|JingZhou is a wild and strange city. Though there are roughly 1 million people here, the locals consider their city “small” compared to the city they envy: Shanghai.
When we first arrived here, my brain was spinning with culture-shock. There were people everywhere and the streets were covered with little stands where people sold nuts, fruits, and vegetables I had never seen before (and even a dog hanging in the meat stand right along with the pigs and ducks). In addition to that, three-wheeled bikes equipped with carts that were loaded with things on the back crowded the sidewalks. Every now and then a scooter rushed by or even an occasional taxi strolling down the sidewalk. All of these things made us feel strange and overwhelmed. Not to mention, nearly every passer by stared at us, turning their heads to see who these strangers might be. I felt like a celebrity and it was not a good feeling.
Since that first day, (as is the way with culture-shock,) I have felt less and less strange here. That is not to say that things here are normalizing…it is simply that I am coming to expect strange things all around.
Our hosts are English teachers from Virginia who have spent the last two years living and teaching in China. We had the privilege of sitting in on their classes to watch the Chinese students give speeches. When their speeches were done, we stood at the front of the class to let the students ask us questions about America. This particular experience only added to the bizarre feeling that we were celebrities, simply for being American.
As soon as we walked to the front, the students clapped excitedly and a few of them could be heard saying “beautiful!” I couldn’t help but laugh. Had these students really seen so few Americans that our average visages were to be called “beautiful?” Their questions too, reflected this odd assumption that “American” negates “rich,” “famous,” or “beautiful.”
“You are both good looking. What are your jobs if you don’t mind me asking?” (First of all…what do our jobs have to do with being attractive? Did he think we were going to say that we were models or actors? The question was both flattering and ridiculous. Neither Drew or I would ever be called “good looking” by a stranger in any other context.)
“Are all Americans big and strong? In the movies they look very good.” ( We didn’t realize this at the time, but our host, Kelly clarified later that when Chinese say “strong” they mean fat.)
“Were you on X-Factor? Can you sing us a song?” (For some reason…each class we visited asked us to sing a song. Why I wonder? I made Drew sing. I don’t sing solos. Drew did not sing, however until someone from the class sang or performed for us. The one class sang a pop song together for us, and in the other class, a boy gave us a very good beat-boxing performance.)
In some ways, China supports some of the stereotypes I may have expected. In other ways…it surprises me with a hundred new oddities. I had no idea how strange I would be within this place. The longer I stay here though, the more often we are met with kind introductions to this strange new world. The people have hearts eager to share, and of that I am very appreciative.