I used to stick out like the proverbial sore thumb here in China. On several occasions recently, though, I've been mistaken for Chinese by people who were asking for directions but not paying very close attention. I attribute this to three circumstances: Grey hair, sunglasses, and an improved local economy (i.e., more chubby Chinese).
I remember my first time fondly. I was on the campus of a college in Beijing waiting to cross a street. A young man standing next to me was looking all around, obviously lost. Without looking directly at me, he asked if I knew where a certain building was.
"Sorry, I'm a stranger here myself," I responded.
He must have caught the accent because he turned in my direction and did a classic double take. He mumbled something in embarrassment and walked away quickly.
It's really fun when they realize they're talking to a foreigner about half-way through the question. "Hey, can you tell me… uh, can you…. uh…. "
Usually they'll recover their composure and continue asking the question. I guess they figure that since they've made the effort to start asking, they might as well go ahead with the rest of it. They always look surprised when I reply in Chinese, and even more surprised if I can give them the directions they wanted.
A while back a fellow asked me for directions in the local Liuzhou dialect, which I don't speak. I said, "Sorry, I don't understand Shandong dialect." Up north that would be sort of like saying, "I don't understand hillbilly." I guess it doesn't have that connotation down here, though. The guy just looked puzzled.
Yesterday Laopo and I were waiting for a bus. A young girl walked up and handed Laopo an advertising flyer, then turned and asked me if I wanted one, too.
"What makes you think I could read it," I asked.
Her jaw dropped and her eyes opened wide. "You're a foreigner!"
I didn't see any point in denying it, so I said, "ung," which is Chinese for "uh-huh".
"But you can speak Chinese! Are you English?"
I wondered exactly what she meant by that. "No," I replied, "I'm American."
That seemed to make her lose interest. She walked off to hand a flyer to someone else.
* * *
I know I promised not to write any more of these FFG in Liuzhou posts. I missed propagating my ponderous prose through the ether, though so I decided to do one more. This is the last one, though.
Really! I promise!
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