Repulse Bay

It’s November. You know, that drizzly gray month where the charm of autumn has waned and the cold is starting to take itself really seriously? I spent part of last Sunday lazing on the beach. We went down to Repulse Bay, a beach towards the southern end of the island with a low wall decorated with brightly-colored cartoon fishes (including one disturbing picture of a fish fishing for other fishes), gravelly sand, and murky ocean bottom. The South China Sea was filled that day with small rusty-hued globules, and I honestly don’t know if they were some kind of pollution or some kind of organism, and I didn’t take any pictures…but I prefer to think it was the latter. Once we swam out past the shallows however, the little blobs dispersed and the water felt great, and the sun came out for a bit… Just a November day in the subtropics. It’ll be getting much colder in the next couple months, so I’m enjoying this while it lasts.

November also means that I’m doing National Novel Writing Month again. I’m well on my way to that 50,000-word novel by 11:59pm on November 30th, 2011. So far I’ve kept on track. The story’s coming along and I’m more than 11,000 words in. It seems to go better when I’m extremely busy with the rest of my life. I use the novel to procrastinate at work, or use work to procrastinate at the novel and so either way I’m being more productive than I would be otherwise. Win-win?

These last couple weeks, and this week especially, have been very teaching-heavy. I’ve got nearly 30 hours of lessons this week with the remaining few hours for lesson planning and my editing duties. But I’m really getting into the groove, I think. Some of my students are wonderful, and I look forward to the hour or two I spend with them a week. More of them are duds, but eh, you win some, you lose some. I’m a better teacher now (as evidence, more students have requested me than my schedule could allow), and hopefully that trend continues.

totally comfy

As for the publishing department, in the last month I’ve sat in on a meeting with a potential new book distributor for our International Baccalaureate series, reviewed the proposal they sent us, finished writing four articles (and editing all the rest) for the magazine out in December, and contributed decisions regarding layout and style. It’s exciting, not just to finally get to do the things I’ve thought I’ve always wanted to do, but to do them and realize that so far, I really, truly enjoy doing those things.

I’m running a hotel this week, it seems–from last Friday to this coming Sunday there’s been and will be a steady string of friends from Shenzhen crashing on my couch. They’re all off for midterms on the mainland, so visits are in order. The couch wouldn’t mind some Michigan bodies on it, either…hint, hint.

Love to all. Be well!


So, I’m going back to the Orient! Not to Shenzhen this time, but to Hong Kong, a world apart from mainland China, where the English language is plentiful, Western food is abundant, toilets are of the sit-down rather than squat variety, and the cost of living is the ninth most expensive in the world. Yikes.

I’ve been offered a job on Hong Kong Island as an English teacher and editor/writer for a learning center in Causeway Bay. I was offered the position mid-June, actually, but arrival in Hong Kong felt so far away that it was difficult to think of the job as a concrete thing. Now with my departure scheduled for swiftly-approaching August 15–a fifteen-hour straight shot from Detroit to Hong Kong–my first “grown-up job” (to me that means: contractual, salaried, full-time, useful, relevant to my interests, absorbing) feels a bit more real. I will be teaching general English, English literature, test prep, and writing to international and Hong Kong students who may want to study abroad somewhere like the UK or USA. I also cannot wait to jump at the opportunity offered to involve myself with the editing department within the company, as an editor and contributor for various English textbooks, and a soon-to-be-launched educational-themed magazine.

For those who have been following along all year, let me reiterate the perks of this new teaching gig specifically as compared to last year’s job: I’ll teach a maximum of six students per session. Six, not sixty. I will not be teaching ESL, since the students already speak fluent or near-fluent English, but instead, literature and writing. Or, as my brain keeps saying, “Books! I’m gonna talk about books all day!” These students will likely be motivated and hard-working, but even if they weren’t, with so few of them to keep track of, they will not be able to sleep through my lessons, text and play games on their cellphones, do their hair in mirrors propped up on their desks, or throw crumpled paper at their peers’ heads at the back of the classroom.

There are downsides, too. The turnover rate for my students will be greater than last year, so I won’t be able to develop as close of teacher-student relationships. And no doubt, there is something completely endearing about a pile of sixty students eager to hang out with me for a class that could very likely turn brutal at a moment’s notice for everyone involved due to that pesky language barrier. My Ping Gang students’ eagerness on most days to let me be a part of their lives as their resident, and dear, foreign teacher, is very unlikely to be paralleled by world-weary international students who are being bullied into after-school tutoring by their parents.

