Stop Staring At Me

14 Sep

When I went to China, a Caucasian colleague who lived in Shanghai for several years warned me that I was going to be stared at. She went through it and I would go through it. What she didn’t tell me is that I would really be STARED at. I’ve been to New Zealand where I didn’t see another black person for a solid week. When my mom and I went, some kids looked at us. But, I always thought that had more to do with not being from some of the small towns we visited rather than being black. I’m used to being one of the few black people around. I’m totally not used to double takes.

More often than not I was just stared at. But, I had small children point at me and grab their friend / mother / grandmother. I had people taking cell phone camera pictures of me. At the Forbidden City in Beijing, I had people take pictures near me so they could get me in the background.

At the Bund in Shanghai

I watched my (incredibly sweet and delightful) college-age interpreter touching / rubbing the skin on my knee after I dozed off in the taxi. When she realized I was awake, she said ‘so different’. Totally innocent. But, still kind of annoying.

At Nanpatu Temple in Xiamen

But, mostly, I had people ask to take pictures with me. A lot. Like, at least twice a day but no more than five times a day every day for 10 days.

This woman brought her child up to me and kept rubbing her skin and touching her hair and pointing at me. That went on for a good five minutes before Elizabeth was like, ‘let’s go’.

In Xiamen

Some people were really sweet and would say, “So beautiful!” despite my being in a constant state of sweating for 10 days.  I started my trip with being amused by it and happily taking photos and waving back at people who were looking at me.  But, by day 10, it was just pretty freaking old. I was pointing and staring back. If they tried to take my photo without my permission I would turn my back or hide my face. And if they did the cell phone camera thing, I would take their picture right back or on my worst day give the finger.

Elizabeth is wearing my blouse. So freaking hot we were blowing through our own clothes at record pace.

Our interpreters told us that people were saying, ‘foreigners’ in Chinese as we walked by.  Which is an interesting concept to me. I say ‘tourists’ when I’m at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore or in DC. I think being a child of immigrants I’ve thought the word ‘foreigner’ as a mean comment. Elizabeth studied in France and we had a whole conversation about the translation and use of the word foreigner. My mom got mad at me when I referred to an occasional date a few years ago ah ‘the Italian’. Well, I really called him ‘the Anti-Semitic Italian’ but that’s another story.  Elizabeth also had people ask for her picture. But, we both felt I got the brunt of it. I started calling her ‘the one with Yellow Hair’ .

I understand that over 30,000 Africans were educated in China. With a population of a billion, that’s a drop in the bucket. I know it also speaks to where black people vacation (another cruise to the Caribbean?) but, by the end, I felt a lot like a sideshow. I know it’s not considered rude to stare in China. But, you can’t tell me it’s not considered rude to take someone’s photo without asking. Or pointing. Because every time a kid pointed, their friend / mother / grandmother admonished them.

It’s just a totally homogeneous society, I realize it didn’t come from a bad place but, I’m quite happy not to be stared at anymore.

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68 Responses to “Stop Staring At Me”

  1. Jenny September 14, 2010 at 14:21 #

    See, I don’t understand why people say Americans are so rude. There are rude people in every culture. Sorry it got unpleasant for you in a place you clearly love. :-(

  2. Krystal September 14, 2010 at 14:22 #

    I used to live in Vermont, so I know the feeling, lol. Except I got called nasty names in a language I could understand! Thanks for sharing your experience. What were you doing in China?

  3. Rachelle September 14, 2010 at 14:22 #

    Holy lick, there was RUBBING? Geesh. That’s… uncool.

  4. bhoomika September 14, 2010 at 14:29 #

    Yeah- I was in Shanghai and Beijing last year, and much the same happened to me- (but no skin rubbing—that’s a whole different level!)

    Though for straight up rude staring, nothing beats India, I swear…even being Indian, wearing slightly out of place clothes has gotten me followed by whole packs of kids in rural areas!

    The funniest example of this I ever heard was by my brother who was visiting a religious holy site which has become a massive tourist destination as well- and a place where tourists take pictures of villagers in their finest regional clothes….where some folks have taken advantage of this fact to solicit tourist pictures for money. My brother also saw this (ostensibly local) kid running up to forign looking tourists and taking close up pictures of them and running away, completely surprising them!

