Are They Looking At Me?

I am so average in Finland. But when I landed in China suddenly all those people were interested who I was and what I was doing. Chinese people took my photos in almost every city I visited on my trip, sometimes asking permission and sometimes not.

In five months I have posed in pictures with numerous girls, boys, women and men. In the Forbidden City one man took almost twenty photos of me wearing those unflattering travel clothes I have on the picture as well. And in the beach of Haikou several people manage to take a photo of me in my swimming suit.

I am not exaggerating when I say that one men forgot to finish his sentence when he saw me in Xi’an. But how does it feel like to be watched? First you think you must have some ice cream on your cheek. Or you forgot to wear your trousers. You feel insecure because if you make a mistake everyone will notice.

I met an American couple at the railway station in Xi’an. The girl went to the ladies room where there was no doors and the wall separating the holes where only up to her waist. She told me that the other women were shamelessly looking at her while doing her business.

And it is not only the looks. You also hear waiguoren and laowai (foreigner in Chinese) almost everywhere you go. My friend calls this the stating of the obvious. Even everyone can see that I am a foreigner they like to say it aloud. I don’t consider it rude, just little bit funny.

In Guilin I was strolling the main walking street and stopped to take a closer look of one booth. One meter from me was two Chinese guys in their 20’s. One of them noticed me, turned to his friend saying waiguoren and just three seconds later the other one also looked back. That never happens back home.

Here at the university island I have experienced the huge curiosity that Chinese students have towards us foreign students. I use to visit the English club every now and then to meet new friends. Every time there are new people that want to ask the same questions. Where are you from? What is your major? What sports do you like? Do you like Chinese food?

And it is not only asking questions, they are also eager to become your friends. They ask my QQ number (Chinese equivalent of Messenger) and mobile number. I am happy to meet new people and make friends, but unfortunately I can’t be friend to everyone I meet. There is just too many people adding me to their QQ friend that I don’t have the time to talk with them all.

I also meet two kinds of people. First type of people are interested in you because you’re a foreigner and they want to practice their English. They want to have a foreigners number in their mobile. The second type of people become truly interested in you and want to build up a true friendship. Then it’s not just small talk anymore. I have had amazing conversations with the second type of people who are now my friends and I have learned a lot from them.

So how to deal with all this publicity? I try to be as friendly and nice a possible. I tend to agree when people ask to take a photo with me. I also share my QQ number to almost everyone that asks for it. But I also say no. I didn’t give my contact details to that guy in the metro who started talking to me when he heard me using Chinese on the phone. I don’t go to English club every week because sometimes I just want to do nothing.

Because I don’t look like a Chinese I will always be a waiguoren and people will always look at me if I decide to stay in China. Will I ever get fully used to that? I would love to hear experiences from other foreigners in China.

  • Alysa

    I can so relate to you! I have given away my QQ number so many times, and taken so many photos with them, and stared at of course! And it’s gotten to the point when a Chinese kid stares at me and says “Waiguoren!” then I turn to whoever I’m with and act all shocked and say, “Zhongguoren!” as if being surprised to see them there.

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  • sirius

    With the opening progress taking place,people will get used to see foreigners.

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  • Lucas

    Hah, i think mainlanders are so interested in you is just because they don’t often see foreigners ( in their natural habitat, ha!). As I’m living in Hong Kong, we often see foreigners, not only Caucasoid, but Negroid too! But, hongkongers are so used to seeing foreigners in public (maybe related to being British colony in the past), so we don’t act differently. But I recall that when my friend came to Hong Kong for the very first time, she shouted “FOREIGNER” out so loud, ha, that’s quite awkward…

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