Nonetheless, I am optimistic. I am apartment-hunting, visa-applying, luggage-packing (about to start, anyway), goodbye-saying, summer-enjoying, and I am optimistic.

The Truth, If I Could Tell Her


    Hi,I miss you so much.

    Where are you?What do you do?Are you happy now?

    We have just finished the final exam,and I have time to write a letter to you.

    Many studentsin senior 3 in Pinggang failed their exams.They must be very sad.

    I regret that I didn’t choose arts.I really love painting.However,my parents disagree.I doesn’t mean that I don’t love my parents.In fact,I love them very much.I know they love me too.They gave me a best childhood in the world,I think.They have rights to ask me to do everything.It is my responsibility to obey their request,though I am unhappy.I hope that they can be happy when they live.

     Do you know?In China,‘孝’is important.It means ‘filial piety’.It may be different from that in America,right?

     Only two years can I prepare for the college  entrance exam.I must do my best.So I might have less time to write letters to you.I have been a little tired.I must insist.

     I still remember what you told us—-go and play.And I want to go to America to play.

     OK.I am going to go to bed.Bye.





Hi. I miss you too, even though, if I’m being honest, I don’t remember which exactly of my 600 students you are.

I’m in my home, on my bed, in northern Michigan with a computer on my lap. I’m worlds away from you. I do things–today, on a lazy Sunday–like fold clothes, clean my room, eat grilled chicken with rice and salad, do the dishes, and play with my new camera. No, I’m not very happy. But I’m working on it.

Congratulations on finishing your exam. The fact that you’re laboring to write me a letter in English after the completion of said exams fills me with pride. I’m lucky for knowing you.

My heart goes out to the Senior 3 students who failed their exams. Their lives are altered now in ways I can only imagine. For one, their chance to go to college–any college–has just gone out the window.

I wish you’d chosen the Arts major, despite your parents. Pig, I hope you’re painting right now. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from a Humanities degree it’s that your passion can thrive right alongside your day job. It’s just a shame it has to take a back seat to the Science major your parents are pushing you–a high school student–into. I did know about 孝 (xiao4), and no, it’s not the same in the United States. Filial piety is an important concept and a good basis for a family, but here it is manifested in different ways. My parents, for example, are proud of me for chasing the things that make me happy, not for obeying their every whim and becoming a mini-clone of their own forgotten hopes and dreams, nor a ticket to their future financial stability. I hope your parents can be happy while they live, too, but your unhappiness should not be the price of their contentment.

You only have two years to prepare for the college entrance exam that a bunch of Senior 3’s just failed. Good luck. You must do your best because the social pressures on you are greater than on anyone else in the history of humankind. Females in China have the highest suicide rate in the world at about 15 in every 100,000 women and you’re dealing with that every day. You’ll “insist” because you “must.” You’ll strike those frail little fists against every exam and application and every all night study session where you’re so tired your head drops onto the stacks of books open on your desk. You’ll stop eating and sleeping and you’ll punish yourself brutally for every wrong answer. For what? The infinitesimal chance of going somewhere else. I wish you didn’t have to work so hard, but at least there’s this: it’s worth it. Going somewhere else is worth it.

Go and play, Pig.




A few weeks ago I experienced both the absolute best class of my “career” and the flat-out worst.

Gearing up for Class 10 usually fills me with dread. It’s a different fear even than the one inspired by Class 9, where a girl last week pleadingly whimpered, “Speak Chinese, PLEASE!” with the only English she knew. When I go into Class 10, it’s with the knowledge that none of us are coming out alive. We are going to make each other miserable, and lifting the muscles of my face into a smile at the end of class will be comparable to forcing my weak arms through the most insane, lift-yourself-with-your-tongue Pilates routine on the market.

I walked into Class 10 that day with the blind optimism that propels me through most days on this job, but with the knowledge that my morale would  be shattered by the time I walked out.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the computer was broken. Powerpoint  was out of the question. My beloved Powerpoint, with helpful Chinese on the slides and pictures to keep the students interested when they have no idea what I’m saying. Sinking dread. I said a four letter word. Then I said a worse one. I looked out over that sea of sixty disinterested, too-cool-for-school faces and took a deep breath. I began lesson planning instantaneously in my head, taking out my notebook and jotting down a few quick ideas. I adapted the game for the end of class into a game of charades. During the lesson, I found myself improvising rapidly. Not having Powerpoint to rely on made me slow down, take more time with directions, and not try to accomplish as much as I might have otherwise done.