    This gets me thinking…discomfort and rudeness aside…
    There is something I like about this reversal— that tourists (from the west, usually) go all over the world and take pictures without asking of people all the time- of things they find exotic and strange. They(we) have the money to do go to these places and return and talk about this strangeness, to feel like they(we) represent the norm and everyone else is different…it’s kind of funny to encounter folks in those places doing the opposite.

  5. Netty September 14, 2010 at 14:33 #

    WOW. It’s sad that people dont know what they shouldnt do in this day and time. When you start to allow your children to do it the cycle continuals to go on and on. Just so sad

  6. Rose in SV September 14, 2010 at 14:36 #

    Oh, gracious. After reading your post, I am reminded of my experiences on Shikoku (Japan) in the 1980s. Visiting a country that is primarily homogenous has it’s own challenges, visiting the same country when you are a person of color, presents an unique set of challenges. I know that there are pictures of me in Japan that have me making really funny faces/grimaces because I was sooo tired of having my picture taken by complete strangers (getting your picture taken by random strangers is amusing at first, but the joke gets old. On some level, I do have some sympathy for celebrities and their relationships with relentless papparazi). I would have been upset about the tour guide touching though (I know, I know–the guide was touching you out of naivete, but where are the boundaries? Aargh!). After a while, I felt like I was being treated as an object instead of a person.

    On the other hand, when I was in Egypt several years ago, it was fun traveling with a group that included several strawberry blondes, as I kept being mistaken for a local/north African (until I spoke). I had some really fun experiences and great simple conversations with Cairo locals, that I truly enjoyed.

  7. Rose in SV September 14, 2010 at 14:56 #

    By the way, in my previous note, I forgot add that is sounds like you handled the situation well.

    It’s nice to be home, hmm? :)

  8. Marjie September 14, 2010 at 15:02 #

    In 1986, we took our then 3 boys, all under the age of 3, to meet friends in Chinatown in NYC. They all had red hair or peach fuzz. People were walking up to them and touching their hair, rubbing their heads, etc. At the Chinese restaurant we went to (where the menu was in Chinese, for pity’s sake, because these friends were Chinese), our waitress took our 2 year old to the kitchen so everyone could see his hair. It would be annoying after 10 days.

    So aren’t you glad to be just another face of some random color in the crowd again? Welcome home.

    • Miss Celie September 14, 2010 at 15:11 #

      I got a little hair touching after I wore my hair twisted one night in the hotel. Two of the interpreters said, ‘So COOL!’ And just reached up and started touching. That actually bothered me less than the skin rubbing. I know they really thought it was cool. But, we were standing in the hotel lobby and I felt really… exposed.

    • Tailypo September 14, 2010 at 15:23 #

      I live in San Francisco and when my red-haired daughter was little, I’d say from 6 months old till about 3, she was constantly photographed by/with Chinese tourists. Like, we would be on an outing to Golden Gate Park and whole families would cluster around my baffled but delighted kid, having group photos and/or videos taken. I often wonder how many family photo albums have my kid in them.

      • Debbie Cook September 14, 2010 at 16:48 #

        My redheaded son used to get that treatment all the time when he was little (and oh so adorable). I used to too – which is why I always told my mother that I was dying my hair black when I turned 16 and why it really ticked me off when my son had to deal with those people, well-meaning or not. Luckily, I came to my senses before turning 16 and now I wish I didn’t have to dye it to cover the gray. LOL!

        I think it’s rude to just assume you can touch people – period. Like pregnant women and their bellies. That made my blood boil. There are BOUNDARIES people and my big fat whale stomach is one of them.

        But I’m still fascinated by your stories from China, so please keep going. I promise I won’t touch your hair – even though I think it’s very cool too. :-)

  9. becky September 14, 2010 at 15:21 #

    did you hear at all about Lou Jing while you were there?
    http://boingboing.net/2009/11/16/lou-jing-half-black.html

    • Miss Celie September 14, 2010 at 15:47 #

      I didn’t. But, my roommate in college was Chinese-Jamaican (half black vs. Chinese raised in Jamaica). I should send that link to her!

  10. Gigi September 14, 2010 at 15:33 #

    Well, you are strikingly beautiful so I can see why you got a lot of attention. But, yeah, after 10 days I can see it being beyond irritating. The image of you pointing back cracks me up!

