My one year anniversary with China

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Beijing for 365 days. Well, if we want to get technical, I haven’t been in China for exactly that long, as with a few trips here and there, but I’ve spent 350 days in this country. So, how to bottle up all those experiences into some sort of reflective essay? Well it’s damn near impossible, but it’s worth a shot. I know this is a milestone in my life, so below I’ve tried my best to make sense of all my experiences.

Before i came to China, I thought “Ok, a year in China will be enough for me to understand the language and culture on a deep level.” While I wholeheartedly agree that I’ve peeled back layers of this culture to better understand it, I believe that there isn’t  such a thing as setting a time limit on how well you understand something. You can check out another one of my blog posts about China’s cultural layers here. Just as a I tell my students that learning a language will always be a process, so will understanding different cultures. I think as humans, we like to set benchmarks for ourselves as to better  organize the thousands of thoughts that go through our head. Benchmarks are good. They are great in fact. But, it shouldn’t deter us from continuing the process of understanding something, even if we feel it’s been understood. That’s why even though I’m heading back to the states in a few months, I’m going to continue to find ways to be immersed in Chinese culture, whether that’s through taking more classes at a university or joining in a Chinese cooking class on the weekends. I never want to stop learning more about this culture.

As many expats living in China will tell you, it can be a love hate relationship at times. While most of my experiences in China have been ones of love, I would be lying if I said it was all peaches and cream. The pollution was truly terrible at times, and I’m pretty sure in february I felt like China was  a post apocalyptic world. The traffic and ever-present horn-honking drove me mad at times. Our never-ending saga with the apartment drama nearly drove me to curse at my Chinese landlord. People spitting near my feet made me clinch my fists. The meaning of quality and service in China is something completely different from the West. When you are living in a country of 1 billion people, quality just isn’t as important. At times I felt publicly embarrassed, like the time we were traveling on a crowded bus and were short one kuai. The bus attendant publicly called us out and insulted us in front of all the other Chinese passengers. And the worse feeling of all is the feeling of defeat. As my good expat friend said, “When you are frustrated and can’t communicate that in another language, you can’t let go of that stress. It stays with you and makes you even more frustrated.” Sometimes that feeling of defeat would creep up on me when I just couldn’t find the Chinese words to express my emotions. But all of these so-called “negatives” really are positives because do you really want to live abroad and have NO challenges. Of course not, that would be boring! And your stories definitely wouldn’t be as good. No but to be honest, the challenges of living in China is the good stuff. The challenges are what make your soul and self more resilient.

Speaking of challenges, living in China has made me understand the strains of population and environment. It still boggles my mind how many people are in China. That’s right, after 350 days, I still feel like there are a lot of people. The population is directly or indirectly related to every course of action in day-to-day life. Because of China’s population, the competition in education is fierce. There really isn’t a chance for every student to receive education. There especially isn’t enough room for everyone to receive higher education. Remember when George Bush famously said, “no child left behind” ? Well, in China tons of children are left behind in terms of their academic pursuits. My students have stressed to me how utterly stressful high school was.   This quote comes from one of my students. ” You know foreigners are always joking that Chinese teenagers have no free time and are always studying but what they don’t understand is that we have to. If we want to go to university, we must have the best scores in China.” This quote really it me hard because education is taken for granted in so many parts of the world. In the states, if you do relatively well in school, you will get into college. Heck if you  even do just ok you will get into university. I know if  If you want to read more about education in China, check out my blog post here. 

Living in China has not quenched my thirst for exploration, but i don’t think that thirst will ever be quenched. I know it’s ironic but, I don’t think you have to travel far to explore something new. Each city has endless possibilities of exploration! I hope that this idea of city exploration translates when I head back to the states.

The balance of tradition and modernization is always an important concept in this world and these two concepts are really fighting for space in China. There is still a huge population of elderly people in China that are trying to keep ancient traditions alive with the upbringing of their grandchildren. Beijing’s cherished hutongs are being destroyed left and right. Just the other day, I saw a very elderly man sitting on his stool playing with his grandchild, as a hutong was being torn apart with a jack hammer behind him. This country has one of the oldest history’s on the planet and there needs to be efforts to preserve the essence that is China and it’s “Chineseness.”

