”

And then it hits me, this shop owner has been trying to say, “Get yo fat ass off this scooter that is not designed for an American body because if you buy it and then it breaks, you gon come waltzing your ass back up in here complaining like you Americans always do, wanting me to give you another bike that is better for your big ass…like this one over here I have been trying to direct you to for the last 30 minutes.”

I am tickled to death that there has been an entire lengthy conversation about how to deal with the problem of my obesity, particularly since I fail to even realize I am obese, given I honestly don’t see how this bike is too small. I am even allowed to take my scooter out for a test run, where it becomes clear to me and the other fat ass American who was eyeing a blue one of the same model that we are planning to buy a scooter that is really meant for a prepubescent girl.

When I return from my wobbly ride around the parking lot, I say to the shop keeper, “Yeah, I need a bigger one, don’t I?” She nods enthusiastically. She looks a little relieved that she did not have to tell me I was fat as she may have had to tell a non-Asian person this in the past and it did not go very well.

I am going to end with the beginning of another story that I am confident you can finish on your own.

Yesterday, I went to get a massage. I was led into a nicely decorated private room with a cup of tea and handed a spa uniform of shorts and a top.

“You put this on and then knock on door when done.”

I looked at the uniform and then at my body and then at the nice little man who had directed me into this nice little room.

11 Responses

  1. I love your sense of humor about it all. Humor is the only way. Welcome to China! I’m still too nervous to get a scooter her in Ningbo (Beilun district) but some day. Ride on!

    • Yes, the whole entire time I’ve been here I have found the experiences comical to say the least. Particularly, the ones with these tiny little people trying to dress me. Anywho, I can not *not* have a scooter. I am out here in Songjiang, the burbs, it is so much easier getting places in the ‘hood on this scooter, Bruh.

  2. I am moving to Malaysia Monday. I am glad I read this before I left. I wont feel offended when these things happen to me.

    • Yeah, getting offended won’t help. Luckily, I love my body and am confident in who I am. If you’re not, the scenes I share in this post could definitely be a bit hard on the ego. Enjoy Malaysia!

  3. Thanks for sharing, we’re currently in Qingdao and we had tons of questions too.. reading your journey has opened our eyes..WHOA CHINA!

  4. Oh Keturah! That was priceless. Good luck on your continuing journey. I didn’t know you were heading for China. I thought you were re-locating in Africa. Obviously, I missed a few beats along the way. This was a wonderful piece of reporting and writing. I could just hear your voice.

    • I thought I’d be relocating to West Africa, too. But, ya know…life. Glad you enjoyed this post.

  5. LOL! All of this is classic Keturah. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t handle it all as well. lol. Carry on!

  6. This is so funny!
    I had similar experiences with body size and type when I lived in Cuba. I was called, “gorda,” and “gordita” so many times I got used to it. I am not going to lie though, it did cut me a bit the first few times it happened. What made things worse was that I had lost 17lbs while I was there and was thinner than I had been in my entire adult life.

    • That scale in the “medical clinic” put me at 20 pounds lighter than when I stepped on a scale months ago in Rwanda (oddly enough to get a medical exam for the initial visa into China). So, yeah…either the numbers mean something different here than they do every where else or…fat just starts earlier on the scale than in other places. I am going to go with the latter and not the former…lol

  7. Oh Keturah…..that was hilarious
    …Thats what I say ISKR miss all your classic jokes….Enjoy your new work place…..God bless!!!

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