    When I was a child living in Hawaii, my friend’s dad had a dinner cruise business and sometimes she would invite me. Most of the tourists were Japanese and insisted on touching our hair and having photos taken with the two blonde girls. South Florida is such a melting pot that the only thing that would turn my head and cause me to point would be someone naked!

    • Brussels Sprout Katharine September 14, 2010 at 15:57 #

      Right you are Gigi: Cidell your inner beauty radiates outward so you were a feast for starved eyes. I. Know. about the staring, the pointing, and the touching. It all happened to me too. Even in Seoul with 11 million, people on the street would stop slack-jawed watching me pass by–in a bus. Yeah. I often got mistaken for a television English teacher personality too. Anyway. You lived through it. Comedy is tragedy plus time-Carol Burnett.

  11. sarah in nyc September 14, 2010 at 15:33 #

    My daughter has spent chunks of time in China. Her Chinese is pretty good. Last fall she was taken to a concert given by the Electric company to celebrate 60- years of the people’s Republic. She was the only white member of the audience. The people sitting in front of her would turn around and say loudly “Look, a foreigner!!!”

    My daughter’s first time in China, her hair was blue..she got lots of stares, tons of photos taken and lots of touching.

    I think there are just different cultural standards of polite in different cultures. There is it OK to ask people how much money they make per month, how much rent you pay…Other things we do are seen as hugely rude to the Chinese.

    It took my daughter a while to get into the bargaining. It isn’t just being ripped off because you are foreign, Some of it is that you don’t know how to play the game. It’s a bit of street theatre.

    • Miss Celie September 14, 2010 at 15:49 #

      Oh, yes. I’m terrible at bargaining. I didn’t do the walk away. I didn’t start really low. I just wanted to whole thing to be over.

  12. Erica B. September 14, 2010 at 15:40 #

    That is crazy to me. You should have worn a sign that said, “DO NOT PET THE BLACK PERSON!”

    • Carla September 14, 2010 at 18:34 #

      now that is funny.

  13. Angela September 14, 2010 at 15:40 #

    Wow that’s a bit extreme! I know what the staring is like even in the US. I went to Jackson, MS, and was stared at for being Asian. They ask if we were Mexican, but there was definitely NO RUBBING! What the heck is that all about? Sorry you had 10 days of that!

    • Miss Celie September 14, 2010 at 15:48 #

      My Filipino high school roommate was asked all the time when we were in school in VA if she was Mexican. All. The. Time.

  14. sewingatnight September 14, 2010 at 15:55 #

    I totally appreciate how you feel . . . I spent ten looong days at a factory in Shenzen, and myself and my coworker are both Caucasian, light-haired, pretty tall, and very busty. Everyone stared, especially at the large cafeteria, and often the younger guys would mime cupping gestures in front of their chests and wiggle their behinds. As someone who grew up feeling sensitive about the size of my bust, it brought back some unpleasant memories . . . but my coworker was used to it as she travels to China often and got me to laugh it off. Still, by day 10, it was kind of tiring to be aped as if you were shimmying around like Mae West rather than trying to work.

    That being said, I don’t think it carries the same meaning as it would if, say, you were in the U.S. Different rules do apply, and I know I made some blundering, insulting gestures that I only figured out after the fact. We often take for granted not only our specific cultural idioms but an enormous amount of images and information from around the world which is constantly being placed before us. The kids at the factory in Shenzen watched a limited number of Chinese videos, had a few tv channels and the radio, and spent 12 hours a day, 6 days a week at the factory . . . which was utterly cosmopolitan compared to some of the little farming communities they had come from. They saw very few foreign faces or body types, period. I don’t think we can quite fathom how startling it can be to see a different-looking person for the first time. Doesn’t make it easier to bear in the moment, but if we want to make people understand us and our reactions, we have to first try and see from their perspective.

    • Miss Celie September 14, 2010 at 17:08 #

      And I think Shenzen is a bigger city than Xiamen, no? I actually read Factory Girls on my way over to China. I thought it was great background information on the modern shaping of China. Oh, and most people thought I was from Africa. I thought it was pretty amusing that they don’t associate black people with the US despite all the athletes that they are familiar with.

      I can’t fathom how startling it is. I was trying to come up with examples with my travelmate and she said I kept picking people with disabilities. As for the photos, I think that Asian cultures see photography differently than we do in the US. It’s really really super common.

      Speaking of body types, I got a little obsessed with size there. I have a post ready to go about that soon.

