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Lost In Translation-I

May 3, 2010

This post is part of the Lost in Translation (LiT) series.  A light-hearted narrative of random first-impressions and encounters in a new culture.

外國人. wài guó rén. foreigner

On my second day in China I took a trip to Tiananmen Square.  Cold, but blue skies and the streets were bustling with people.  On the walk from the subway station to the square I was approached several times by random people just wanting to know where I was from, and to speak some English.  I thought this was a very friendly gesture and didn’t mind at all.  At one point I decided to stop walking and just hang out in front of the main part of the square—within ten minutes two groups of people came up to me to take pictures and video.  They didn’t speak any English, shouted some things in Chinese at me and began to flash photos with the peace sign held up.  One woman even pushed her mom, an elderly woman, next to me to take a picture.  I felt like a mix somewhere between being a celebrity and a pale white animal at the zoo (perhaps a polar bear).

Reflecting back, this is not uncommon.  Beijing is a major tourist-destination for the Chinese–it attracts millions of Chinese from all across the country every year.  Tiananmen Square is the epicenter of it all.  It is not unlikely that out of the thousands of people who visit each day a good majority of them rarely see westerners– 外國人,wài guó rén, foreigner.  Some perhaps never.  Several months later when I traveled further west into the country, and away from modernization, I would uncover this realization.

Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region--Helen Mountains

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Daniel permalink
    May 4, 2010 2:47 pm

    Dave-I know this post has nothing to do with China, its pitiful human rights record, Communism or the impending domination of East Asian emerging market economies but…are we still going to Yeasayer tonight? You are easily the hardest person to reach. Do you have a publicist that I can reach out to moving forward?

  2. Danielle permalink
    June 1, 2010 11:58 am

    I bet the women who took pics with you at Tiananmen square must come from some countryside. hehe. One of my student’s husband named Roger (he’s from the States) went to a village (his wife’s hometown) in Jiang Su during the Chinese New year in 2010. One day, a kid who is her neighbor wanted to go out. When he stepped out of the door and saw Roger, he just ran back to his room very rapidly. They’ve never seen foreigners. and some of them just get scared by wai guo ren. hahaha. But he took some pics there and showed me. WOW, the view’s beautiful.

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