But, above all, being a teacher this past year has been the best experience. It really has been one of the greatest joys of my life thus far. Most of my students are from China, Libya and Saudi Arabia so I’ve seen and heard perspectives of China through different cultural lenses. My students are so eager to learn and  wanting to better themselves, better their lives and families through the study of English. Feeling like you have imparted knowledge,lasting knowledge on someone, that feeling just can’t be matched. But more importantly, my students don’t realize what they have taught me. They have taught me the true meaning of dedication and hard work. They have taught me to analyze why things are the way they are in China. They’ve encouraged me in my Chinese study and made me realize how learning a language is truly connected in how you understand the culture behind it. But I think the best feeling of all is they’ve shown me a kind of love that is unique to teachers. Tissues anyone? I know I’m pulling them out right now…  So for any of you who are  thinking about teaching or teaching in China, you should 100% do it.

I hope that my rambling has translated into some meaning and expresses what living and teaching in China has been like for the past year. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them! I’m always delighted to read and answer your thoughts about China. For those of you that read consistently, thank you for your love and support this past year and thank you for helping this little blog grow!

For those of you that live or have lived in China, what do you love most?

 

 

 

 

 

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A Beijing Summer

As I feel the first pangs of an autumn wind in Beijing I thought it appropriate to reflect on a Beijing summer.

Summer in Beijing is quite different from its other seasons. For one thing, , dare I say this, it’s far more crowded. Tourists are flocking in from all corners of the globe to get their hands on some Peking duck and to have a go at The Great Wall. But, what I’m surprised about is the sheer number of Chinese tourists in Beijing. When I head home from work I see an armada of buses full of tourists unloading at the subway. As I crane my head upwards towards the massive buses I see tourists with little red hats and tour leaders frantically waving their yellow flags around to keep everyone in order.

Although it’s crowded, it adds a whole new energy to the city. Students from all over the world are flocking to different parts of the city. My favorite areas like Shichahai  near Houhai and The Drum & Bell Tower are filled with families and children enjoying the summer sun. For anyone that has read my blog consistently, you know that Beijing’s hutongs have a special place in my heart and they come to life in the spring and summer.

Take a stroll down any hutong and you will see groups of elderly men and women waving their bamboo fans trying to cool themselves off . As they fan themselves they also sip tea from their thermos and comment on the quality of the food they’ve bought today. Lots of older men and women are wearing traditional Chinese slippers with high white socks and sitting on small Chinese stools that look child size but can hold the biggest of men. Their grandchildren are running around the alleyways pantless and looking for things that interest them. Occasionally their grandparents will yell at them “Guo lai!“Which means ” Come here!” Beijing’s three-wheeled silver box cars and bikes are fighting for space in the narrow hutongs ,weaving around children and their grandparents ambling about.  Sometimes I feel like Beijing is a world of babies and elderly people.

As the day slowly turns into night, little restaurants  haphazardly put table and chairs on the street. Men walk up to the restaurants rolling up their shirts and passing around their cigarrttes.  They take a seat on their little stools and order a round of Yanjing or Snow beers which only come in big bottles in Beijing. A small Chinese woman brings out ten bottles of beer single handedly and as the night goes on, the beers accumulate on the table and are never cleared until the party has left. It’s not uncommon to see fifteen beer bottles on a tiny little table on the street. Dish after dish is brought out to the table, which might leave you wondering how so few people can consume so much food . Head over to Gui Jie (Ghost Street) in the summer  and you will experience one of the best summer eating atmospheres in Beijing. Spicy crawfish and seafood  is a speciality on this street and as people wait for a table , they chew sun slower seeds and throw the shells on the ground. It’s not uncommon to feel like you are walking on a floor made entirely of shells.

Step out of any subway at night and your senses will be overwhelmed at the amount of little food stalls you see. Fried pancakes and  are being served up alongside my favorite freshly squeezed pomegranite juice. Mountains of grapes and peaches are being sold on little carts. Men and women are asking you to take a ride in their three-wheeled cart and the smell of cumin is intoxicating as raw meat is being rolled in the cumin and then put on an open-flame.

