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Saturday, July 6, 2013

About being a foreigner

Yesterday I went on my first solo adventure.  Or at least solo adventure. You see, most of the time my goal is to empower the students to explore and learn to travel, that I don’t get much chance to do some explorations by myself.  But yesterday I went to buy bus tickets with Shiqi, my co-staff, and asked her to let me lead and find the way myself. It wasn’t easy to say the least, and required quite a deductive thought process.  We entered the subway, and my goal was to buy subway tickets to the bus station. I knew the name of the bus station, and found it in English. Then I copied the characters onto my notebook and went to the automatic vending machine.  I found the station in Chinese, and pushed a bunch of buttons until I finally had to put money in, and it worked.  It took a couple of times, and twice people stepped in front of me and I expected them to help me out, but to no avail, they bought their tickets and left me there.  I think this is was Americans feel like when they visit Israel. And I have to say that it’s not upsetting or anything, I just have to bring myself to realize that everything I do will take more time. 
A lot more time.

As a group we’re probably the only westerners in the area we are staying.  And just to give some proportions, Chengdu is a city of 7 million people, and seven million more on the outskirts.  It’s a big city, with plenty of hustle and bustle, things are constantly happening around us.  Consumerism plays a big role, and people are doing their thing.  Wherever we go, we seem to be an attraction, but when I walk alone every once in a while, I get a chance to see the glares and stares of the people at me.  I’m still not sure if it’s the hair, or just the fact that I’m white, but I definitely seem to be the focus. On the way to the bus station in the subway, while walking with Shiqi, a guy comes up to her and says something in Chinese, which I obviously don’t understand.  Shiqi starts laughing really loudly and I ask her what happened.  She explains to me that the guy told her that he was very shy, and doesn’t know any English, but asked her to tell me that I was very handsome, and that he wanted to be my friend.  We laughed a very long and awkward laugh, and continued with our day.  I could continue with more stories about being a foreigner that we experienced with our students, but their essence is clear.  It’s interesting to be on the other side of being the weird one out. 
But more tales will be told another day, now it’s time to go to sleep.

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