I recently revisited one of my favorite blog posts on My Global Life: NYC – An exhibition on human kind. I love it because it reminds me of wonderful trips to the City and in particular my last one in June this year, and the feeling the city and my friends there gave me. Definitely a good reminder to find back to being that version of myself that I like best more constantly. If you haven’t read it, go check it out.
In this article I told you about my friend who loved to live in huge Chinese cities, because he could just blend into the masses and not be in the spotlight anymore. When I was in New York City, I thought I grasped a notion of what he meant, but living in one of China’s mega cities now, I’m having a hard time understanding him, once more. It is the one thing that I find single most energy depriving about China. No, you don’t blend in. Not whatsoever.
Well, I guess I should acknowledge that my friend, as opposed to me is not a blond woman, but a dark haired guy who speaks decent Chinese – but still…
Being a foreigner is often annoying. Not only because it’s difficult to understand and be understood, or because of everything that comes with living in another culture. But because you are just treated differently. Good or bad, but different. Always. I never realized what a luxury it is to just be completely ignored. It rarely happens anymore.
I’m sure you all know those days when you just don’t wanna talk to anyone, don’t wanna put make up on or do your hair. You just wanna get some take out, using as few words as possible and just randomly read stuff on your phone in the corner of the restaurant waiting for your order to be ready. Completely ignored.
Well, that’s just very unrealistic here. You get stared at. You get filmed. Even in cities as big and western as Shanghai. People try to make you repeat stuff in Chinese. They include you in a long Chinese dialogue because they don’t believe you that you have used all your Chinese skills in the first minute you walked into that place. No, I don’t really speak Chinese yet. I’m sorry. Yes, I’m a foreigner. No, I’m not American. German. Yes, German. Oh look at you, your uncle worked in Munich once. Bier, Bier, Bier. Hahaha, Oktoberfest. Dankeschön. Bitteschön. And we’re back to Chinese. Really my Mandarin is not that great. No, I won’t understand you if you speak louder or slower. Or repeat everything five times. Yes, I study here. Uhmm yeah, it’s a pretty good school, I’ve heard. Yes, I would really love to buy some dumplings. Take out please. That’s what I came for actually.
Sometimes it gets pretty offensive or uncomfortable, too. When guys try to flirt with you and they realize that you don’t speak Mandarin, and then they just throw the few English words they know that could be used in that context at you. It’s one thing if some stranger just stops in front of you and out of nowhere just drops a “beautiful” without any further context. I mean that’s a little odd, but quite charming. However, it’s quite uncomfortable if a security guard on campus shouts “SEXY” after you so that a hundred other people stare at you. Not cool man. So much about blending in. At least the next level of uncomfortable only happens very rarely: The other day, I was walking through a metro station looking at my phone to figure out where I had to go. There were guys handing out flyers and I ignored them as always when suddenly I had flyer pressed against my chest by a guy with goofy grin on his face – EXCUSE ME?!
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind on many days – at least if I don’t get touched… And I like that people try to communicate with me, I really do. But sometimes all you want is to go get some takeout, and be ignored.
P.S. Another big city is waiting to be explored in a little more than a week! Just booked my trip to Beijing and I’m crazy excited!!