  15. Claudine September 14, 2010 at 15:55 #

    This sounds awful, especially the rubbing by someone your were counting on to work with you.

    My BIL works in fairly remote areas in the Congo, where he is the only white person the people there have ever seen. He gets the same thing, with touching and photos. When he is not working, he tends to hole up in his lodgings.

  16. lin3arossa September 14, 2010 at 16:27 #

    I got stared at in Milano (Milano!) and as I was waiting for a friend in the streets of Parma, I got asked “how much” by an Italian. I was 20, wearing jeans and a sleeveless shirt, nothing tacky, really. But what you experienced is a whole other level. I wonder if that’s how Hollywood stars feel…

  17. Rosie September 14, 2010 at 16:34 #

    C – I am so sorry you had to go through this. It is bad enough when people stare, worse when they point/stare and comment and God awful that they would touch you without permission. I would have gone ballistic. Good for you for pointing back and shooting the bird!

    I get weird looks when I am here in Chinatown and they hear the yardie accent. So you can imagine what comes out of my mouth.

  18. Grace September 14, 2010 at 16:49 #

    I totally felt the same way while an exchange student in a small town in Bavaria in the early 1980s. People totally disrespected my personal space, touching me and my hair.

    Moreover, when people asked me where I came from, I replied, “America” or “California”.

    Some people even tried to argue with me! They would point to my eyes or touch my hair and then say that I can’t be American, “Du bist Chinesich!”

    And never mind about the politeness of addressing a 16 yo stranger by du instead of sie. I took it as another sign that they thought I was less than human.

    • Miss Celie September 14, 2010 at 17:10 #

      Oh, yeah. We lived in Bavaria too in the late 80s. We went out to some smaller towns that definitely drew some stares and touching. Recently, we had a group of students come from Germany. One of the girls was Asian. I was actually really really surprised to find out that Germany has taken in as many immigrants as they have the last 10 years.

  19. Shirley September 14, 2010 at 17:34 #

    Welcome home! I’m sorry you had to endure endless stares and other indignities during your travels to China. My daughter and son-in-law were in Shanghai last year. He is of French and Bolivian (Inca)heritage. He was frequently stared at. Why? Because he is TALL.

    Although you were subjected to behavior that was quite annoying and rude by American standards, I don’t think it was something Chinese think of as rude in their cultural standards, although I am not an expert. Did you know that in the time leading up to the Olympics there was a big campaign there to get the citizens to stop spitting on the streets? Apparently it was the normal thing to do, but it was stopped, so that Western visitors to the Olympics wouldn’t be offended. (Seems like a wise thing to do from a health standpoint.)

  20. Digs September 14, 2010 at 17:35 #

    I hear you. Being mobbed by hundreds of schoolkids in India? check! my 8 year old was completely freaked out by that. On each of my trips to Ghana, I and all the other whites I traveled with were constantly set upon with cries of “obruni” (when by kids, usually accompanied by an outstretched hand), and surreptitious touches and rubs (my blonde daughter? she dyed her hair dark brown to put a stop to it). Even an African visitor from Burkina Faso was called “obruni”, which mystified me, until my (darker) Ghanaian friends very casually answered, well just look at her: she’s white! (nah, she was just a slightly lighter shade of brown). If nothing else, such experiences are a physical reminder, hahah, that physical characteristics are THE most obvious thing about us (you can never have a 2nd chance at making a 1st impression?) and that the multi-ethnic everyday life we take for granted is rather unique to the New World. Just keep sewing (and always look terrific!) :)

  21. Alison Cummins September 14, 2010 at 18:10 #

    I’m white and I moved to Nigeria with my family when I was thirteen. When we walked through the little market in the suburb we were staying in for our first couple of months, we’d collect a little parade of children following after us, singing the White People Song and laughing.

    Oyibo pepe!
    If e eat-e pepe,
    you go yellow muu muu!

    At first it made me feel quite self-conscious: how am I supposed to go quietly about my business like this? But during my four years in Nigeria I learned to look back. Learning to look unselfconsciously when something (or someone) is interesting is a skill I am grateful to have learned, though I hope I know how to adapt myself to my circumstances and not offend anyone.

