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China unabashed…

USA | Friday, 29 May 2009 | Views [775]

So I realize there are a lot of things I want to say about china and my experience there that I’m not for fear of offending someone… but what good does it do to hold my tongue? It doesn’t benefit myself. It doesn’t benefit others who are thinking of traveling there. And my friends including my American Chinese friends and my Chinese Chinese friends have encouraged me to speak my peace. So here goes…

I was shocked at the prejudice against white people. I experienced this prejudice first hand. I’m not saying that everyone was prejudice, of course not everyone is everything and in this culture, like in America, there is some of this and some of that. Being Jewish I have experienced prejudice before but not because of what I look like. I can walk down the street and no one knows I’m Jewish. In my past I’ve experienced prejudice when people find out I’m Jewish but it’s far different to be treated poorly based on what you look like, or don’t look like, alone.

So here are some of the things I experienced… the most outright form was when my friend and I were leaving China and we were at the airport. On our way into the airport they made us put our baggage through an xray machine. We noticed, immediately, even after the 16 hour flight, that they did not require the Chinese couple before us or the Chinese couple after us to put their baggage through the xray machine but I thought that was because we were coming from the US and they were merely traveling from Hong Kong. So on our way out there is no xray machine. This xray machine is for people arriving only. We follow some Chinese people out and they walk by the “in only” xray machine but we get stopped. We are told to put our suitcases on the machine. Now at this point I have 2 suitcases that are almost as big as I am and I cannot lift them at all. Yet I am motioned to do just that and put them on the machine. I struggle, alone, with my suitcases and have a really difficult time getting them on and off the machine. The “security” people there do not offer any help. While our bags go through they turn away from the monitors and they begin to laugh. That’s when it becomes obvious that they are doing this only to inconvenience us because we are white and it’s funny to them. Afterwards Jessika points out that the xray machine was not being used for anyone else who was leaving because it was a machine for arrivals only.

When I was in Shanghai I had the golden opportunity to hang out with some friends. One of them is Australian and his girlfriend is Chinese. He has lived in Shanghai for 3 years and is fluent in Chinese. We went to a restaurant that he goes to often with his girlfriend Hong. They always order the same things from the menu. This night there was a new waitress. My friend, Kristian, ordered his usual fair but the waitress got scared, genuinely scared, when she heard him speak Chinese. He would order a dish and she would get this look of absolute terror in her eyes and shake her head no and then look at Hong who would order the exact same thing using the exact same tones and the waitress would nod her head yes and write it down. This happened every single time that Kristian ordered something. I was confused and I said, “what’s going on? Hong is saying the exact same thing as you are in the same tones!” and that’s when Kristian explained “white fright” to me. And yes, it’s a real thing in China. When a white person speaks Chinese they cannot hear or understand you. I experienced it myself but thought, of course, it was me saying something wrong – but it wasn’t. I would say something in Chinese and the person would shake their head and act like they didn’t understand me and then I would look it up in my phrasebook, point to it and they would say it in the exact same tone I had used. One of my friends, Jasmin, who is Swiss and has lived there for a couple of years said that if you speak forcefully sometimes that works but who knows… I tried everything, I watched a bunch of my “white” friends try everything and most of the time nothing worked.

One night I went out to dinner with Kristian and Biggi – both white guys who speak fluent Chinese. While they were ordering and talking to the waiters the entire restaurant was watching them with their mouths hanging open as if they had never seen a white person speak Chinese before and this was in Shanghai!

And then there’s the money thing. Whitey is seen as a walking wallet. But even if you are white and speak Chinese you don’t get charged as much. For example, I bought an umbrella and was charged $3 but when Kristian bought an umbrella off the street while it was raining, and spoke Chinese, he was charged $1. When they saw me coming they would up the price 3-5 times as much because I am white. Now part of this I actually understand. It’s thought that white people have more money and even though I’m a broke student I might indeed still have more money than most of the Chinese people I encountered in China, but does that make it right?! I think not. I think if there was a level of honesty and sincerity and not “a different price depending on your color” I would have felt a hell of a lot better about paying more for something. Like in America where there are sliding scales for things – like medical expenses. I believe that most people can be trusted to be honest enough and yes I know that sometimes I am in the minority believing that and that’s OK with me.

Oh and wait, there’s more… the pushing thing. Not only do people push and shove in China, when you fall they jump out of your way and watch you with amusement. I fell down an icy staircase on the top of Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) and everyone jumped aside. No one asked if I was OK. No one extended their hand to help me up. No one seemed to care at all. When I was at the train station I got pushed down a staircase. Again, no one stopped to see if I was alright or stopped to help me up or anything. As a matter of fact they kicked me because my sprawling body was in their way.

So there you have it, just a few of the things I encountered during my 5 week stint in China. Of course many people were nice, especially one-on-one and I made friends there that I hope to keep for life. Many people smiled, most people stared and lots of people wanted their photos taken with us non-Chinese folks – but there is a lot of prejudice that I personally can’t overlook or ignore and why should I.

** OK I just uploaded a video of me eating a scorpion in China to youtube and the first and almost immediate comment that was posted was in Chinese - 太恶心了 – and that translates to “too disgusting”. I could not stop laughing. Is this guy serious? I ate the scorpion IN CHINA! And yes, I did open my mouth and show the ABC scorpion, which could be considered either totally gross or totally funny. But how, I ask, is that more disgusting than a culture where people are constantly spitting in the street, picking their noses in public or pooing outside of the toilet? Far be it from me to understand cultural differences or mores. One person’s poop is another person’s rose garden – oh hey, that actually makes sense – in a fertilizer kinda way… ;)

Tags: china, hangzhou, prejudice, travel

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