So for those of you that are hesitant to come to Beijing in the summer, you really shouldn’t. It’s a magical time  and you too will enjoy the pantless babies, crowded hutongs, oversized beer bottles and wonderful chaos.

The Curious Chinese Way

Chinese people are curious.  Their curiosity isn’t subtle. It is overt and I’ve learned to love it.

This past weekend we headed to the coastal city of Beidaihe which is about a three-hour train ride from Beijing. Even though this was a short train ride, the only tickets left were in the sleeper section. This section is made up of a compartment consisting of six beds with three on each side. So you’re looking at a stack of three beds. As soon as my got on the train, the curious eyes fell upon us. In our compartment were three other people. Two middle-aged Chinese men and one middle-aged Chinese women. They had already made themselves comfortable by taking off their shoes and opening their tea thermos full of tea. They were sharing tea with each other when they noticed we had arrived. We said our hello’s and then sure enough the questions started to rattle off in Chinese.

Woman: “Where are you from?”

Me:“America. ”

Woman: ” You can speak Chinese?!”

Me:” Yes, but my pronunciation is bad.”

Woman: ” No, it’s really good!”

Woman:“Oh, you all look French!”

Woman:” Why are you in China?”

Me: ” We teach English in Beijing.”

Woman:” Really! How much money do you make?”

Woman:” How much is your apartment?”

All of these questions came within the first ten minutes of setting our bags down on our bunks. I was sitting on the bunk with the Chinese woman and Billy was sitting across from me with the middle-aged man. I  took my shoes off and crossed my legs and we all continued chatting. At this point other Chinese people from other bunks had peered their heads into our compartment. Three little Chinese boys were especially curious about Billy. They came over to our bunk and just stared at him and smiled.

While some Westerners might find this invasive, I have grown to love the natural curiosity. It’s refreshing for people to be blunt about their thoughts without withholding any information. In the West, people might whisper to each other and wonder about the whereabouts of a person, but in China the questions are direct and to the point. It isn’t considered rude by any means, it’s just how things are.

We continued talking for another thirty min or so and with each coming question, my level of speaking was challenged. However, I tried my best at some of the more difficult vocabulary and continued speaking. I don’t know what it was about this whole scene, but it was a very reflective moment for my time here in China. Our of my whole beach weekend, this train ride was my favorite part because I felt like a part of a bigger community.  I was sharing tea with the Chinese woman and laughing about how expensive house prices are in Beijing.  I knew how to answer her questions.I felt like I truly have been living in China for a long enough time to begin to truly understand the culture, the questions, the people.

I’ve read several books about China, I speak an elementary level of Chinese, I have Chinese friends and I live in a Chinese apartment but I’m still going to say that understanding China and Chinese people is very complicated. It’s almost as if the more I live here the more complicated it gets in some ways. Perhaps complicated isn’t the right word, but  I realize that every culture has many layers, especially China, and each passing day is a way to peel back a layer and discover something new.

 

 

China’s fleeting spaces

Today was the fourth time our refrigerator has broken down in the ten months we have been here. When I told Billy that it had broken, neither of us showed an ounce of surprise. On top of that, the panel beneath our sink is slowly withering away due to a water leakage from our sink. Our air conditioning system has lost its cooling and our bathtub constantly leaks when we take a shower. The kitchen doors have been falling off their hinges. Oh and we have had an electrician come to our house several times to fix our lighting.

But, if you look at our apartment, both exterior and interior, I’m assuming that most people would think it’s a pretty nice apartment. The entire complex consists of four buildings, all of which have thirty-two floors and more than a dozen elevators. The complex itself can be seen from very far away because of its size. One time I was describing my apartment to a taxi driver in Chinese and as soon as i said, “ The one with the green Chinese characters.” He said, “Oh i know that one.”

We were thrilled when we got our apartment in Beijing. But over the next few months, the problems started to settle in. By the time April rolled around, it was like we consistently had a pesky little friend staying with us.

