Staring is a weird thing, it can do anything from make you sit up a little straighter to check to see what surprise you have lodged in your teeth. I don’t know how many of you had to deal with the pubescent insecurities of being judged, specifically the lingering fear that everyone around you is scrutinizing your every move and flaw (if not, that’s fine-but can I be you please?) but that idea is sometimes what it feels like here, probably since the people really are staring at you. Because I don’t know if anyone has noticed this from knowing me, but I don’t exactly look Chinese. They should really include this in the promotional tourism materials for China.
“Come to the exotic far east, have all your adolescent anxieties realized! Also, communism!”
It’s not always quite so bad depending on how touristy the area you're in is. The more cliche locations always draw many more wai guo ren (white people), and one is usually less of a stand out. However, depending on the neighborhood and time its pretty normal to see some turned heads and hear some whispers of “Mei guo” (Americans). This is usually amplified by how Aryan looking one’s travel companions are and how much of a rarity blonde hair is here.
A really frustrating part of this is that we all know just enough Mandarin to know when when we’re being spoken about, but not enough to understand what is being said. Although based off of the hand gestures I think the people I ate lunch next to in the Science and Technology Center the other day may have been discussing how different our face shape’s are from theirs? they kept drawing squares in the air with their hands around their own rounder complexions. Which would be…accurate. A strategy that a number of the guys in our group have taken to when they know that they are being photographed or filmed is to whip out the camera phone and film right back. I have seen this in action and it is highly effective.
Whenever we’re waiting for our stop on the metro I can’t help but to make eye contact with people wherever I look because usually they are usually already looking at me. Sometimes I try to stare back, but my personality isn’t naturally that challenging and I’m not looking for that kind of intimacy with strangers.
And if you’ve ever felt judged while going to the gym, Chinese facilities are no exception. Except this time its not your imagination, people actually are watching you fail at setting up that piece of equipment. And you just know you are probably helping them form long-standing cultural stereotypes about how bad westerners are at comprehending resistance settings on machines.
But without a doubt, the people I can always count on most for a good long once over is every other foreigner I see. I think at this point I must have made awkward eye contact with every single other white person in the city of Shanghai. This happens so much that we’ve even termed it the Wai Guo Ren stare. Its a mixture of both parties being a little surprised as well as confused. You can tell that neither of you exactly belong and you almost feel like you think you should introduce yourself and bond over your shared experiences. You want to know why they decided to become an anomaly as well, and what their whole deal is, you could have so much in common! But then you pass them in line or board your metro car or whatever and immediately move on with your life.
- No one seems to care about ice and ice water as much as America. I can’t tell you how many drinks I’ve bought only to think that “gee this sure would be delicious if it was cold.”
- We had to go through a thorough health screening this last week to ensure that we aren’t about to infect the continent with some form of highly contagious capitalism. I have never felt more like cattle than I did being herded in that terry-cloth robe through the many, many tests.
- I am too easily guilted to be good at bargaining and I keep overpaying for trinkets.
- The Mid Autumn or Moon Festival is right around the corner here, moon cakes are a little like fruit cake for many people. Their purpose can be a lot more for the sake of sentimentality than taste.
- Early mornings in the Parks are one of my most favorite and stereotypically Chinese things I’ve seen here. There are people everywhere dancing, doing tai chi and playing badminton. Definite must do Chinese experience. Way more more fun than any landmark; I’d like to see the Great wall look as cute as the little old lady who asked us to dance with her.
- We have seen multiple restaurants and building interiors go from disaster to finished in a matter of days. The building practices here seem to be best described as questionable, but efficient.
- This is probably the least I have ever used the internet since I first discovered that Garfield had a website when I was seven. I’m sorry for not replying to your snapchats, please keep sending them, they are all amazing.