Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I Need To Start Shaving My Arms

It has been an interesting morning. I just got back home after over of hour of riding on the back of a moped in sub-zero weather through thick Beijing traffic. Sometimes we were going the wrong way, sometimes we were on the sidewalk and several times my coat hit the side mirrors of the cars we whizzed past. Since the driver didn't speak English, I couldn't even yell out warnings when I thought we were about to be smashed.

Once we finished all our business, I motioned that I would be walking home. I had no idea where I was, but I had no reason to be on the thing any more. My days of living dangerously are far behind me.

These men are paid to push the
crowd in enough to get the doors closed.
Our concept of personal safety is one of the things we have had to let go of since arriving in Beijing. Obviously, many things are different here, but some things you just can't be prepared for. Red and I have learned that in order to cross a street, you may have to walk through heavy (and still moving) traffic. In order to get to your destination, we have to walk through neighborhoods which are not lit and often through very dark alleys. We rarely have any idea what we are eating. We still can't read road signs and we have learned that the Chinese have no concept of personal space. While being felt up by a stranger is fun and exciting at first, it becomes tedious after about the third week. I think I enjoyed it a little longer than Red did.

Something that I hadn't thought about until I got here was what it would be like to be a minority. A major minority. I just moved here from Indianapolis which is praised for being the most culturally integrated city in the country, so there were other cultures everywhere. Before that, I was from Mt Vernon, IL which is predominantly white, but there are black people, Latinos, Asians and other cultures around. I would never be surprised if I ran into a black man or an old Asian woman. However, here it is quite different.

In Beijing, I can go days without seeing another white face and when I do see one, it is just in passing on the street. I have also learned that just because someone has similar facial features as me does not necessarily mean they want to talk to me. I've been disappointed more than once after approaching someone in a store or on a bus only to find out that my question of "So, how long have you been in Biejing?" cannot be answered because they only speak German or French. Or, even worse, I find out they're from Cleveland and I can't get out of there fast enough. I've approached many black people (I don't say African-American because they probably aren't American) as well hoping to have some English conversation, but find that they usually speak French, Swahili or Arabic.

These encounters are very rare because we generally only see Chinese people. We do not live in a particularly internationally diverse area. I believe we are the only non-Chinese in our entire apartment building. In fact, I have gotten quite used to being stared at because Red and I are the stand-outs in any crowd. We are both very tall and she has red hair. We attract attention. We don't really get people coming up to us to touch us or pull on our hair, but it is not uncommon for a child to point at us or even an adult to point us out to their friends. The students in my classes are much more comfortable with me and often pull the hair on my arms since the Chinese are not particularly hairy. I'm not really very hairy either, but the amount I do have really seems to be a novelty. Robin Williams would have hated it here.

Hopefully, this doesn't sound like complaining. It just takes some getting used to and is a great motivation for us to start learning the language so we can better fit in and stop relying on other people for so much of what we need to do (bank stuff, online ordering, paying bills, getting directions, etc). It really has been a great adventure and we seem to find a new one every day.


  1. China is not a country for someone with claustrophobia. It did not sound like complaining. What an interesting read.

    1. AT least not in the cities. It is so so so crowded. Wall to wall people all the time. Over 19 million in this city, I think

  2. You're a dreamy caucasian man sent to bring words and American money. They all love you.

  3. HA! Jokes on them. I have a LOT more words than money.


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