  22. Carol September 14, 2010 at 18:10 #

    I’m fascinated by how you could spend a week in New Zealand and not see another black person there are way more Maori than white fellas. Where were you? Travelling in Asia with my ex-husband who is 6’5″ was interesting. In Japan a whole busload of people wanted to have their picture taken with him. Most Asian countries, in my experience anyway, seem to have no shame when it comes to staring and pointing.

    • Miss Celie September 14, 2010 at 18:27 #

      We were on the south island and spent most of our time driving or at the hotels. And you’re right, we had a conversation with one Maori at the gas station. But, IM(very)HO, I didn’t consider him to be ‘black’ in my thinking of black as of African descent. At the Auckland airport though, there were was a lot more diversity.

  23. Sarah in nyc September 14, 2010 at 18:14 #

    Last summer when my daughter was in Nanjing on a do-gooder project her co teachers were Asian American, a WASP young man, and my daughter of Jewish/Eastern European extraction…folks kept asking if the three of them were siblings..We all suffer from cultural blindness.

    My daughter’s students kept insisting that she was smart and good with money bewcause she was Jewish. had the statements been made here in the US, they would have been insulting..there in China…ethnicities are all pigeon-holed in ways we no longer do…miss celie…I don’t know if you saw the Darkie brand toothpaste while you were there…Yup the logo is a minstrel show man with a huge blindingly white smile…it’s truly mindblowingly awful.

    But then again, my father was brought up in Florida and was taught jaw droppingly racist minstrel songs in public school in the mid 1930′s. it wasn’t that long ago. Thank goodness those songs are no longer being taught in the public school.

    For all that folks complain about having to be PC…it’s a whole lot better than what things were like in this country 70 years ago.

  24. Sam September 14, 2010 at 18:28 #

    I like to think they were impressed by the style and workmanship of your wardrobe! :) But I hear you on the annoyance. I spent a year in Japan and traveled to China with a good friend during the school break. She is Indian and there are numerous pictures floating around somewhere of Chinese families using us as background in Foshan and Guanzhou. The worst was actually on Hong Kong, where store clerks would follow her around (apparently thinking she would shoplift), and we quit going to clothing stores because clerks would take clothes out of her hands and tell her they had nothing in the store to fit her (she is a beautiful, curvy girl and by no means fat!). She was incredibly hurt, and overall the experience was kind of exhausting.

    The rubbing is over the top too! My friend dated a Japanese guy for a little over a year, and while his family was very nice, everytime she sat next to his grandmother, she would pinch or rub my friend’s upper arm and declare “soft!” while we giggle over it now, at the time she was rather mortified and extra self-concious about her size. I hope all the attention didn’t take away from your trip though. Experiencing different cultures can be exhausting!

  25. Carla September 14, 2010 at 18:40 #

    I will never complain about the thousands of marriage proposals from Italian men again after hearing what you went through China. You are definitely nicer than I would have been because I would not have allowed any of them to take pictures.

  26. Colleen P. September 14, 2010 at 18:43 #

    When my boyfriend at the time/husband now was in South Korea I went to visit him and we went to an amusement park-I got my picture taken on the street, I had people stop and stare at me through restaurant windows, men walking up to me to give me flowers, and restuarants that wouldn’t serve me food-not because of skin color, because of hair color. Red hair is simply not seen in Asia, and Asian hair doesn’t take to red hair dye very well either. I was born a redhead and periodically as an adult have dyed it red again, and so my pale skin and red hair really made me an object of curiosity and an obvious “foreigner” (thus the refusal to serve me food-some foods are prepared locally and contain parasites that will make foreigners ill).

  27. Annicka J September 14, 2010 at 19:59 #

    Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences in China! Your posts have been interesting and enlightening!I’ve always wondered what it would be like to travel there but heard horror stories from caucasian friends about the staring and touching so I could only imagine what it would be like for me, being African American. For them though I would imagine its like seeing someone who naturally has a bright teal skin color. It would be so unique, I know I would want to touch their skin and take their photo (granted I would ask first). I may go one day when I have the wearwithal lol! One question, all the signs in the backgrounds of your photos have english translations, is it that way for almost every sign you’ve seen? I would prefer to go with friends w/o a tour group (so we can go to the fabric stores too YAY!)but the language barrier is a concern…

    • Miss Celie September 14, 2010 at 22:59 #

      Shanghai is like NYC. The Financial Center of China so everything is bilingual. The trains and roads are super easy to navigate. Xiamen was not as much so. The street signs are bilingual but not the stores (no subway and I didn’t take the bus there). I was in Beijing for jut 36 hours and would have to recommend a group tour to get around quickly enough. And, that’s saying a lot for me because I hate group tours :) Language is really the hardest that I’ve experienced because they don’t always transliterate and the pronunciation key is unfathomable if not written in pinying.