And let me clarify, it’s not like we have ignored the problems. We probably had six or seven visits from electricians over the course of our stay. Each time they come in very quickly and fix the problem and then a month or two later, it breaks again. I know i’m not the only one who has been having these problems. My other co-workers have repeatedly told me that they have problems with their apartments. They too have had electricians quickly come in, fix the problem and leave. Only to leave them with a broken sink one month later.

So what is the underlying problem in our Beijing apartments? Why do I repeatedly hear stories of people’s “nice” apartments slowly falling apart?

When my parents visited China, they hired a great guide for their stay in Beijing. His major was in fact Chinese architecture so what more knowledgeable person to ask a question about my crumbling apartment. He didn’t even have to think for a second before he said, “ Your apartment was built-in the early 90’s. It will probably be torn down in a few years.” My jaw fell open. “ So wait, my apartment complex has a 20 year shelf life?”. This couldn’t be. He then said, “ Many apartment buildings in China are built very poorly, even if they seemingly are nice.”

I am no expert on property foundation but I know that very large apartment complexes are built to last more than 20 years. I went on and did a little research and found a very interesting tidbit about the construction industry in China.

“Chinese researchers have suggested that many buildings could reach the end of their lifespan in as little as 20 years. The average lifespan of a Chinese building is 35 years, according to property consultancy Cushman & Wakefield. That’s abysmal compared to the average 74 year life span of US buildings and 132 year lifespan of buildings in the UK.At the end of the day, [if] construction companies and developers can get away with current practices, they tend to do that,” she said. “I would say a combination of high demand, low compliance tests [and] legislation that is lagging behind.” – China economic Review

So I found my answer. That’s why my apartment is slowly following apart.

But why?

It isn’t just my apartment, to be honest. In my time in China, I have witnessed this mentality of, “Fix it quick. Let it break. Fix it quick. Let it break.” It’s a mentality of impermanence.

Our bikes constantly break down and we constantly get them fixed. I had one expat friend who began seeing a bike repair man once every single week. Our printers have broken down more than a dozen times in our office. Each time it is efficiently fixed. And each time it slowly breaks down again. This can even be applied to restaurants and shops. I  see restaurants Beijing built just as quickly as they are Beijing renovated and turned into something else. Restaurants turn into massage parlors, massage parlors turn into pet stores in the blink of an eye.

I’m currently reading a book titled “ Country Driving.” It’s by Peter Hessler and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in wrapping their heads around today’s China. In parts of his book he essentially says that because China is constantly changing, many people are only concerned with the quick fix the quick buck. They aren’t sure if  He says that “ It’s the nature of a country that is in transition. something is always being abandoned while something else is always being built.”

So what does this idea of impermanence mean for China’s future?

If you take a train over a long distance in China, you are probably bound to see rows upon rows of mega apartment complexes being built. It almost looked like a combination of a post apocalyptic/ futuristic situation. It was almost eerie to see so many empty apartment buildings with no site of being inhabited.  You will see more construction cranes in your time in China, than in any other country in the world. This is actually a fact. But are these buildings being built to last? Will those buildings succumb to the same problems as my building in 20 years?

 

Back to America I go!

After eight months in China, I’m heading back home for a short bit. As I sit on my couch and drink  my Chinese tea and look at my Chinese plants,my head is swirling as to what America will feel like after being away for so long.

While I’m only returning for a short time, I think that is going to make it all the more strange. Here are some of my expectations of what America will be like.

1. The air will taste clean

I’m pretty sure I’ve adapted to a new normal here. I think one of Beijing’s most beautiful days looks something like an average day in the states at best. Having perfectly sunny days with no pollution, are few and far between so I have a feeling that everyday on the coast of North Carolina is going to seem like a brand new oxygen tank . I have this image in my head that I’m going to look like a person in a yoga class inhaling and exhaling deeply when I first arrive.

2. I will see far less elderly people

One of the reasons I love Beijing and China so much is the influence elderly people have in their children and their grand children’s lives. I see more grandparents in my apartment lobby than I do parents. It’s a wonderful sight to see grand parents toting their grandchildren around everywhere and teaching them about the ways of the world.

