A group of Chinese tourists in Beijing
I thought I would continue on my current Chinese theme with some photos of the people that I encountered while I was on my trip. Admittedly I had no idea what to expect upon my arrival in China, with pictures of soldiers carrying automatic weapons and Communist Party members keeping a watchful eye on the populace flickering in my overactive brain. Since my previous travels had really been confined to Europe where, as Americans, we get mixed reactions depending on the location, I was not prepared for the greeting we received. No matter where we went as a group or individually (for those of you reading this who don’t know me, I went on this tour as a chaperone with two other teachers, 15 high school juniors and seniors, and three parents), we were greeted with excitement, smiles, and open arms. The Chinese people were some of the friendliest I have encountered anywhere, and they were genuinely intrigued by our presence in their country. I’m sure we were a sight to behold: 21 Americans moving in unison, all with our cameras out, staring wide-eyed at everything we encountered. It was pretty commonplace for the Chinese to follow us around like paparazzi, snapping photos of us in many different states of tourist-ness. We were as foreign to them as they were to us, and it created a sort of sightseeing ballet. We would move forward and they would move around us, always smiling, always interested in where we would go next. I am convinced that there are pictures of me on some Chinese blog somewhere, and underneath a caption that reads “Goofy American with big ears at the Great Wall.” Let me explain.
One thing that I learned about the Chinese is that they are always eager to practice their English, especially the kids. They would come up to us and immediately start asking questions, sometimes more personal questions than we are typically used to in our reserved western culture. At one point on our trip we had the pirvilege of visiting a school in the central Chinese city of Xi’an. The day we went was actually a national holiday, but about half of the students and their teachers showed up to spend several hours with us anyway. It was a unique experience, for sure. At this school I learned first hand how honest and up front the Chinese can be. They believe you are who you are, and you should be proud of it. The conversation went like this:
Chinese student: Hello, you are very tall!
Me: Yes I am.
Student: Are you a student? How old are you?
Me: (slightly flattered to be mistaken for a student) No, I’m a teacher. I’m 29. ( I was really holding on to that last month of my 20′s)
Student: Oh (looking up at my face and squinting, almost as if she didn’t believe me). You know, your ears are very large!
Me: (definitely surprised) Well, uh, yes (laughing now, with my colleagues who found it particularly entertaining). So I’ve been told!
This was not an isolated incident. I got used to being stared at and even touched by any number of people I encountered on the trip. At one point our tour bus driver stopped me on my way off of the bus, looked up at me, smiled, and rubbed my belly like I was some fat Buddha crossing his path to give him good fortune. In that moment I tried to figure out how I should react to the very odd invasion of my personal space. Obviously he didn’t speak English, so maybe this was his (odd) way of saying hello. Apparently the best response I could come up with was to say “Uh, thanks” and continue down the stairs in confusion. Another time, while visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing, I felt a strange presence while taking a picture of some architecture, almost as if I was being watched. I turned my head to see a very elderly Chinese man standing next to me having his picture taken by his entire family with my backside. I guess there is a drought of 6’5″, 250lb white men in China. At least that is what I told myself each time this happened.
I have many more stories like this. Maybe I’ll share them in another post. In the meantime, I thought I would post some photos of the people that I encountered along the way. China was the first place I visited where I finally felt comfortable enough to start using people as subjects instead of just the buildings and landscapes that I am so comfortable with. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed interacting with them!
Remember to click the thumbnail for the larger version.