Case in point: In 2008, my father came to China for a 10-day visit. During his stay, we visited Shanghai, Nanjing and Beijing.
In Shanghai, we walked on the beautiful waterfront of the Bund. During our leisurely walk, we were approached by many Chinese people asking where we were from, what we were doing in China and whether or not it was OK to take pictures with us.
The first few pictures were no problem, but after number 9,10,11, it started to get a little old. We had to strongly say, no more pictures!
Then, in Tiananmen Square, in addition to the normal stares and people saying “Hello” in that high-pitched, I-just-learned-this-word sort of way, a number of people asked simply to walk with us so they could practice their English. Again, the beginning was fun, but after the sixth group of new friends we just wanted some personal time.
This is not to say anything negative about the Chinese culture, but an observation of our cultural differences.
With a nation opening so quickly to outside influence, there are many people who have honestly never seen a foreigner or much less come in direct contact with one. So the process of interacting can be a little awkward at times.
Simple things such as walking across the street can become an all-out spectacle for people who look at you not like who is that, but more like what is that??
The only thing I could possibly liken it to in the Western world would be if you saw a person who was 8 feet tall.
So to live in China and see this every day has many different outcomes. I have seen foreigners embrace their differences and see themselves as cultural ambassadors. But then some foreigners become infuriated when they are stared at, laughed at or just put in an uncomfortable situation for no other reason than that they are foreign.
The third group of foreigners, and in my opinion the largest group, comprises those who learn to deal with the attention but have a breaking point.
Two weeks ago a good friend of mine from New York City brought his wife and three daughters to visit my current city of Suzhou. The daughters got lots of attention because of their hair. They all wore braids in different styles as are popular right now in the USA. But to the Chinese this was the most exotic sight ever!
The youngest (about 8 years old) got the most attention. After a while crowds began to form around this interesting little girl. Then after a while, we had to just walk away.
But the family got a taste of what it feels like to be 8 feet tall. And I hope they enjoyed it!
Shakiri Murrain lives in Suzhou, China, a suburb of Shanghai. His father, Bill Murrain, lives in Conyers. Read his ChinaBlog at http://crossroadsnews.com/blog/18349617/JLStyle.