Friday, February 19, 2016

Foreigner Musings: Thoughts from China

While I have now been living in Korea for nearly 7 months, I have never really felt my "foreigner-ness" as much as when I was in Liu Zhou, China.  Here in Korea, my work environment is pretty much an English bubble and there are a lot supports when I go out and about on errands from bilingual friends, to signs, to the ever present wifi/data on my phone.  Even when I first arrived in Korea, I could at least sound out store names because the Korean alphabet is so straight forward.  The Chinese characters are currently beyond my ability and with everything closed up tight for the Spring Festival, I had no idea what anything was supposed to be.

My friends took me to this lovely park that was in the middle of the Liu Zhou.
Liu Zhou, while quite large at 3 million people, is not a tourist destination.  Other than my friends, I think we only saw one other westerner the whole week.  I also quickly learned some of the biggest pet peeves for my two western friends.  While one has only recently moved to China, the other has been there a number of years and relayed that these annoyances never go away.  In the short time that I was there, I quickly saw what they meant.  And while I was amused, I realized that after months and years, it could get more... annoying. Haha.
It was a beautiful day to walk around the park.  We went to the two pagodas seen in this picture.
If it was only the staring, I think they wouldn't have mentioned it.  I occasionally get stared at in Korea but I don't always realize.  Once I was out with one of my Korean students and she straight up asked me what it feels like to be stared at all the time after we had walked down one street.  I hadn't noticed at all.  And so, in China, too, they stare.  We three westerners are obvious.  As much as I try and blend in, but I just don't. Ha!  Like I said, if it was just staring, that would be okay, but...
#1 - You are Caucasian so you must speak English so I will speak to you in English right now even though I'm just walking past you and we've never met and I will never see you again and I can only say one word:
HELLO.
While we were walking around town or around some of the parks, people would, upon seeing us, yell "Hello/Hi" and then grin.  That's it.  Depending on the age, they might run away or giggle or smile shyly, too.  A couple times though, we were walking down the sidewalk and people on motorcycles would just yell it out as they rode by.  It's one thing to want to practice your English, but another thing to yell at random strangers.  And while I speak English, I didn't like how they assumed that because I'm white I speak English.  There are a lot of other languages I might speak instead.  My friends said that sometimes they replied in Mandarin, much to the surprise of the "offenders."
A lovely bridge and some paddle boats available for rent.
#2 - Because you are Caucasian I want to take your picture--I might ask if I can think of the English words but if I can't I'm just going to point my camera at you and take one anyway.
I don't really understand why people want pictures of random strangers, but then again I need to remember that I grew up in a multicultural environment.  My elementary school classes had people from all sorts of countries and I was accustomed to seeing Chinese, Korean, Caribbean, African, Middle Eastern and so on.  I don't fully understand the novelty of seeing someone who looks so different from you because I grew up with it. Still, having people sneakily--and then some not so sneakily--take your picture while you are walking around a park is a little weird.  I wonder what they will do with the photos and what they will say to their friends...
My friends.  The park entrance is hidden off to the right.
All in all though, it was a lot fun. While I definitely felt the cultural differences more because of the language barrier, I greatly enjoyed exploring the city and the surrounding nature.  I am forever humbled by how vast and amazing the world is--in natural scenery, societal structure, and language development.
In another park a couple days later, we found this statue of a young woman riding a carp to heaven.
Me, taken from the top of the small mountain featured in the above picture.
Until next time,
Love and Hugs.

1 comment:

Dad said...

Which stranger took that last picture of you? It was nice of them to let you have it. They probably said "Hello" as they gave it to you...