Before I begin my story, I have to introduce Gaoqing, whose American nickname is Sophia. As a foreign exchange student, she was my roommate at our Campus Courtyard apartment one school year. I must say that, out of all the roommates I have had, Sophia is my favorite. She was very sweet and caring, extremely smart, and had a contagious smile. If I ever find myself in China, I wouldn’t leave without looking her up first.
I’m getting bored with these flash cards, studying for final exams. I wonder where Sophia is. She’s usually home around this time.
She awkwardly busts through our front door. I look up at her from where I’m sitting at the bar in the kitchen. I can’t really determine if she was running from a dog, or what…
“Uh, what’s wrong??” I ask.
Every day it’s something new with Sophia. So I can’t wait to hear this.
“Oh, Jasmine. I have had a troubled day.”
I continue staring. I want her to spill it. Everything that comes out of her mouth just amuses me. For such a tiny person, she’s so full of entertainment. The best part is that it’s accidental.
Out of breath she asks, “Have you sold your text books back yet?”
I don’t know what that has to do with anything but I nod my head, still with a face full of confusion.
“Well, first I didn’t know whether to sell mine to the University Store or on Amazon or to the man on the corner,” she begins.
The “man on the corner” is one of the independent book buyers that pitches tents, or trucks, on the busiest campus corners trying to get students to sell their text books back to them for cash. It’s not unusual. They do it at the end of every semester.
So she’s frantic and looking at me like she is trying to pull info from me. But I’m still trying to figure out what the heck is up with HER!
“Calm down,” I chuckle. “What happened?”
“I am so afraid of getting ripped off. So I hurried home.” She plops on the couch.
“It’s no biggie, Sophia. They rip people off every year. It just depends on whether you are willing to shop around and then sell your books to whoever offers you the most money.”
She instantly goes from a finally-calm to a wide-eyed crazy again. “This is okay in America?!”
“Yeah, I guess. It’s not illegal or anything-”
She interrupts, “They can rip people off in the daylight and no one will do ANYTHING to stop them?!”
I’m not confused anymore. I am concerned. ‘Cause she really needs to take a chill pill at this point.
She’s making ME nervous for no reason.
“Jasmine, have you been ripped before?” I love the look on her face right now. It’s one of those naive, innocent faces she often makes.
She can be just so cute and angelic. But I put my homework down and sit next to her on the couch.
“I’m sure I have but it was only for a couple of dollars.”
Then a piece of dust must’ve gotten stuck in her eye because I could swear her eyes are starting to look watery.
And nothing I said thus far is sad, so…
“There are so many things in America I don’t understand.” Whenever she says this, it tells me that there is a serious cultural misunderstanding here.
“What’s the problem though? The guys on the corner are just trying to make a living. It’s probably their part time job.” I shrug and start to stand up again. “Just sell your books online. No biggie.”
“Ripping is just not right. Especially to women. Taking advantage of us against our will.”
“Wait, RAPE?” In my head, I’m like Omigod, noooo…
“NO! Rape is not the same as rip!”
“It sounds exactly the same to me. Rip.”
“Wait, so this whole time you have been talking about rape?”
She looks so lost, like when those squirrels are in the middle of the road trying to decide if they want to go ahead and cross or just risk getting hit. I swear she is so hilarious to me.
“So someone told you that the men on the corner RIP people off for their books and you are thinking they meant rape??”
“Yes. It is the same word, isn’t it?”
I kindly explain to her what being “ripped off” means.
After I kindly bust out in laughter.
Sophia starts to see the humor in it too and finally allows herself to laugh as well.
I get up and walk back to what I was doing in the kitchen, rubbing my belly recovering from that painfully funny convo.
“You can relax, girl. Nobody’s getting raped today.”