3. The world will seem MUCH quieter

As I’m writing this I can hear children and mothers shouting outside, men talking on their phones and motorcycles going by my apartment. Beijing is constantly noisy and there is constantly something going on one of the many charms of the city.

4. Southern Tide, Sperrys & Bowtie overload

I grew up in Texas and went to school in North Carolina so while I was in the states I was pretty accustomed to the “preppy” southern look. However, in China the style is nothing of the sort and I can’t quite put my finger on what the style is another post on that soon. It’s going to be strange and awesome  seeing men wear sear sucker suits with gin & tonics in their hands. Women will be wearing brightly colored printed dresses with cute clutches. I have a feeling my whole time in America will feel like I’m flipping the pages through a preppy catalogue.

5. There will be far fewer people using their phones

Even after living in China for eight months, i am still shocked at how much cell phone usage there is. It’s like American usage on steroids. I’m going to go ahead and say that Beijingers,I’m not saying Chinese people because Beijing is a wealthy city,between the ages of 15- 35 are never without their phones. My Chinese colleagues take pictures of absolutely everything that happens at all times. There are selfies galore and if you are out with young Chinese friends you might have to stop every few minutes to take a posed picture in front of a building.

6. I will have a sense of personal space when in public

I have gone ahead and thrown my personal space out the window while traveling on the bus and subway. I was expecting to do that prior to coming here. However, i think it’s going to be wild and thrilling to be sitting in the back seat of a nice car where i can roll down the window, stretch my legs  and feel that CLEAN air brush across my face.

7. Hugging won’t be awkward

I’m a hugger. I often hug people upon meeting them. I don’t see a lot of same-sex hugging in China. I”m really close with a couple of my Chinese colleagues and I continue to force hugs on them even when they don’t hug me back and they kind of feel like a limp noodle.

7. American sarcasm how I’ve missed you so

This one is hard to explain. The way Chinese people socialize amongst themselves in public is something very different from Western people. Many Chinese people rely on small talk in public and don’t bring up big pressing world issues, or topics where one would have a definitive opinion.Now I’m talking about the public sphere here, not when a Chinese person is in their own home.  It’s something I completely respect about Chinese culture and understand, but to be honest I’m really looking forward to being in a room where there is more than just three Americans. I”m looking forward to people telling jokes and hearing real American sarcasm although I do applaud my students for trying to understand sarcasm. I’m looking forward to people willingly express their worldly opinions in public.  Most of all, i’m looking forward to the good’ole belly aching American laughs.

These are my expectations, time will tell if I was right!

 

 

Chinese put into practice

Straight after my Chinese class with Meng Loashi (Teacher Mang), I headed to the gym just around the corner from my school. Today was a swimming laps kind of day so I suited up and walked up stairs to the lap pool. All four lanes were taken by people and there was a group of middle-aged Chinese women gathered in one corner of the pool taking a break from their laps and talking with each other. I knelt down next to the women and said, “Dui Buqi, Keyi jinlai ma?” Which means: “Excuse me, can I please come in?” I was hoping my meaning would come across as ” Do you mind if i share the swimming lane with you?”The five middle-aged women looked at me in shock and said ,“ Jenda! Ni de Chongwen hen hao!” Which means: “ Wow! Your Chinese is good.” I thanked them profusely and then started to get into the pool. However, all the women began to playfully tell me that i needed a swim cap to get into the pool. I could see in their faces that they thought it  was preposterous that I would get into the pool without a swim cap.

So I asked the pool attendant if I could borrow one and they giggled with each other as I was getting my swim cap. Then upon entering the pool, all of the women surrounded me and began to ask me many questions.

Ni shi na guo ren?”- Which country are you from?”

Ni de gongzuo shi shen me”– What do you do?”

Ni ji sui?”- How old are you?

Ni de jia zai nar?”- Where is your home?”

And the list goes on. I answered all of these questions and they increasingly felt more comfortable with me and they kept telling me how good my Chinese was. So there we all were, five middle-aged Chinese women  in white swim caps plus once waigguoren(foreign person).We were laughing and smiling and I felt as if I had known these women for a long time. After fifteen minutes or so we said our goodbyes because we all had to get back to that exercise thing.

