A Travellerspoint blog

The random hello, part 2

(See Bayan Nur suitcase for a similar post)

sunny

I rise...from the ashes. The blog continues and it is what it is.

I think it fair to say I've now got me a diversified China portfolio. I've lived in everything from a village to a small town, to a small city, to a couple of provincial capitals. The problem of the random hello can occur in any of these but it's certainly more prevalent in a place like I am now. I'm in Xue Jia Wan, a boom town in Inner Mongolia heavily populated by people who have never seen a white person face to face. Their way of dealing this is to often say hello in a jokey exclamation-marked voice with rising pitch and then laugh with their friends. The tone of voice is the key thing. It isn't said like they're taught in class, where it is often chanted at the beginning of the class to the teacher, and free of fun pokery. Of course, it's not necessarily 'hello'. It might be 'How are you? I'm fine thank-you, and you?' or something they learnt by rote at school. If only it would said to my face, half-way respectfully. Well in fairness, it often is.

But I've discovered again and again that the sight of a foreigner is primarily a cause for one sided amusement, rather than just surprise or joy per se. Imagine what it's like going even for a short walk. For instance, the walk I just took from my classroom to the hotel, which is five minutes. As soon as I turned the corner a man on the other side of the street said hello in the jokey voice, or maybe the nice voice you might use for a small kitten. I turn and I can just see him obscured by a car. He's not really saying hello to me. Or he might be. Then I walk up the street to my hotel. Behind my back three youths say something 'is to meet you' the 'nice' apparently omitted. I turn around and they are laughing. Now imagine that this is happening all the time, every day for years. That's my life in China with a few more enjoyable bits in between and a few less so.

Of course, if I could just adjust my alpha waves somewhat, I'd be laughing with them. This is the thing. They are not actually causing me bodily harm. They are simply laughing at me. If I could just tune in to their way of seeing/thinking. But I can't. And this happens all day, every day, in China. The hello from behind your back, or just after they've walked past you, or on the other side of the street. I've chosen the random hello as an example, but did I mention that everywhere I go I also hear 'Low wai!' (Foreigner!) Or that it's comically bizarre how I keep hearing the same conversation ad ininitum. It goes like this.

Can he speak Chinese?
No he can't. Can you speak English?
No, I can't speak English.
No, I can't either, ha ha. Hello, how are you? Ha ha.

And there is the constantly being asked where I am from, as if every one hundreth paving slab is a checkpoint.

So why am I in this town?

The architecture? Not yet. Give it time.

The history? See above.

Food? This is probably the worst town I've been in for food.

The culture? Absolutely not.

Of course, it's all about the money. Am I being paid enough to put up with constantly being treated as some kind of joke? And to accept the environment and things as they are. This is what it comes to. Maybe but only if I can let off some steam in a blog...

Posted by safemouse 19:54 Archived in China

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Seconded of course.

I tend to deal with it, and immediately move on mentally, with an inaudible, 'oh f...off' in response, or 'goodbye' if I am feeling buoyant. Childish perhaps but it's impossible to just ignore.

To me the worst thing about simply walking down the street is the traffic on the pavement. As my Chinese (very slowly) improves I am in more danger of 'starting something' by refusing to be nearly run over. I'm perfecting 'There's the road, use it', or 'this is for people not for motorbikes'. The worst I've had is a stare out contest with a guy who came past me at great speed, and a push bike which veered right in front of me nearly hitting me. If I had greater confidence with the language there would have been 'words'. However, these words would not have been fruitful, you know it as well as I do. They seem to just not understand that motoring along a busy pavement is in some way hazardous or unacceptable, so I would almost certainly get that utterly bovine look that it seems only the males of the species have perfected. The thoughts running through their brain cell (singular) perhaps vary from 'foreigner talking to me?' to 'what's the problem?' but I do KNOW it will never be 'oh god, you're right, my riding habits really are atrocious aren't they? I will take my death machine onto the tarmac where it belongs, sorry.'

Apologies for commandeering your blog (again) but at least the other readers will know that you're very much not alone.

by baby_james

Thanks. Whilst I don't condone ranting-even my own- it is nice to know I'm not the only one. 'Moral support' appreciated. :-)

by safemouse

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