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krakel

An alien in Nanjing

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krakel

I've been here in Nanjing for about two weeks now, and all the starring and pointing is really starting to bug me. I do understand that people here haven't seen that many foreigners, especially some one with my look (tall girl originally from Eritrea) but come on now. Just the other day someone tried to take a picture of me when he thought I wasn't looking, I feel like the animals at the zoo. I'm really trying not to let it get to me, but it's really starting to drive me crazy. Anyone else having similar problems?

:help

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geraldc

Unfortunately there really isn't an easy solution to problems like that. You could use it as an ice breaker and just use it to get chatting to more people to practice your Chinese.

It is contagious too, once you've been in China for a while, you start staring at people who don't look traditionally Chinese as well.

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dalaowai

I'm sorry to hear that you're having that kind of experience. Yes, it's very common. I spent the first year living on a small island with 3 foreigners. Everywhere I went, people pointed, laughed, took pictures, yelled out "Hello!!!" etc. I couldn't even enjoy a meal in a restaurant without someone commenting on me using chopsticks...if I used a spoon instead, they would comment on how I couldn't use them.

As I started understanding more Chinese, I had to endure hearing deragatory comments, such as "All foreigners like going to see "working ladies" All foreigners blah blah blah."

Now as unpleasant as this may seem, try to enjoy it because it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience such a thing. Back home, I was never judged based on my appearance, nor had I ever experienced this extreme level of prejudice.

Now, with that being said, I then realised that these people were just being curious and that it was up to me to stop feeling like they were judging me or being prejudiced towards me. My advice to you is simple; if anyone points at you, walk up to them with a big smile and say hello. I don't know what level of Mandarin you're at, but they'll understand "hello". The more you speak with the locals that point and laugh, you'll feel better, it'll be part of your routine. You'll also improve your Chinese very quickly.

Getting angry at them does nothing but encourage them to stereotype you and ends up making you feel bad. Feel free to poke fun at them while chatting in a friendly manner. (i.e. 你是哪里人?你是外地人吗?我也是!我们外地人很辛苦!)and they'll end up laughing with you. If they yell out, (老外!外国人!)you can reply (他在哪里?) that will make them laugh and you'll feel better about the situation.

If you really don't feel like living your life this way, move to Beijing or Shanghai. You will still experience it, but much less. I wish you luck, let me tell you, after 3 years in China, it still bothers me a little bit, but not as much as before.

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randall_flagg

I think all of us have had experiences like that, no matter where we come from or what we look like. It has nothing to do with YOU as a person! Like Dalaowai said, learn to embrace this and use it as an opportunity to get to know people. And: start staring at other foreigners when you see them, it’s fun!

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imitation

Yeh you hardly notice this after awhile I remember when I arrived thinking I was the centre of attention everywhere I went, now I actually think no one notices me because i'm mostly oblivious too it. But I do live in Guangzhou so meh we're a dime a dozen here.

I went to Yiyang and rural parts of Hunan for a couple of weeks but even there were I was really really the odd one out I hardly even flinched because i'd become so used to it here.

A good way to startle people is learn your local dialects hello and a few other bits, now a days when ever I get someone throwing out a hello in the street I lean in and give them in my best cantonese accent lei hou it usually throws them enough and I get a good smile from myself and them.

I've been here almost a year now and I think it took me about 2mths to get over the culture shock.

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Lu

Me and my friend went to Henan, and decided to count the number of pictures taken of us. On one day, we came to more than 30. So yes, yours is a very common experience (although it would be nice if they asked before taking the picture). Dalaowai's advice sounds very good. Don't get too upset about it, it's unavoidable. To the Chinese, who rarely see foreigners, you are just a very exotic sight, and they will look.

Hope you'll enjoy the rest of your stay!

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Ferno

I hope I can visit China before foreigners lose their psuedo-celebritity status there :mrgreen:

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roddy

Yeah, I know it might not be what you want to hear, but I have to echo the above. It isn't going to change, so you have to learn to deal with it as best you can - some become complete extroverts and run up to anyone taking a picture to do a funny pose, some hide in their rooms with a pile of dvds.

A longer term option is moving to a larger, more cosmopolitan city such as Beijing or Shanghai, where foreigners are much more common and get much less attention. Doesn't help you much now, I'm afraid . . .

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elina
It is contagious too, once you've been in China for a while, you start staring at people who don't look traditionally Chinese as well.
And: start staring at other foreigners when you see them, it’s fun!

Pretty interesting. I do not stare at foreigners before, but from now on I will begin to stare in order to make fun!:mrgreen:

Seriously, I agree with dalaowai, imitation, Lu, roddy. To be 老“老外”/ long-term foreigners, they are right. If you cannot avoid it, try to enjoy and make use of it. If you cannot change the life (such as moving into big cities, even in this way, the situation may get better, but far from no bother), then change your attitude towards it. Good luck!

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carlo

Nanjing isn't exactly a small town either. On the other hand I've been to very small places where locals didn't even take a second look at me, I'm not sure if that's because people there don't even *know* that aliens exist, or if it's because they cannot believe that they are actually seeing one.

I feel that being stared at is really not a problem, having to answer the same questions all the time is a bit more tiresome (no matter how extrovert you are, having total strangers ask you 'how long did you study Chinese' 100 times in a a single day can eventually get to you). But from what I understand things have improved a lot in the past 10-20 years, so there is hope after all.

