I am the one who men, women and children stop in their tracks when they see me. I am the one people point and laugh at as I pass by. I am the one people become apprehensive when the see me. Who am I?
I am a foreigner in China.
These past few days I have been in Beijing, China. A year has past since the last time I came to Beijing. In 2009, I came to visit my family and in 2008 I came to Beijing to see the Olympics before I went back to America. Beijing is an amazing place and one of my favorite cities in China. With such a large population of foreigners in this city, it always amazes me how people stop and stare at me when I am walking in the streets, shopping, or doing the things in life that normal people do.
Some foreigners in the country choose to ignore the attention and others embrace it. As for myself, I try to understand the local people and learn about their culture. Beijing is a huge city, when I am here I choose to explore the city and meet local people as well as try the local food. From the past few days that I have been in this city I have found many things interesting.
Firstly, although there are foreigners in Beijing, there is little personal interaction between foreigners and Beijing people. This became evident when I recently went into local restaurants that only locals patronize. As I ordered and ate my food it became obvious that everyone in the restaurant was staring at me. A family next to me had a little child that continued to point at me and while pointing says to his mom “ Foreigner, Look Foreigner” the mom and father laughed and gave me a nervous laugh.
This often happens to me in this country and I have now become used to it. Surprisingly, after I turn around, it was hard not to notice a man in his 50’s and all of his friends were also staring at me. They did not say anything but give me a blank stare. This made me ask my Chinese friend “ Do I really look THAT different”?
After the man turned around in his chair and starred at me for 5 minutes I turned around and said “ I must be really handsome because you can’t keep your eyes off me.” He laughed and said, “ I am from Yunnan and I have never met a foreigner.” I introduced myself and ask if he wanted to take a photo. Afterward I gave him my blog account that I write in Chinese. I hope he is able to read this post now and learn that I am not as different from him that he imagines.
There are aspects of China that are hard to find in America. As I toured Beijing’s Heavenly gate I noticed how Chinese seem to have better aspects of public recreation activities for citizens. Every park that I visit in Beijing had people there dancing, singing, or playing sports. When in China I especially enjoy watching and sometimes taking part in activities such as these with the locals. Chinese are often very friendly and enjoy sports such as badminton, dancing in the park, and ping-pong.
Lastly, as I travel through Beijing I ask the questions that I have asked people all over China. How is your life and how are your living conditions? What do you like about Beijing? Depending on whom you ask you get a different answers. Yes there are people struggling in this country, but I have met many people that are doing very well according to American standards.
As I arrive in Qingdao and reflect on my short stay in Beijing, I am beginning to believe that although the competition is keen those that are the smartest, have the most contacts, and have the best plans are able to succeed in this country. I am meeting more people in China that have come for poor families and through hard work and good planning they are able to make the income they want.
I am looking forward to spending time in Qingdao studying both modern and classical Chinese. Additionally, I look forward to continue to explore different aspects of Chinese culture.