Ping Tracker

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Seeing Foreigners

As discussed in Two Chinas, there are entirely different countries to be found within China’s vast territory. These countries deal with seeing foreigners in different ways.

In developing regions without much Westernization, all foreigners will be stared at. This is not an exaggeration or any kind of warning against anything sinister in nature; it is simply a fact.

Generally speaking, the farther inland a person goes, and especially the further Northwest a person goes, the less foreigners that person will see. Therefore, inland Chinese and Northwestern Chinese people do the most staring in the country. Also, generally speaking, the smaller the city, the less foreigners there will be.

Because these areas see few foreigners, foreigners are something of a novelty. The stories that one hears about people practicing their English on the street become real experiences in the developing cities. If a foreigner is traveling somewhere in a developing area by themselves, it is pretty much guaranteed that a Chinese person will try to practice their English with them on every day of their travel.
Something like this situation

If the foreigner can speak Chinese, the Chinese will be very, very surprised and will talk so much that the foreigner will soon be exhausted by their excitement, although both parties will, of course, have a nice chat. In developing areas, it is common to hear “You are the first foreigner I have ever seen” or “You are the first foreigner I have ever talked to”, which is an unnerving phrase the first time one hears it. After living in Northwest China for half a year, I never got used to hearing that. The first time you hear someone say this is an unforgettable experience.

In nearly-developed and developed regions such as Tianjin, Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, foreigners are very common, so the Chinese people on the street will not give you a second glance. Because foreigners are very common, do not expect special treatment except for a possible English-language transaction at the local market. Nearly every major market, commercial business center, and service center will have English language services and possibly even English language signs and labels.

Because the developed areas see so many foreigners and learning basic English vocabulary is a must for many workers, some Chinese in these areas hold different attitudes towards foreigners.

Some Chinese see foreigners as a means to get rich by posing as taxi drivers, who then charge exorbitant fees. Some become tour guides, interpreters, or attempt to lure the unknowing tourist/newly-come worker into places such as a KTV or an art gallery and then using a variety of tricks to get money and/or a free fun activity.
A Beijing tour guide. A real one, not a sham!

Some Chinese see the foreigners as foreigners, outsiders who should not be in China. They believe the foreigners may be able to help China, but they should help China from outside the country and that China belongs to the China. These people exist and the traveler will occasionally find them, but they are not by any means the biggest group of people in these areas.

The last group consists mainly of students and the college-educated, who have embraced English as a means of broadening their minds and wish to dedicate their lives to the study of foreign language and helping foreign people.

These people will perhaps be the friendlies and most refreshing English-speaking Chinese people you will meet because they genuinely wish to make new friends and speak another language and learn about another culture. They will be outgoing, friendly, hospitable, and extroverted to the point where it may scare you. Never fear, they mean nothing but the best.

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