Monday, July 20, 2009

Holy crap! Look at the laowai!

This would be for a motion-sensor sink...

老外(lao3wai4) is a way of saying "foreigner" in Chinese, and this past weekend we were definitely the talk of the town. CET gave us the opportunity to visit either Dalian (a bigger, nicer city by the ocean - good air quality) or Yuxian (a smaller, poorer town). I decided to go to Yuxian because I figured it would be more of an experience; maybe less fun (my friends who went to Dalian got to go out to bars at night and hang by the ocean), but in the end more meaningful.

Yuxian was completely different than Beijing. I don't think they see foreigners very often there so when we walked by in our big group, traffic problems occured. Lot's of staring and pointing. One of the guys looks like Harry Potter (at least to Chinese people, none of the Americans think they look alike) so he got asked to be in pictures all the time.

Our first day we toured Yuxian. They took us all around and we saw a bunch of old temples. Unfortunately our tourguide only spoke Chinese so I didn't catch much of the information. We also went to a traditional paper cutting... place. Yuxian's paper cuts are different than the rest of China's paper cuts because they often use white paper which they then paint after they're done cutting. So, Yuxian's papercuts are very colorful as opposed to the traditional red paper the rest of China uses.

Our second day we traveled to a small, very rural, very poor village nearby. Saturday was my favorite day because it was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. If I thought we were stared at in Yuxian, in this village (which I've unfortunately forgotten the name of) we were even more of a spectacle. Because it had rained the day before, and because the roads were pretty much all dirt, the place was a muddy mess. We rode there in 2 big buses and it was pretty nerve-wracking to look out the window and watch the bus maneuver through the city. Chinese people are very fond of motorbikes, by the way. You see them everywhere, even at this village. I think I would have fallen flat on my face trying to ride one on those roads.

After checking out all the temples and places of interest, we went to lunch... which sadly got into a bit of a disagreement with my stomach. I wish I'd taken a picture of the dish that I think did it. It was yellow, noodle-like, and squishy.

Afterwards we rode back to Yuxian to rest up, but on the way we stopped at this long bridge (not really a bridge, but a road) and walked along it. It was nice to just relax and go for a stroll. We climbed down and skipped some stones too (well, I attempted and failed). Later that night we returned to the village to watch a traditional Chinese opera performance, which I think is a weekly get-together for the locals. My favorite memory from the trip was right before the performance. While we were waiting some of the guys started playing basketball with the Chinese guys. A ton of Chinese people gathered round to watch and it was fun play with the kids while we were waiting, it was just all-around a nice moment.

Chinese opera is an opportunity to teach kids moral lessons (so our guide said) and to get together and chat. It was really strange to hear how everyone was talking during the performance, completely different from how audiences are supposed to be silent in the US. The way they sing makes it hard for even Chinese people to understand, but I think they know the story already (like the stories we were told as children). This one was about how the emperor's daughter was beaten up by her husbad after he got drunk, so she told her dad and her dad decided that the only way to solve this was to execute her husband, most of the play revolved around the daughter trying to convince her mom and dad not to kill him because she started to feel bad. I donno.

Well, that's all for now. But before I go, I've had a request to explain how Chinese people react to me being able to "speak" Chinese, and how they react to me/foreigners in general. Well, if I'm in a group of people and a Chinese person speaks to us, they usually single out the most obviously Chinese and in-charge one. That usually ends up being Lisa, her parents are from Guangdong, so she understands the language they speak there (I forgot wether its Cantonese or some other dialect/language) and is a bit more familiar with Mandarin than the rest of us. If you're Asian, but not Chinese, that's second best. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense because you want to be talking to the person who can actually speak Chinese. If you're obviously European-looking, then Chinese obviously isn't your first language (I'm sure there might be exceptions, but that's really strange to think about).

When it comes to me speaking Chinese with Chinese people, depending on where I am, I get a different reaction. If I'm at a shopping area they all flatter me and say my Chinese is great after I say "duo1 shao3 qian2? (how much)" to which I awkwardly decline in the proper Chinese manner (Chinese people only rarely say "thank you" after receiving a compliment). Still haven't gotten that down. It's very strange when someone compliments you on your outfit or says you look cute and you're then supposed to say, "No, no, these clothes aren't pretty" or something along those lines. It's so much easier to say, "Thanks, I really like them too!" Yesterday at dinner there were no Asian-Americans in the group and somehow the responsibility of ordering food landed on me (I think the others were just too tired). Ordering food is never a problem because all the menus have pictures of the food so you can point at the picture and say "zhe4ge (this)". But later I asked the waitress what an appropriate gift to give a friend after they've helped me would be, she was pretty shocked but very happy/embarassed to answer. Something along the lines of depends on what your intentions are (NOT helpful, a very Chinese answer).

Ah, I've been rambling for too long, gotta wrap this up. If I'm with Asians, I'm ignored. No Asians, they usually want to try to speak a little English with me, but have to resort to Chinese eventually after I persist in only speaking Chinese (plus, I think most people only have studied very simple conversation topics or job-related English). Reactions to my obviously not being Chinese, I get looked at a lot so I have to be careful about picking wedgies while walking down the street and such. I think I might be treated more politely, but I think I have to go around by myself more before I can say its not just the fact that its a group of foreigners. Also, I get a lot of "Heloo?" while I'm walking down the street. If you're curious about anything else, please do ask, I like trying to explain these things. Did I answer that question well enough?


  1. Wow the Chinese Opera looked cool! Their make up and costumes are so pretty.

  2. Sarah - it's very interesting to hear your perspective. It must be a very awesome experience. I loved the picture of everyone jumping in the air! (And the Automatic Water Leakage sign...)

  3. I love how u are explaining everything, I never imagined just how different china is! The opera really reminded me of the movie "The Painted veil". There is a scene with the opera : )
    Everything sounds great, and i agree going to Yuxian (sp?) was a better and more meaningful place to go : ) Glad to hear yo're having fun!!!!!!!
    it's alex t : )