      I was ENORMOUSLY helped with Helen/ Hai, assigned interpreters and my friend Fred. Plus, we never ate anywhere that didn’t have a picture or English menu and got Chinese speaking friends to write things down for us that we were looking for or wanted to go.

      It’s intimidating, but entirely doable.

  28. allisonc September 14, 2010 at 20:01 #

    You lasted way longer than I do before getting grumpy at this (in China I mean, HK is no problem although when I am on a bus the last seat to get filled is usually the one next to me or another “foreigner”!). I think a lot more rural chinese travel to big cities now and without meaning to sound completely rude and snobby many of them do not yet have a clue about the rest of the world.

    • Miss Celie September 14, 2010 at 23:08 #

      Allison, will this jetlag ever go away? LOL. Yes, it was definitely people from other parts of China. The first time the woman told me she was from two hours outside of Shanghai. And the people from the larger cities who were with me when it happened noted that the person making the request wasn’t from there.

      I’m impressed you rode a bus. We took one and I thought I was going to pass out it was so crowded. I had no concept of what it was like to be around so many people until that moment.

  29. Lindsay T September 14, 2010 at 20:06 #

    R, this is just the most incredibly interesting post I have read in a long time. Thank you so much for writing it. Wow. [pause] Wow.

    By the way, I just looked at my blog stats and you are the number one exit link.

  30. daiyami September 14, 2010 at 20:38 #

    I thought it was pretty amusing that they don’t associate black people with the US despite all the athletes that they are familiar with.

    Isn’t that interesting? The NBA is big in China, right? I had a similar experience in Uzbekistan (my photo book includes photos of tourists who asked to have their pic taken with me and my sister, plus there were a few cellphone sneaks), but people didn’t think we were American. Yet, someone yelled “Jennifer Lopez” at my sister. Where do they think J. Lo is from? So strange.

    It does sound like you handled it as well as possible….

  31. Carolyn September 14, 2010 at 21:52 #

    All I can say is WoW! Seriously I’m so shocked but then again maybe not. This is the country that has blogger, google, twitter, facebook etc blocked…how would they honestly know how to deal with someone of another ethnicity? And you lasted a whole lot longer than I would have! *LOL*

  32. Gail September 14, 2010 at 22:06 #

    Celie, while it is uncomfortable to be the recipient of all the attention, it comes from well meaning curiousity. We felt it in China 20 years ago when there were far less tourists than now. We felt it more in 1993 when we took our 23 month old baby to Vietnam. She was mobbed from the moment we left the airport, and it was terrifying at first. Then we got used to people taking her from us and walking her around all the houses in a village.

    • Miss Celie September 14, 2010 at 23:02 #

      Absolutely. I don’t feel it was malicious. It was pure curiosity. I remember going to Israel and Panama and being tickled that people spoke to me in Hebrew or Spanish. I’m totally used to being the foreigner or a tourist. But, this degree really took me aback.

  33. peacockchic September 14, 2010 at 23:04 #

    I hear ya about the staring. I actually just think of it as my way of spreading cultural education. I have been touched by strangers, photographed by strangers in groups and even by monks in cars as they passed by. I have had a boy fall of a bike trying to look at me and even kissed on the cheek by a girl in China as one would kiss Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney. But ultimately I always think that I travel to see exotic things and different cultures and if I can bring some of that back to them, well all the better. However, don’t think I wasn’t relieved to find myself back at home…just a face in the crowd :O)

    • Miss Celie September 14, 2010 at 23:10 #

      I’m glad you said that. Because I definitely take on an ambassadorial feel when I travel. Both being American and being black. When I landed in Chicago and walked around and no one looked at me twice, I was thrilled.

      My current boss is 6 ft tall and stunningly beautiful. She wears super simple clothes and flats all the time because she (and I’ve seen it) gets double takes at home and lots of unwanted attention. I can’t imagine what China would have been like for her.