Somehow, unbelievably, the class was a huge success. I actually had volunteers. VOLUNTEERS. The students were engaged, they worked with/waited for me as I hurriedly made up the cards on the spot for the game, they laughed at the charades antics, and a troublemaker who doesn’t speak much actually hammed it up in English when it was his turn on the podium.

Since then, my lessons with Class 10 have been pretty great, not including last week, when I couldn’t get them to shut up to save my life. But at least I no longer dread Class 10 the way I did last semester.

Class 9 is my new weekly trial, instead. That particular week I had the worst class of my life when I made a girl cry. I wouldn’t let her sit down until she answered the question I’d posed, and then the bell rang, but I felt like I couldn’t back down and didn’t know how much face/authority I’d be risking if I DID back down, so I persevered, and then when I finally let the class go we were all visibly upset and dissatisfied. I went to the bathroom where I realized I’d left my name sheet in the classroom, so I returned in time to the see the girl–Cathy–crying between two of her friends, her head down on her desk. I felt so awful. I never would’ve known it had happened if I hadn’t left the name sheet, but I’m glad I did. At least I was able to touch her shoulder and tell her it didn’t matter (her friends just grinned at me and said “Don’t feel bad!”). But phew. It sucked.

So: euphoria and extreme depression within two days of each other. Back and forth. Back and forth. Forever.


Carole and Jenny, best friends and Senior II girls who like to talk with me during English Corner, dropped by my office to say hello one day last week instead. To my usual question of “How are you?” they both answered, “Not wery well. Our boyfriends broke up with us.”

“Both of you?” I almost laughed. Solidarity. I minimized my gmail screen and welcomed them further into my cubicle. “Tell me all about it.”

Carole had been forced to break up with her boyfriend because her parents found out about him. Her parents are divorced and so they are both, she says, overprotective. I remembered during the New Year’s festival, Carole had found me as I waited for my turn to perform. Her class had already chanted poetry while stamping their feet in formation. As she ran up to me, boys with swords were tumbling around the stage and slashing at the air. They were all wearing red except for one large boy in yellow. “That’s my boyfriend,” she had whispered, smiling, pointing to the leader. I had teased her. “I thought you couldn’t have a boyfriend!” She shrugged, half coy, half shy.

When her parents found out, they called the school, sic’ed two security guards on her, confiscated her cell phone, and forced the split. “Because this is China,” Carole sighed. “We’re not supposed to–” she paused.

“Be distracted from school?” I offered.

“Yes. But–” she sounded outraged for a moment, as if about to launch into a tirade against that particular system of thought. Instead she changed her mind, and the subject. “But for Jenny it is worse,” she said instead.

I looked now at Jenny, who was smiling from her round face as if she didn’t have a care in the world. “My boyfriend is, how you say, gossip about me.”

“Oh,” I said, raising my eyebrows. “That’s not good.”

“No,” Carole agreed. “He is saying things and giving her a bad character.”

“That’s awful!” I was half out of my chair, ready to hunt the dude down.

“Yes, but it is okay.”

“No, it’s not,” I interrupted. “He shouldn’t say things, and you shouldn’t listen to him. It’s not fair and it’s not true.”

“No, he is wrong. But it is okay. Because we have our friends and our study.”

I eyed them suspiciously. I mean, it’s true, of course, but it’s still propaganda. And teens should not be that self-controlled. It’s eerie.

“That’s a very good attitude to have,” I said lamely. They knew it was. We all know exactly what we’re supposed to be thinking in these situations. I thought about sharing with them my theory that the human race will eventually evolve to the point where the few young males left in existence are kept in cages as exotic pets and the females reproduce spontaneously–if they feel like it–after reaching biological maturity, but I didn’t think it would translate well.

Apologies to my male readership–but control your own, eh? Then I wouldn’t have to get sassy.

Love to my dear ones at home and elsewhere, as always! Just over two months before I fly into DTW.

