The art of the Chinese stare

Do you have blonde hair and fair skin? Congratulations! You have just won the right to a hell of a lot of stares from Chinese people. At least I don’t have blonde hair…

For more than two months now, I have been doing the same commute to and from work. I walk out of my apartment and continue onto the bus stop where the bus takes me to work.   I pass by the local car wash that washes  BMW’s and Lexus on the reg.  I still don’t understand why all the nice cars travel a distance to use the car wash by my apartment ,but some things about China I will never understand . I pass the local men hawking loogies after smoking their morning cigarettes. I pass the elderly women bouncing their grandchildren on their laps. When I’m waiting at the bus stop, people will  go out of their way to make a half point turn, look up from their cell phones and stare.  All of these people i pass almost every single day but still  they continue to stare.

Staring is common place in China. The starting is blatant and it is raw.  Ok, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but no one holds back when they stare in China. I call it an art because it is so very obvious that eyes are upon you.  The stare can often be preceded by someone double checking from the person staring you down.  Usually a stare is followed by a person tugging their parter or friend to notify a friend that there is a laowi (foreigner) in sight. This especially happens with the older generation of people in China.  At least when we stare at people in America, we do it in a not so obvious  way. Where westerners might ask questions, Chinese people like to stare. Chinese people are curious in their own ways just like any other person around the world but much of their  behavior all stems from the culture being one of subtleties. It isn’t normal for people to be upfront with their thoughts or feelings.  When Americans think something is strange, we just say something like , “What the hell are you doing?”.

During my first few weeks here, I was very self-conscious of the starring and constantly found myself double checking my clothes to see if I had ripped something or forgotten something. But no. Recently I’ve become much less affected by the staring.  Just the other day, I wore hot pink workout pants and a blue sleeveless shirt to go downstairs for a run, without even thinking about it.  When I got in the elevator, every person looked like they had seen a ghost. (Well, I am very pale right now but I’m hoping it was the pants). Running outside during the winter in China? Preposterous by Chinese standards. Add in some bright pink yoga pants? This American girl is crazy.

However, the staring can also lead to unforseen gifts. A few weeks ago, I was on the bus and a woman was staring at me. She actually came up to me, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if i spoke Chinese. In Chinese, I told her I spoke a little and we  began conversing in small talk in Chinese and then switched to English.  She pulled out her phone and asked me for my WeChat ID. WeChat is essentially China’s version of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all rolled into one convenient app. She said that she would love to treat me to a traditional Chinese meal and would love to take me to the parts of Beijing that only native people know. While in some parts of the world a proposition like this might seem strange from a random person, in China it’s not. I told my friend about this and she said “Oh, some of the stares I’ve received  have led to formal dinners and gifts.”

So while the staring may be alarming or annoying to some people, I’ve come to embrace it and hey,you never know what good things it might lead to.

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