Stranger in a Strange Land

One of the strangest parts of being here in China is remembering that I am the foreigner. I know it sounds silly, but even with all the blatant reminders, it’s still easy to forget.  For example, when they talk about the “foreign teachers” at school, I keep forgetting that they’re talking about me.

On the other hand, there *are* all those blatant reminders.  The most obvious is the language.  When you’re dealing with any of the European languages, there’s at least enough common ancestry between them to get some of the basics across.  Here, the language is so completely different, that there’s no common ground.  In many cases, the ideas can’t even be properly expressed in the other language.  Sometimes it turns out to be a complex cultural difference, other times, it’s something incredibly simple (to the native speaker).  Jason spent several minutes trying to explain the meaning of “mild weather” to our boss.  I’ve had students stumble for minutes trying to describe something that is a simple, common word (and idea) to them.

One of the slightly disconcerting reminders that I’m the “stranger in a strange land”, is the stares.  Since reaching mainland China (Hong Kong is full of “foreigners”), I haven’t seen a single white person[1] who wasn’t one of the teachers at our recruiter’s office or at the current school.  I’ve seen only 1 black man–and from what I could see of the conversation, it looked like he may have been a former teacher brought in by our recruiters.

The last big reminder was hammered home today when I went shopping:  I’m Gulliver in Lilliput.  I’m a giant here. I went to Carrefour (a department store like Wal-Mart) to get some new sandals and some light-weight shirts and pants for work.  I found a sandal I liked, pulled the display shoe off the rack and held it to my feet.  It was about 2 inches short.  I asked (okay, pointed and gestured at) an employee for help finding that shoe in a larger size, and after looking around for a while, she just shook her head.

Then I wandered down to the shirts.  I found 3 of them that I liked; 2 in XXL and one a 42 (the largest sizes they had).  Two of them just fit, and the third (an XXL, that turned out to be a 41) is just a bit too tight  to wear.  This last one is going to be my “scale” to see if I’m losing weight (see last entry). For now, I’ll wear it around the house without buttoning it.  If, however, I get to the point that I can button it without looking like a sausage, I’ll know that all this walking and sweating is actually doing something.  🙂

[1] Caucasian, that is; there are a lot of Chinese people whose skin is “whiter” than mine.

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