      • homejewel September 15, 2010 at 02:12 #

        You’re right – it would have been a challenge for her. That’s kind of my life every day even in the US – I’m 6’3″+ with red hair. I could write a book. At least in the US, they don’t pull out their cameras and take pictures, but I find the comments just as rude. I used to live in the Philippines during a very politically turbulent time for Americans. I have to say that I was one of the very few Americans who was not concerned about my personal safety. I figured they were to shocked with my looks to kill me – lol.

        I just got back from my daughter’s volleyball game where it’s cool to be tall :) Gotta love that!

  34. a. September 15, 2010 at 00:15 #

    Wow, I think you sound incredibly good natured and understanding about it!

    As an extremely shy, curly red-haired, tall and, um, amply behinded person, I’ve often thought that traveling (which I like to do solo, but which can get exhausting when you’re the only person who has to be “on” all the time) in Asia might stretch me beyond my comfort with unwanted attention. I’d still love to go/see/experience, but wow, that sounds hard.

  35. Ellie September 15, 2010 at 00:26 #

    I sometimes feel the same way when others are fascinated by my Southern accent. Do they think that ~they~ don’t have an accent? So much of that — Miss Celie, Gigi said it perfectly above in her first paragraph so I won’t do it again.

  36. Mel Conomikes September 15, 2010 at 01:36 #

    What an amazing journey! You are very patient and tolerant. I have lived in Melbourne Australia for 15 years after growing up in Los Angeles. I still find it odd that we don’t have many African-Australians here, but that’s changing as we’re getting migrant refugees the past few years from N Africa. Meanwhile, I grew up with a Greek-American father and the Greeks here (they were brought over as migrant workers after WW2) think I’m strange because I don’t speak Greek and I’m not married! Every nationality is welcomed here (otherwise, would Oprah come..!) and nobody gets a second glance. That’s the Australian way.

  37. Alex September 15, 2010 at 02:16 #

    My mom (Nancy K Sews) told me about your trip to China and linked me. Now imagine living in Asia for 2 years…the staring, pointing and ‘foreigner’ comments get old fast! I have other black friends who complain about people frequently asking/just touching their skin to see if the color comes off in Korea. It’s just very alien for people living in homogeneous cultures.

    Sounds like you had fun though!

  38. vicki September 15, 2010 at 06:24 #

    Oh dear! That would be so hard. We don’t have many black people here, but recently we have taken in some Sudanese refuges and some have settled around here. They are so black, and also very tall and thin. So different you can’t help but take a second look. ( I hope I am discreet) Also I remember Japanese tourists wanting photos taken with my dd who was very white, blond and blue eyed. They had no qualms about coming up to her and posing for a photo. We are all facinated I think with differences. And different cultures have different tolerances. But it sounds like you had a very hard time. I hope it didn’t spoil the trip for you.

  39. sara September 15, 2010 at 07:15 #

    Lovin the polka dot blouse!

  40. mamafitz September 15, 2010 at 10:55 #

    when we visit my family in mexico, everyone stares and touches my oldest son, because he is blond, but mostly because he has green eyes. it’s weird — you get used to it, but then again, you don’t.

  41. Jali September 15, 2010 at 12:39 #

    I think travelling/tourism breaks down a lot of cultural barriers. Someone looking very different from what people are accustomed to do in a local setting makes people curious. The thing is, it also exaggerates local social norms to the point of the extreme rudeness you have experienced. Perceptions are slowly changing over the years in Asia with all the trade, tourism and interactions. Sadly, a lot of the perception of those who have little opportunity to travel has been/still is cultivated through the media and hearsay. Purely. Whether for good or bad. I am sorry for this part of your experience in what clearly has been an exciting trip.

  42. BJ September 15, 2010 at 13:29 #

    I am a white person and was stared at in Bavaria in the 70′s when I was stationed there. Guess they could tell by my dress/how I carried myself that I was a foreigner.

    Our daughter attends the local public school (in Maryland), which is majority black. In grade school, all the girls wanted to play with her hair–I think they thought it was like Barbie hair. Also we got rude comments about her not really being out daughter because she had blonde hair and we are both dark-haired. A lot of black people in the US don’t know that white people can have blonde hair as a child and turn dark-haired with age.

    Apparently our neighbors observe us closely–we are unofficial ambassadors of the white world, I guess. Hope I’m holding up the standards of the white race, LOL.

  43. Clio September 15, 2010 at 16:48 #

    My husband is Chinese-American (by way of Jamaica, coincidentally) and I am white (with blue eyes and curly hair, which draws attention on some continents).

