White european girl with blue eyes and yellow hair living a Chinese life in Yiwu, China. A boring city in the East mostly known for it’s international trade market. And that’s about all there is to do in this city. Working as a foreign teacher at a training school, while saving for a trip in Asia. And doing my best at becoming a better photographer.
Discovering Chinese culture, trying to learn the Chinese language, making a funny attempt at understanding the Chinese way of thinking and wanting to become a part of this culture. But fails quite often at it….
Obsessed by cultures and discovering why people behave the way they behave. I’m a globetrotter that cannot sit still and wants to change just about everything in (my) life.
This is not a joke. I was playing a little I Spy with one of my classes and this is how they manage to play it not feeling any discomfort or awkwardness.
It actually describes just how people are in this country. Really, really blunt and direct (when it comes to others), not thinking about emotional consequences. Although at the same time, half of the time it doesn't make any sense when they say something. Because A. their English is average, B. they just are totally not direct at all. This is a world with al lot of contradictions. Once I think I'm starting to understand them, they just sweep away the sense of it all from under my feet.
As I told before, they see me here as a white skinny girl with yellow hair. Still not sure why yellow, but if they see it as yellow, well who am I to argue. Although, as my white-ness changes here with this insane hot and sunny weather outside, so does their opinion about my appearance. I went on a trip with a local girl from work (more about that later, probably in another post). When we returned to work one of the first things I heard from my Chinese colleagues was: "You are so black! Didn't you bring an umbrella?" Apparently I was the one who was thinking wrongly, cause for them it's more like: DUH, you bring an umbrella with you everywhere. For me it was more like: I went walking in the mountains for two days, what do you think? Off course I didn't bring an umbrella. Then they look disappointed and shake their heads.
I'm also totally confused about some the things they say sometimes. (Literally, this is the most contradicting country and culture ever.) But on the other hand, they cannot understand why I (or other white ‘western’ people) act like I (we) do.
For example, and remember this for any future trip to China: don't touch the food! Just don't, really, never! I have had some awkward moments unfortunately, being a curious creature and all. The other day a girl came with this big, bamboo looking, stick and was biting on it and eating it like a cave man, and well I just wanted to know what it is. So she was kind enough to ask me if I wanted to try it...curious and adventuresous as I am:) I tasted it, but as I'm not a cave man the biting and tearing didn't went smoothly. And I just wanted to look (and touch, with clean hands though but still: OOPS for that thought!) the texture inside. As a response I got an angry "Don't touch it, I have to eat it, it's dirty when you do that. (I didn't even touch it, it was more like a little tap) But really, THAT'S dirty?? Kidding me?!
Another example I heard from a friend, he went eating at McDonald's with some Asian people. He took his hamburger from the paper and started eating it. People where staring at him like he was from another planet. After some awkward eye contact they asked him, "Why you touch your food? That is so dirty." Apparently they don't take the burger out of the wrapper. Fingers and food should not touch, under no circumstances, EVER! BUT NOW. They (up to 10 people, sometimes people you don't even know) eat from the same plate, not changing their chopsticks. Dirty? If you ask me, Yes kind of! Spitting on the street, dirty? YUP, DEFINITELY!! Kids shitting on the street, dirty? I'm seriously not even going there. Letting food fall from your mouth on the table, dirty? Well, YEAH! Spitting on the street? Disgusting!! And slurping the last little pieces of food from your bowl? Well only thing I can think of is: Ugh, and blegh. But actually,' they slurp that last part from their bowls because they don't want to touch the food. Because, you know, it's dirty! I just don't know how that makes sense, it's all just so confusing sometimes!
So as a Western brought up girl with European table manners, if you ask me? Who is being dirty?
Another interesting thing: I'm the most interesting thing on the street ever, at all times, always! But then I see people walking with plastic foil wrapped around their legs -- no joke, really happened! (No pictures unfortunately.) I guess, to protect themselves from the sun. But I'm the funny interesting and awkward thing to check out? REALLY?
Or when one girl was insanely interested in The Netherlands and Europe, asking me questions like: how is this or this and this... Until it even got annoying. So once in a while I tried to say things before she could ask. Until the moment she responded me with "Well you're not in your country now so you should do it like we do." (........) was pretty much my response.