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taite11

I'm a white dude that lives in Nanjing so I'm used to this. It actually varies based on what area you go to. In Xinjiekou or Hunan Road or around Nanjing University or other busy areas you shouldn't get stared at much. In my neighborhood people aren't just used to foreigners but I think 100s of people on the street actually recognize me! I know because shop owners and neighbors ask my girlfriend about me... so I don't get stared at anymore. Migrant construction workers stare wherever you are in the city though.

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mph

My BeiJing born and university educated Chinese professor, who is almost 90 now, told us a very interesting story about Chinese reaction to foreigners.

Having lived outside China for some years the professor went back to BeiJing in the mid 60s for a visit. He said he was constantly followed around all day by throngs of Chinese yelling "Look at the Japanese, look at the Japanese!!".

Speaking Mandarin, he insisted that he was a BeiJing native and not a foreigner, but the onlookers were even more amazed that the Japanese could speak such wonderful Mandarin.

He finally worked out that it was the Western style clothes and appearance of wealth that convinced the locals he must be a foreigner, and hence most likely a Japanese. The professor indicated that it was a an awful experience to be so singled out in his own hometown.

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novemberfog

Seriously, you just really have to ignore it. Don't let it bother you, if you are eating alone bring a book or magazine and read that and just ignore the people around you. If it is the service staff, try talking to them in Chinese. Something like "Hey, am I holding these chopsticks correctly?" "This soup is really good, what is the base?" Next time you go to the restaurant you might even get a special dish just because you are a foreigner.

It is also a very good reminder though that there are eyes on you. There was a foreigner I met in Japan who was always bringing home girls and what not, and the neighbors knew about it, the landlord knew about it, and it eventually got back to his school where he taught. He was working for a government sponsored program, and was repremanded for his poor display of public behavior as a guest of the government and the "face" of his country. Whether one likes it or not, if you stick out and look different from the majority, in most places in the world that will draw wanter or unwanted attention.

In small towns in Europe and North America, they do the same thing to Asians as well. A Malaysian friend once told me when she was living in a small town in Canada, if she entered a shop everyone just stopped and stared. Kids pointed fingers at the alien.

So just don't let it bother you, it happens to many people. Just brush it off and enjoy the good things in your city. The best way to break barriers is to make communication.

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Yang Rui

I think sometimes you can over estimate just how much people are staring because you become ultra-sensitive to it. The more you accept it, the less you come to notice it.

I think Carlo makes a really interesting point. The worst thing is not being stared at, it's being constantly asked the same questions. It can seem impossible to get anywhere without having to give your standard answers on whether you like Chinese food, whether you can use chopsticks, how long you've been learning Chinese, why you want to learn Chinese etc. People's prejudices and assumptions can be infuriating, but all you can do is be a living example that often they are wrong.

I think it really helps if you try to balance this in your mind with all the positive aspects of living in China - eating out more, meeting more people, enjoying the sheer variety of new experiences. Life in Europe tends to be very even - not too many extreme highs or lows. But in China, there are ups and downs all the time. I still can't make up my mind which kind of life i prefer.

And remember, unless you get very rich, no one will ever be this interested in you again.

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miss_China_so_much

I really feel sorry about my people. :-? I promise I won't stare at you when I see you because I am an educated adult and I've seen enough foreigners! :mrgreen:

People tend to staring at people who are different from them. When I was a kid in the 80s, we used to have a great fun watching Tibetan travellers. They came and went, wearing strange costumes, selling weird herbs and amazing crafts.

I completely understand your feeling. I would imagine when me and my fiance, who is a foreigner, will be walking on a street of in the remote countryside and getting much more staring than you in Nanjing. But I do believe that most of the people don't have any bad intention. They are just too curious. So, please forgive them!

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malinuo

Two of my African friends left Changsha for this reason. They ended up in... Nanjing, which apparently was better in this respect.

Partly I think you should feel flattered. People looked at me, a European, as well occasionally, but most of the time I didn't notice anything extraordinary. Nanjing is more than 10 times as big as Asmara, so there are bound to be a few more staring people too.

Some of the Africans I met in Nanjing glorified China as a non racist heaven, compared to some Western countries they had been to. Their experience seemed to be "yes, people stare, but they are always correct - something we rarely experience in the West". I'm in no position to judge if they were right in this, put it seems very possible.

(Edit: The wording "something we never experienced in the West" was unfortunate. I changed to "something we rarely experience in the West", even though I forgot exactly what they said.)

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krakel

First of all thank you to you all. I sort of figured that I wasn't the only one being stared at but seeing it black on white like this really helped. I know that there isn't really anything I can do about it, except for trying to make the best off it. Other then that I'm really enjoying my stay here.There is so much to see and do, and you don't have to go very far for it. Just walk out the door and you'll see kids running around with their buts hanging out of the holes in their pants :shock:

Some of the Africans I met in Nanjing glorified China as a non racist heaven, compared to some Western countries they had been to. Their experience seemed to be "yes, people stare, but they are always correct - something we have not experienced in the West".

I wasn't in any way trying to imply that people are racist here, but when people stare, point, take pictures, it can get to you, no matter for what reason they are doing it. But your friends are probably right, especially airport people in some countries in Europe. It's like they all went to the same "Make people feel like shit" school.

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