Today is Mooncake festival day in China . . . and it rained for most of the day. It was also really cold and windy–at least relative to the high 30s and low 40s heat and humidity that we’ve been experiencing. I think the temperature was in the mid-20s but it felt ‘colder’ than that relative to 40-something. It was a really NICE break!
Unfortunately, Julianne’s foot is still in no condition to walk more than a short distance and time. Her foot combined with the rain pretty much kept us in our apartment most of the day. Around 4pm, we decided to go do a food and beverages run to Metro (it’s like a COSTCO store).
On our way out of the apartment we ran into two other foreign teachers, and we all decided to take a taxi together. It was chilly enough with the wind that I almost went up to grab a sweater but I didn’t. One of the girls was from Arkansas, USA, so she had a jacket on. We had to wait about 10 minutes for an unoccupied taxi, and during that time the neighborhood people walking by, and cars driving by, oggled the group of four foreigners . . .
Finally, we get a taxi and drive to Metro. The parking lot was packed, and we realized that Mooncake festival day is on par with Chuseok in South Korea. I should have brought my camera with me to take a picture of the parking lot and all the people inside . . . but the upload speeds to my blog are still a major handicap (I’m still mulling over how I’m going to deal with that).
Walking inside we go to pass through a gate and are stopped by one of the service people. She points at my backpack, and another teacher’s backpack, and gestures for us to take them off and give them to her while speaking fast Chinese. I found this peculiar because the FOUR other times I’ve visited the store I was never asked to do this. I comply with the ‘you’re-foreign-white-possibly-a-criminal’ profiling that seemed to be happening cause we were in a group, and hand over my bag and get a ticket for it. I look at the shelf where our bags are stored and see no other bags–meanwhile the store has hundreds of customers. I tell Julianne and our two friends that the next time I’m there, and it’s not insanely busy (another ‘possible’ reason for heightened security), that if they ask me for my backpack again and I see another Chinese person with a bag or backpack that I’m going to go back to the security counter and escort the service person to where the Chinese person is and ask them about the double-standard . . . actually, I probably won’t do that, but the fantasy helps me let it go, lol.
We walk around and pick up the foods and drinks and other stuff that we came to buy, and then head to the checkouts. Ohhhhhh god, each checkout line had about 20+ people waiting in it, and there are about 15 checkouts. The speed with which these lines are processed is SLOW. We had about 15 people in front of us, and it took nearly 45 minutes. Add to this that the computers look like they use a DOS system, and the printers are the old school 1980’s type with the rolling wheels and holes on both sides of the paper that spin and spit the paper out . . . yeah, it’s slow.
When we first got into line a late twenties Chinese man turned around to see who was speaking English and boy did we make his day. First he gave each of us a good once over. He especially liked the fact that Julianne and two other foreign women were with me. Then he examined every item we had in our shopping cart.
At first he tried to be a little inconspicuous with his staring, but after the first two minutes his neck must have been bothering him so he turned his entire body so that it was facing square onto us as a group with the cash register now directly behind him.
I gave him 3 minutes of staring time, and then I looked him in the eye with a smiling but firm teacher stare and said, “Hi. What are you doing? Turn around please.” I put my two fingers to my eyes, and made a gesture that meant staring, then I crossed my arms in a no/stop signal, and finally spun my fingers around and pointed at him. He had the good grace to smile a little, with a bit of shame and ‘oh yeah, maybe what I’m doing is not so polite,’ and he turned around.
I think I surprised the other two women with Julianne and I, but I said that if Chinese people would consider his behavior rude, that we should not allow the staring to go on for so long or in so blatant a manner. (Last week I asked my students during the break time what the rules were for staring in public, and they confirmed that staring for excessively long periods of time in close proximity to a woman is not acceptable behavior in China.)
Anyways, we waited and waited and finally got through the checkout. Outside it was even colder, and we made our way as fast as possible to the street to find a taxi. Just as we got there a taxi pulled up and two men in their mid-20s got out. We really must be a shocking sight for the Chinese people in Changsha when in a group of four cause these guys were totally wide-eyed and in shock to see four ‘aliens’ approach the taxi they were getting out of, lol. The reactions remind me of the kind of shock that Koreans on Ganghwa Island would have during a summer English camp I was at when 10 foreign teachers would be in the two street hamlet that I taught in; it must have seemed like an invasion or something from War of the Worlds, lol.
This post has kind of organically grown into one about staring . . . so I guess the last thing I’ll say is that Chinese people in the Changsha area (it might be radically different in other regions of China) seem to be more curious in a positive way. The curiousity, however, in my mind is very different than a lot of the staring I experienced, and Julianne experienced, while in Korea. Some people have posted comments that they think the fact that I have a shaved head, I’m fat (I prefer to use the term “chubby” but whatever), and Julianne has a very curvy figure and red hair . . . and that that is what draws so much staring . . . but that’s not the issue.
It’s the mild to extreme hostility, and in general negative vibe, that I felt from some/too many Koreans who would stare at us. I don’t get that sense at ALL in Changsha. I get a sense of wonderment, awe, curiousity, and sometimes even playfulness. There were times I’d feel that kind of vibe in Korea too–indeed, some Koreans who would stare at us turned out to be wonderful and friendly people. But I have to say my own personal view so far on how the staring in China versus Korea contrasts is that it’s far more friendly and relaxed in China, and that in Korea it’s more xenophobic/racist/hostile/negative (and yes, I know the historical context and origins of this phenomena). For those readers that would say that the kind of energy you project is the kind of energy you get back . . . well, I’d half agree with that, but then go on to say that each person in a cross-cultural interaction produces their own vibe and sometimes it doesn’t matter what kind of vibe you’re projecting–the other person is not influenced.
I’ll finish with saying that the general cultural vibe I feel in Changsha is a friendlier, and slower paced, and more relaxing. I love it.
I’m hoping that Julianne and I might be able to find out where some Mooncake festival events are tomorrow, and that they’re not too far away. If so, we’ll go and take our cameras, and I’ll upload some shots to my flickr page.
For now, it’s time to go eat some mooncakes, and enjoy a quiet evening in our apartment.