We left Vietnam and arrived in China. Our first impression was a white, regal-looking immigration building that seemed to lift itself up above the green, mountainous region and state just how good it was. We had been in a bus for about 4 hours, and were now going to stand in multiple lines for what felt like forever. After getting our visa checked for the 5th time (they check at every point conceivable), we didn’t know there was a little buggy cart that would take us back to the bus so we walked. Our first impression of China was very controlled and clean, and the landscape was just beautiful.
We arrived in Guilin; almost immediately we noticed something was different. It was the people and their reaction to us. They stared and stared and stared. Instead of continuing to walk down the sidewalk or to continue the conversation they are having, they would rather stop and stare at us, motioning over to their friends and calling, “hey, look at them!” Not that I would know what they are saying, but as their friends turn around and stare as well, I can only imagine that’s what they said. They just congregate around you, coming closer to get a better look. It’s a very odd feeling, to be stared at like that. Where am I supposed to look? At them (they have no problem with us knowing they are staring), or at my feet, or just straight ahead? My father tried giving a little wave. Are we really that interesting?
There are a couple of reasons everyone looks. First, you must imagine my mother. In America she gets stared at sometimes, for her abundance in freckles and red hair. In America. So you can imagine what she looks like to people who have only known black hair all their life. Then you add our family. My father looks Asian, he has 4 Asian girls trailing behind. Where does my mother fit in? Were we adopted? Second wife? Are we tourists? It’s all very confusing. Then you add the fact that we have 4 (!) children in a land where most people only have one child and having 2 is a rarity… We might as well be celebrities!
Once we, the celebrities, are interested in a taxi, or buying something, or eating, we are quickly assaulted – with words. Everyone jabbers off at high-speed, with the full trust that we speak Chinese. There isn’t even an inkling of an idea that we may be foreigners. Of course, I understand this assumption – we couldn’t look any more Asian if we tried! However, after the first assault, we apologetically shrug and state in plain language that, “We do not speak Chinese – only English… sorry”. Then comes the second assault of Chinese words as if to say, “I know you speak Chinese, don’t be ridiculous!” No matter how hard we try to convey that we only speak English, they reply in Chinese. Amazingly, it actually works. We speak to them in English, they speak back in Chinese, and with a mixture of sign language thrown in, we have been getting what we ask for (or close to it).
Other Chinese habits we have encountered include spitting. Everywhere, anytime – in the train, or in restaurants, and especially in the streets. We have witnessed it so much that my mother said she was going to film someone and slow it down for the video of China. To make sure we got the picture she acted out a slow-motion spit and I broke out into a fit of giggles, which attracted more stares. However, you do have to watch where you step in the streets; it’s quite disgusting, especially when you’re not sure what that exactly is…
After getting over a bout of fevers, coughs, and sniffles in Xi’an, we are back on the road in Ping Yao – more to come about Xi’an and its never-ending city wall, a funny disaster!
I hope I will be able to post this next story – China blocks WordPress, and its only due to my good friend Kerstin that I have posted these previous posts. If not, then it will have to wait until I am back in Chicago – not as far away as we think!