The Grind

Back to, that is. Ping Gang has been in a tizzy of activity for the past two weeks, but it’s finally settling down. As the foreign teacher with barely enough language skills to scrape by, I’ve been watching and wondering what all the commotion was about. The Senior 1’s this semester (Senior 1’s are first year high school students, 15-16 year olds) are deciding their majors. Ping Gang is fairly unique in this regard, in that students’ curriculum actually changes depending on what track they pick as second-semester freshmen. My students were deciding between the Arts or Sciences, with a few other more specialized tracks such as Drawing, Media, and Music. These decisions are easy for most of the students: their highest test scores and obvious talents indicate which track they should pick. Of course, that means that if you happen to love Chinese literature but have miserable scores in everything but Chemistry, you’re going to be a Science major. I asked and was told that it is possible for some students to change their minds/majors later on, but again I think that is influenced by changing test scores rather than student whim.

What this meant for me was that my “welcome back” lesson after six weeks of vacation was ineffective in terms of reorganizing classes, reviewing classroom rules, and setting up the objectives for the rest of the year, because the first week back was a similar schedule and the same classes as last semester…but the second week back I had about three hundred brand new students and a brand new schedule. No one bothered to tell me that I wouldn’t be teaching the same kids all year. Unfortunately it’s not even helpful when it comes to reusing lessons, because my classes are about half and half old students and new. My classes are also LARGER this semester: the average is 60 students, whereas before the average was about 57. Three students per class doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but, well, that’s thirty extra students and we’re at standing room only these days. Once again I’m endlessly grateful for Chinese high school students, who have so far proved themselves incapable of back-talking and being aggressive the way American high school students can be.

It has been fun to adjust to the new classroom dynamics this past week, though. I’ve been taking notes on the atmosphere and English ability of each classroom, because it’s so different from what it was before. For example, I’ve always had it in mind that Class 6 is a an unwilling, moderate-level, sometimes downright hostile class, but this week the class was friendly, mid-level, and more eager to try than usual. About half of my students used to have Michael as their foreign teacher, so I’m interested to see how I get on with them. I don’t know how Michael runs his classroom, but it’s likely very different from the way I run mine.

I’m glad I got to “keep” some of my old students. I’m entering this second semester feeling more comfortable with my classes. I have a solid relationship with many of them, I think. It’s impossible to know them all personally, but I’ve worked hard to make it so that when I walk into a classroom, we’re all happy that I’m there. It’s not every class, every week, but it’s many of them. That feels good. It took awhile to get there.

Remember how shocking it used to be to see your teachers at the grocery store or walking their dog on the sidewalk? How strange it was that they had real lives and didn’t eat, breathe, and sleep at the school? Well. A couple of my students saw me out getting dinner with Ben on Saturday night. I was mortified, since I was a bit hungover, not wearing particularly teacherly clothing and was, naturally, acting like a goof, but the two girls were thrilled. It took me a few minutes to recognize them (to be fair, I wasn’t really looking at them, I have six hundred students, and I wasn’t expecting to see my overworked kids from Longgang in Luohu for the weekend at a non-Chinese restaurant) but they were staring for so long that finally it sunk in, and I waved them over to our table. I realized I was, indeed, a teacher, when my mortification resolved itself into the thought that at least seeing me forced them to practice their English.

“This is my…” I faltered, gesturing across the table.

“BOYFRIEND?!” one of the girls squealed.

We chatted for a minute, and then they returned to their table, pulled out their phones, and immediately started texting the rest of the student body.

A note on the weather: we’re getting a brief second fall, evidenced by yellow leaves and temperatures in the seventies after the cold and rain of the past couple weeks. “Spring” promises to be so hot, humid, and rainy that I’ll want to wring my skin out after stepping outside. After I wash my clothes, I’m told they’ll rot from mildew before they have a chance to dry unless I use antibacterial soap.

Hopefully soon I will write a bit about my vacation in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, but I’ve got to say, I’m happy to be back at work here in China. Being more than halfway through the school year is staggering. Due to complications with extending our visas, CTLC renegotiated our contracts with the Shenzhen Education Bureau, so we’ll be done May 25th instead of June 15th. I’ll fly into DTW at 2pm EST on June 1st. See you then, lovers.

Rambo: a microcosm

My meeting today with Rambo characterizes our entire relationship:

We are supposed to meet at 3:30pm. He calls just after 3:00pm and says he’s coming down to my office. This is the first I’ve seen of him since we left for Spring Festival vacation, though I’ve been back since February 8th and have already taught a full week of classes. He’s been communicating with me briefly and confusingly through Michael, the other foreign teacher at Ping Gang. Long story short, I was told through the grapevine that my schedule was the same as last semester. It wasn’t. I missed two classes.