    We’ve both traveled places where we’ve experienced some of what you did on an individual basis – pointing, comments, curiosity. But put us together and there are only about 5 places in the whole world where we are inconspicuous.

    I’ve always taken the curiosity and surprise (and occasional inappropriate, though not hostile, questions) with a sense of humor. Fortunately, I’ve never really felt hostility or judgment directed at us, but it is exhausting after a while.

    My husband’s experience traveling is much like yours – people assume he is from China and are shocked about him being American. In China, of course, they instantly know from his height and build that he is from the West. Go figure.

    My sister, who is also 6ft tall, asked me to read the tall book

  44. Clio September 15, 2010 at 16:56 #

    Whoops, my last sentence got cut off…

    My sister, who is 6′ tall asked me to read The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life From on High, but Arianne Cohen, to help understand her better. It made some very insightful points about how it feels to always be observed or pointed at. It gave me some new insight into why my sister sees things the way she does.

  45. lsaspacey September 16, 2010 at 12:59 #

    Are you as surprised as I am at how many redheads read your blog?

    As another black woman who wears her hair natural this was an eye opener, China is one of the places I want to visit and it’s good to know I won’t be shocked if the same thing happens to me. The only other place I’ve been outside of the US is Ireland and there were no problems there. Well, as long as I had an American accent. It seems some black refugees do have problems there.

    • Miss Celie September 16, 2010 at 13:18 #

      I’ve heard the same about France. That dark skinned immigrant have problems there. But, Americans fare somewhat better.

  46. Towanda September 17, 2010 at 10:27 #

    DH and I went to HK and Tokoyo and I get what you went thru. Both of us are tall and plus size. It got really annoying after a while. It bothered DH more than me. Being tall is not always easy. There are times when I just want to be unnoticed but that is not going to happen since I am taller and heavier than the average woman. My locs are long and mixed gray so people are always asking me about my hair. Most people are really nice but some people are so rude.

  47. The Slapdash Sewist September 17, 2010 at 12:42 #

    I got a bit of this in Vietnam. It’s fun to be a celebrity for about half a day and then it sucks. I do have empathy for celebrities with the endless paparazzi after that experience. My favorite was on the beach. I was relaxing in my beach chair when a group of locals approached me with a camera and made gestures. I thought they wanted me to take a group photo of them so I reached for the camera and then the guy put his arm around me and a photo was snapped. I don’t think he got a good picture!

    Although thinking back on it, this also happened to me in Oslo from some (white) Eastern European tourists!

  48. Amber September 23, 2010 at 14:02 #

    Absolutely fascinating post – thank you for sharing this. When we visited the Amazon (Peruvian side) a few years back, we took a boat to the village from a very small town and our guide let us tour the wet and vegetable markets before we left. My husband and I are both white and our friends are an inter-racial couple, the husband white and the wife is of Japanese descent (2nd or 3rd generation). We got the stares and whispers and several children shyly following us through the market. Our guide finally asked us if our friend was Japanese – I guess everyone was so amazed by her because their former president was Japanese and it was rare that they saw other Japanese people in the town. That single instance was amusing and rather sweet, but I can only imagine that it would get very very old, especially the touching and other rather aggressive things you encountered. :(

  49. Pamela September 28, 2010 at 22:09 #

    My daughter experienced similar attention in India this summer. She was with a mixed race – Asian, Arab, Anglo -group of architecture students. She received far more attention than any of the other students. Apparently, her combination of dark hair, Twilight pale skin and green eyes was desirable. She said it averaged out at 250 pictures a week. Mostly women touched her on the face and body, and the men would stare. She thinks it was mostly her very pale skin which was the attraction. Most of all, mothers asked her to hold their children for a picture. She tried to say no, but felt so guilty. She now says she has some sense of what it is to be a celebrity.

  50. Rose April 8, 2012 at 11:21 #

    I know how you feel. I am British/Jewish married to an Indian and have been visiting his family in Punjab, annually, for the last five years. The second I step foot out of the front door anyone and everyone is gawping at me like I have two heads and obviously talking about me. It is rude and I am sick of it. All I can think is that at least they are not aggressive.

    • Miss Celie April 8, 2012 at 12:32 #

      Yes. Not aggressive. But, totally exhausting :)

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