I’ve been in China for two weeks now, and I’m beginning to get a grip on what my reality is and will be here. One thing is becoming very apparent – I do not fit in. I’ve never been into conformity. In fact, I’m quite the individualist. I’ve always held a strong belief that beauty stems from uniqueness, but my experience in China is beginning to make me realize that too different can be uncomfortable. Let me explain:
Aside from a 2 day visit to a larger city, I have spent every day in a small town where my surfboard factory is (by the way, a small town in china can have over a million residents). In my first 2 weeks here, I have not seen another non-asian person. When I am out and about, I am always the only white person in the room, and the next tallest person might be about chin-height to me if they really stretched their neck. Also, Aside from 3 people I know with limited english vocabulary, it is impossible for me to verbally communicate with anybody. Basically, I may as well be a giant green frog croaking his way through life here in China (queue the music).
Now, I have always been one for a good challenge – I even bought a pair of shoes in the market yesterday knowing only how to say “四-四” (“four-four”), as in my european shoe size is 44, but I am beginning to grow tired of constant stares and people randomly saying “Hi” to me without being able to speak another word when I try to converse with them. I’m in the most populated country in the world, and I’ve never felt so isolated in my life.
Now, I have done a lot of traveling in my life, and one of the things that has always made it comfortable it that I’m a bit of a chameleon. Like most Americans, I am an ethnic mutt. My mother is a brown haired, brown eyed Swede, and my dad is a dark haired, blue eyed… who really knows, mostly german I think. This has left me with brown eyes, a big nose, quickly tanning skin, and medium-dark brown hair (what’s left of it). The bulk of my travels have been in Latin America and Europe, and in these places, if I speak softly, I look ethnically vague enough that people passing in the street can easily mistake me for a local. This is a huge advantage when traveling, especially in underdeveloped countries, as I do not worry much about being targeted by criminals, much less solicitors.
This experience in China has offered me a very interesting perspective on life – one that I have not had the chance to entertain before since I can usually fit in. I am different… really different… so different that nearly everyone I pass in the street stares,calls out to me something that I don’t understand, or even snaps a photo of me walking by. I’m not shy. I am incredibly confident in my skin, but this is beginning to become uncomfortable for me. At first, I would use my peripheral vision to notice the stares, and quickly look at them and “bust them” for staring at me. Now, I walk around with my head down to avoid the awkward eye contact and looks.
Deep down inside I feel terrible – not because I know they’re judging me based on my looks, but because I know I have looked and judged others in the past. Today I scorn myself for any time I was looking at somebody because they were different, especially if their eyes met mine while I gazed upon them. It is not a good feeling to be looked at or pointed out for being different. Take it from me – the only green person in this village in china.