I swear for the next thirty minutes of swimming, I had a huge smile on my face. It was so incredibly gratifying to take everything I have learned in the classroom and put it into practice. It’s always been a joy for me to connect and understand the people I’m around, wherever i am in the world. However, the true understanding is experienced after learning another language because learning a language is learning a culture. So maybe the ladies thought I was crazy for not wearing a swim cap. They might not even like America or Americans. The elderly women in my apartment  may look at me like i’m crazy for wearing a short sleeve t-shirt when it’s 70 degrees outside. Some people may not like that foreigners are living in their apartment building. But there is no denying that once a foreigner opens their mouth and starts speaking in their native language, the mood shifts to one of appreciation from the native speaker.

I constantly read articles and books discussing Chinese culture and to be honest, four or five months ago ,I felt that i had a very broad understanding of Chinese culture. However, seriously studying the  language has helped me better understand why Chinese culture is the way it is on a whole’nother level and it  has given me more insight into how Chinese people express themselves.

The more I study, the more I want to learn! and I’m grateful for the insatiable craving to learn.

 

swapping soy sauce for gravy

I know it has been awhile since my last post, but holiday season in Beijing is also very busy. Yes, Thanksgiving was over two weeks ago, but it’s worth telling you about the process of getting a turkey in Beijing and how we managed to make Thanksgiving seem like the real deal.

First, I need to throw a huge thank you to the Schooler and Fidler families who sent us lots of fun decorations to help the holiday more festive.

Second, I had I to figure out how i was going to get a Turkey in Beijing. Several restaurants in Beijing  do all out turkey dinners but Thanksgiving is about being at home with friends and family so I was determined to make that happen. We lack an oven in our apartment so getting an already cooked turkey was going to be the best bet.  I quickly discovered that there were lots of American restaurants willing to sell us whole turkeys. I was thrilled, until I heard the price. 1200 RMB for a turkey, that’s roughly $200 dollars. That price tag was far too expensive for my teacher’s budget and I knew a better deal could be found.  I called over six restaurants and did the thing any normal person would do in China, I haggled the price. If you  told me two years ago that I would be living in China haggling the price of a turkey using Chinglish over the phone, I would have laughed. Well, I was actually laughing to myself as the conversation was happening.

Finally, I found a restaurant that was willing to negotiate their price to a more reasonable one. I got a turkey for 600 RMB and the manager was even willing to throw in a side of gravy! Score.

My manager, who is Chinese, graciously gave me a half day of work because she understand how important this holiday is for Americans. I hopped in a cab from work and headed to the diner where I was to pick up my turkey. I walked in and the restaurant and the whole place was busy prepping for an American crowd to come in for dinner that evening. So, the manager quickly gave me the turkey and gravy and sent me on my way. Although I love to cook, I’ve never really been on turkey prepping duty when it comes to Thanksgiving in the Schooler family. So, i guess what i’m trying to say is damn a whole turkey is heavy.

So here I was with a whole turkey and how were the turkey and I going to get from point A to point B?

It was one of those really windy days in Beijing and my hair ear muff combination just wasn’t working with me. As I walked out of the restaurant, I managed to slowly make it down the steps and across the street to catch a cab. However, every cab passing wasn’t free. So I just decided to start walking down the streets of Beijing with my turkey. After awhile, my arms started to get tired so I did the unthinkable. I put the turkey on my head and balanced it. Surprisingly that worked well for awhile and then I realized that this situation would soon turn into a disaster if i did not remove the turkey from the top of my head. The wind was blowing my hair into my face, my ear muffs came down to my neck and my turkey was the size of a small child. I needed a cab.

I guess it was obvious that I needed a cab because a car pulled over and offered me a ride home. It sounds sketchy, but it happens in China all of the time. But , I decided to solider on and head towards home until i found a cab.

Alas, after twenty minutes of walking, a cab pulled over for me. Never has a Beijing cab smelled so good as then when there was turkey and gravy wafting through the air.  I managed to get upstairs and quickly began prepping the apartment to look festive! A few hours later, all of our American friends showed up. Each person brought a side dish and it turned out to be a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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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.