Tiananmen reflections part two

People watching is one of the best ways to learn about another culture. And hands down one of the best places to people watch in Beijing is in Tiananmen square and you will no doubt see mostly Chinese tourists. If you want to check out another post about my Tiananmen reflections, check here. 

Many of these Chinese people are visiting in hoards of groups, with a majority of them being middle-aged or elderly. They usually are wearing a ball cap of some sort perhaps a yellow hat or red one. Their leader is carrying a Chinese flag and continually reminding them to follow accordingly. Most of the Chinese men are thin and wearing dark clothing that is ten sizes too big for them. Their skin is dark and they enjoy taking breaks to have some sunflower seeds and their wives are unpacking the food they cooked themselves perhaps brought all the way from home wherever that may be. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how wide-eyed they are looking around like children in a candy shop which is the best way to look around.

I wondered how far these Chinese tourists had traveled to see Tiananmen square. Was this their first time in Beijing? Was this the first time they had left their home town? Did they like Beijing cuisine?  What is their home town like? Did they my shorts were inappropriate? These are the things I think about, y’all.

Right next to Tiananmen square is The National Museum which is fabulous to see. It’s exterior represents Stalinist Russia’s influence on 1950’s China. Its interior has some fabulous exhibitions, especially ancient China’s exhibition. But perhaps the most  striking thing was reading the captions of some of the exhibitions because they clearly had a flair of propaganda infused throughout. For example, This quote comes directly from the entrance to an exhibition:

” The current exhibition is presented in memory of the past and to warn future generations. Let us stand closely around the CPC central leadership with Xi Jinping as the general secretary of CPC and take efforts to build socialism with Chinese characteristics. We should stick to peaceful development and world peace. Let us continue our endeavor to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, to build a strong democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious socialist country and to fulfill the Chinese dream of great renewal of Chinese nation! Let us continue our peace and development for all of human kind. ”

There were many other quotes similar to this and as I was reading it to myself in the museum, another foreigner walked up to me and said ” Don’t you find this all a little strange?” And while I did, after living in China for a year, I felt that I understood it.

I showed this quote to all of my Chinese colleagues and they  too thought  it sounded very propoganda-laden  and over the top but to a different generation, these words still ring so true.  As I was taking a photo of this quote, several elderly Chinese men and women walked up and proudly posed in front of the quote in Chinese and I could see them all smiling and nodding their heads. These were the same people I had seen so wide-eyed outside of Tiananmen.

The amount of change that this generation has experienced, still boggles my mind. Some of them have been alive to see  a country go from one of no centralized government to one of the most powerful nations in the world. They have seen their families quality of life improve more   in the span of one generation than six or seven generations prior. I’m sure some of them have suffered in different ways due to drastic changes in the country, but they still stand so very proud of their country.

And that’s pretty cool to see.



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.