The people who ask me questions in China come in all different shapes of curiosity, and while children’s enquiries can be cute and amusing, if an adult asks you:
“Why do you have such a big nose?” it forces you to really tap into your inner zen and try to remind yourself, that while it certainly may sound that way, they probably really didn’t mean it badly.
Any non-Chinese person living in China will know all too well that being the subject of daily interrogations and staring is the norm for Foreigners in China, especially if you live somewhere where there aren’t too many of you.
This week, whilst taking a visit to the doctor (who says I’ll live another day), a woman weasled in mid-conversation, first exclaiming in delight upon her entrance into the room “Wow! Look at this Foreigner speaking such good Chinese!”… She paid no heed to the deathly glance I threw her as I continued to tell the doctor my ailments, and instead of taking my hint to buzz off, she circled around behind us and butted herself in between myself and the doctor, just so she could a closer look at my non-Chinese face.
“Are you… about twenty-two?” she beamed. Despite making me feel more youthful than I am, I remained unamused and to my surprise, the doctor (who was almost as annoying as this woman), shooed her away.
Many questions asked by passers by can become tiresome to continue answering, especially if they weren’t the most well considered questions to begin with:
“Where are you from?” / “Are you Russian?” (these two are practically synonymous).
“Ireland…? I asked what country are you from?”
“What do you do?”
“How much do you get paid?”
“How old are you?”
“Can you speak Chinese?” (after you’ve replied to their previous questions in Chinese…)
“Is he your father/brother/husband/son?”
(about whichever one of the two other Foreigners is accompanying me that day. Yep there’s only three of us here in Wanzai, and I’m the only one who speaks Chinese and the only girl…hurrah).
On several separate occasions different people have asked if my partner is my husband, my brother, my dad. I was also asked if a teacher of 23 who was here for a brief time was my son. At 26, I didn’t feel too pleased by that particular enquiry.
The fact that these two Foreigners may not be related is rarely a consideration.
“Do all you Foreigners have tattoos?”
“Are you used to eating Chinese food?”
“Can you eat chillies?”
“Are you married?”
“Do you have children?”
“What do you eat in your country? Do you have rice there?”
“Aren’t you cold?” (wearing a t-shirt when is 26 degrees….Celsius people).
“Aren’t you cold?”
“Aren’t you cold?”
The kids waste no time during their investigations, and may ask at anytime during class. If introducing something tricky I’ll ask them if they have any questions which of course they take to mean any questions at all, about anything- raising their little hands to enquire my Grandmother’s name or my shoe size. They will sometimes even seek us out in the canteen whilst having lunch to find out more.
The kids are certainly more creative with their questions:
“Why are your arms so hairy?”
“Is your hair real?” (curly hair)
“Why do you have so many spots on your skin?” (Freckles)
“Why are your eyes blue?”
“Why does your husband have a beard?”
“Do all Foreigners have beards?”
“Why didn’t you bring your dog to China?” (a question I often ask myself)
I showed my students an English cartoon recently, and there’s a scene where a man in a restaurant is ordering food and having it thrown at him as he orders it, and one little chap pipes up:
“Is it really like in your country Hannah?”
Ah lads, would ya use your noggins.