Rambo’s wearing his Monday suit, a sharp-looking ensemble that stretches over his belly. I pull up a chair for him at my desk and he shows me my schedule for the new semester. He points out how few morning classes I have and says “it’s awesome.” He tells me he bought a car. “A lot has happened!” I ask him if he drove to school today or took the bus. “Drove, I drove.”

“Gotta show off your wheels,” I say. I don’t think he understands the idiom. His hair is puffed up like it gets when he needs a haircut. He says he’s going to America in a month or so to further his education, but that he’s “waiting for the files.” I’m thrilled for him. I tell him I’m going home to the USA earlier than planned because of a visa complication. He says “it’s a pity” for the kids. He tells me he saw some of his students’ English test scores and he was scared. “It sucks!” he says.

I get a call from him two minutes after he leaves my office. “Oh, the schedule is not correct yet. The leader will decide tonight, and tomorrow I will tell you.”

Rambo and I on Sports Day


From this side of the holiday season, everything seems…well, exhausting. And cold. I have a hot water bottle under my feet under two blankets, two sheets, three shirts, and fuzzy socks, while my fingers, exposed to the air, struggle to type. It’s not Michigan-cold, but it’s about all the cold Shenzhen-me wants to handle. The thing about being a Michigander is that I know how to prepare for the cold. I’ve got a very warm winter coat, boots, gloves, scarves, and hats–at home. In Michigan. Where they can’t do me a lick of good.

In any case, the colder temps (OKAY, let’s be honest, it’s still in the mid-forties) make it a perfect time to announce my Chinese New Year vacation plans: three weeks beginning January 17, 2011 in the balmy, exotic, sometimes-dangerous, historically- and politically- rich countries of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Spending the American holidays in China was honestly kind of a bummer. I think I made the best of it, and had a lovely group of people who were also making the best of it, but there’s not much that can be done when you really, really wish you were physically somewhere else. Here’s how I spent the holidays:

Thanksgiving Dinner

We had Thanksgiving dinner at Becca’s place in Longgang. She used a toaster oven and two gas stove burners to make a feast the likes of which I’ve never seen before:

The next day Jess and I had the Yunnan “fam” over: Andrew, Ben, Carrie, Cliff, and Greg, as well as Becca, for a second home-cooked meal, this time of chili, tacos, corn on the cob, and no-bake cookies.The following morning we spent cooking yet more for the big CTLC dinner in Futian at one of our coordinators’ schools. We had our third huge meal in the same number of days, but we played Frisbee afterward to work off the calories. For the record, I am so bad at Frisbee. Sometimes I can catch it, but I never throw it correctly.Christmas was next in the holiday chain. Some of the Chinese teachers at my school are impossibly warm-hearted and empathetic. Many of them will say, “Christmas is very important for you, isn’t it? You must miss your family.” All I can do is agree. But sometimes there are distinct “lost in translation” moments when their empathy derails into misguided kindness, like when the teachers at my friend Eliza’s school asked her if she’d like to have dinner and go to a karaoke bar on Christmas day. I know their intentions were good, but we laughed later by ourselves, agreeing that nothing sounds

The Fam at Thanksgiving

more depressing than being in a karaoke bar on Christmas day.

The week before Christmas, the “Longgang 7”–Jess, Jon, Becca, Heidi, Jen, and Mike, and I–all met for dinner at an amazing sushi restaurant and had a 5 kuai ($0.75) white elephant gift exchange. That same weekend, Jess threw a small Christmas party for the teachers in her office, making a quick and delicious spread of hors d’oeuvres (I just spelled that wrong about fifteen times, but that’s okay because I teach English, not French), read the Christmas story from the New Testament while one of the teachers, Melody, read the Chinese translation after each paragraph, and successfully pulled off a 10 kuai white elephant gift exchange in a culture where we didn’t know if the concept existed or not. It was a great time. Her teachers were so friendly and kind, and were sincerely excited to be at a Christmas party, even if it was quite different from any Christmas party Jess or I had ever attended.

Jessica reading the Christmas story

Thanks to Jess’s decorations, the tiny Christmas tree that was already in our apartment when we arrived in August, and the wonderful packages I received from home, our house felt very Christmas-y.Christmas Eve was spent at a hotel in Luohu, the Shenzhen Guesthouse, where the Education Bureau of Shenzhen hosted a banquet and put us up for the night. The food was a little odd (it included, among the tasty Chinese dishes, that classic Chinese attempt at Western cuisine, sweet-sauced spaghetti and slightly soggy french fries, as well as a fruit salad with a straight up mayonnaise sauce) but the company was great and it felt festive to stay at a hotel.