Also the Chinese way of being direct while they are totally indirect is just confusing the shit out of me. Chinese people can say to you without blushing or blinking you are fat, you should loose weight, you are ugly, who is more pretty, and so on. I’m used people talk around these kind of subjects, lie or just mumble something to avoid these answers. You know, we European tend to not (always) be to harsh to the other person. Honest, but in a nice and subtle way. Chinese love their honesty, though. But when it comes to what they want you will never, let me repeat that, NEVER , understand them. One day I walked home with a colleague who lives in my area. She wanted to pass by the market to buy some fresh corn: no problem. When she found corn that was good enough (they are SO picky if it comes to fruit and vegetables, they can search for 15 minutes in a big pile until they find the ones that are good enough) she asked me whether I liked corn. Yeah sure, I like corn. So she continued here search for the prefect corn and bought 4 corn sticks. That got me confused, I now she won’t eat 4, did she buy more for herself, or for me. Or did she choose four so I could buy 2 and she could buy 2. As she didn’t say anything and I was totally confused by my own questions, even questioning if I wasn’t questioning it to much, and she paid for all 4 we continued our trip home. Almost home I started thinking again: did this mean she wanted to eat together? What did she mean by that question?? Well as we just said our goodbyes, I thought I was just analysing it too much and should let it go. 20 minutes later I got a text: the corns were ready and if I wanted to try them out? Because 4 is to many’ (…) uhm, sure ok, I guess. So I told here maybe here place would be better as I didn’t have a lot of plates and stuff. Got a text back with a lot of ‘hahaha’ no silly I’ll just drop it off’. (…..) uh, ok. She came, after pushing a bit she came inside for 5 minutes and left. Until today I still don’t know: did she wanted to eat together, but was afraid to ask me? Did she pick those other 2 for me to buy? And you might think: why didn’t I just ask here? It doesn’t’ matter whether you ask them or not. You get a weird answer ending with: ‘that’s ok’. Always ‘that’s ok’, starts to piss me off these days. WHAT IS OK? Well the gesture was nice though, so didn’t make any big fuss about this situation, but still.
Actually asking doesn’t help, it just makes it more confusing..
To make this clear let me continue with some other awkward moments:
When someone tells me some new information, as a naïve interested obnoxious and curious European girl, I always ask questions. For example, when a co teacher told me August 21th was Ghost Festival, I started asking questions: ‘What is it?’, ‘What do you do?’, ‘What happens?’ etcetera etcetera. Then they start to explain it in a typical chinese way: ‘People stay at home, because they are afraid of the ghost to enter their houses and they give money to the ghost (still haven’t figured out how though). But well, for me this is not enough, as I still don’t know the real reason for having this festival. So I ask more questions, but this ends in a typical way: they try with maybe 3 more sentences, then they get stuck, ask another chinese person for the meaning of a word they don’t know in English and they end up talking to each other in chinese, leaving me with my questions and a new question: ‘Did they forget they were talking to me and explaining stuff?’ But as any educated western person would do, I ask dear old friend wikipedia for an explanation of Ghost Festival, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Festival
Or, when I went eating with a bunch of local teachers and I, off course, wanted to know what one ingredient was, I got this reaction (after no one knew the translation in English and their googletranslate didn’t give any suggestions): Uh, uh, do you like it? Me: ‘Yes’, He: ‘Well then that’s enough, you don’t need to know what it is’. I just kept quiet after that.
SO for now enough about the unexplainable world of Chinese contradictions. Let’s talk about my future as a super model. Huh, wait what? Yup, I have a serious possibility to become a model in this country. Of course only online. Because, first of all, everyone buys everything online in this country. It’s way cheaper (the answer to the question: ‘where did you buy this?’ is always: ‘night market’: cheap or ‘taoboa’ THE chinese internet site to buy everything, yet again: cheap!). And second of all, apparently something is cooler, prettier or better when it’s worn by a white girl with blue eyes and yellow hair and people will buy it more easily. I kindly passed when I was asked to do this, in a bar, after a couple of drinks at 2 am (it’s such a business city, doing business is possible wherever, whenever). But I have been asked a second time last week, this time in normal circumstances. It pays good money, maybe I have to think about it..
Actually I’m getting a bit uncomfortable with al those comments on my appearance. How do you respond to questions such as: ‘why are you so beautiful? (Uhm, good DNA or something? I don’t know, why do you have a small nose?) And ‘One day I will just be staring at you ok? You have so charming eyes.’ (Uhm, I’m not sure if that is ok, it’s a little bit creepy actually) I don’t think I’m that interesting but for them here I’m a seriously interesting topic. Yesterday someone wanted to touch my nose: ‘because it looks so sharp’. Trust me after a couple of weeks of these insane, funny and totally inappropriate questions you kind of just let it go and just say ‘yeah, sure touch my nose, why not’.
Now let me tell you about the moment my school started using me as a marketing stunt. Yup, exactly like that. First they just wanted to take pictures of me and some other teachers for marketing purposes. They haven’t explained me in details, whether it was just for inside the school of maybe also for the entire city. But yet again, after getting used to their way of explaining, I was just kind of: ‘yeah sure touch my nose’ aka: let’s just make the pictures and do whatever you want. But then well it really started, let’s just say: now the story begins..