Christmas day, however, I was very glad to leave the hotel early and head back to Longgang with Ben, Andrew, and Cliff, while Carrie

and Jess finished up some shopping for our supper of spaghetti, eggplant Parmesan, real salad (almost impossible to come by in a country with endless misleading (and often bitter) types of lettuce and no way to distinguish between them), fruit salad, and garlic bread. We had a cozy fam plan of eating together and watching Christmas movies all day in between Skyping with our families. That atmosphere did a lot more for me than that of the banquet the night before, and I was grateful. It was odd, however, to listen as each of my friends went into the bedrooms and saw and spoke with their families–as if their true joy had been hiding a little, and then became so evident in their voices and laughter with their families on the other end.After dinner, we dragged a mattress out from the guest bedroom, put it on the floor in the living room, and all piled on to watch Home

Melanie, Rainbow, and Lefty posing with our Christmas “props”

Alone 2, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Christmas Story.

Fast forward a week to the next event. On the last day of school before our six weeks of vacation, Mike and I had to give a performance

at Ping Gang’s annual New Year’s party. We were under-prepared and had not expected the caliber of the performances, the excitement of the students, or the sheer numbers of the audience. The number being around 3600. Which is way too many students by any count, but especially if you’re standing in front of them reciting English and Chinese poetry. I felt like an idiot, but enjoyed the performances of everyone else, and at least I learned a Chinese poem from the deal! The English, very fittingly, I thought, goes something like this:

Thoughts on a Still Night

Before my bed, the moon is shining bright,
I think that it is frost upon the ground.
I raise my head and look at the bright moon,
I lower my head and think of home.

For New Year’s the fam had decided long ago to go to Hong Kong. Planning in advance is necessary, since Hong Kong is a prime destination for New Year’s crowds, and as it’s an island, there’s only so much room for everyone who wants to attend. We made a day of it, arriving early to hit up the Vietnam embassy for visas, and then checking into our hotel, which was on Hong Kong island right in the middle of the action. We booked a room for two people with every intention of sleeping seven people there. As it turned out, we only had to sleep six, since we met up with Jess’s friend from college, Connie, a native Hong Konger, who took Jess back to her place for the night. We ate at an Irish pub, Delaney’s, for supper–amazing–bought convenience store wine and beer, and headed out to find the best vantage point for the fireworks. We ended up sneaking onto the terrace of a bar and had a pretty decent view for the midnight countdown to 2011. White lights shot at ninety degree angles from every five to ten floors of the second tallest building in Hong Kong,

Hong Kong 2011

the International Finance Centre Two, or what Ben affectionately calls “the Batman building” because it played a starring role in The

Dark Knight. We even managed to avoid most of the crowds after midnight, although doing so meant we had to sacrifice meeting up with fellow CTLCers.The following morning we ventured out for an amazing breakfast at a place called The Flying Pan, then I called it a day and headed back to Shenzhen to begin letting the holidays drain out of me.Happy Holidays, everyone. My New Year’s goals include learning five new Mandarin words a day. To make it fun I allowed myself to learn the word “hovercraft,” 气垫船 or qìdiànchuán. As Cliff said, learning that word was an investment in the future. Going to be a good year.

As ever, or more than ever, actually, my heart’s in Michigan. Thinking of you all the time and wishing I could be there. Lots of love from this side of the world.


Last night at 11:18pm Jessica and I were sitting in the living room, intermittently chatting as she finished applications for grad school and I determinedly stared at the same massive novel I’ve been staring at/attempting to read for four months now.

The unmistakable sound of a loud round of applause, coming from outside the apartment, roused us from our pastimes. We looked at each other. “Huh,” we said.

A minute later a loud, unintelligible conversation began. Our dining room window was open, amplifying the noise. “Are they drunk?” Jess asked.

Silence reigned for a few minutes and we went back to our respectably quiet evening activities. But then a second round of applause had me jumping from the couch to run to the window. I peeked down from my third-floor vantage point.

Six people were ranged in a half-circle facing the door of our apartment building. It was approaching 11:30pm on a Monday night and they were clapping at apparently nothing. A minute later, they disbanded, fading into the night without a word, as if they had never been there at all.

I sat back down on the couch and picked up my book. “We’re never going to know why that happened,” I said.

“Nope,” Jess agreed.