The term/saying “Being in one’s shoes has always been loosely used” technically one can never truly understand how one feels because we react to emotions/actions/events differently; Our lives are affected differently too. I have always tried to imagine what being a foreigner is like, being in a place or country that is not your own. Being surrounded by people who you cannot relate to, and who don’t understand you. It goes deeper than that doesn’t it though; it’s not just about the language, it’s everything. I want to talk more about that in this blog post.
You are sitting at home right now, I mean you have to be, the whole world is in quarantine. If you are reading this anywhere beside your couch at home, it’s fair to say you should be ashamed of yourself; Unless you’re someone who is working tirelessly to solve this epidemic, you sir/maam are a hero.
I have been to China for almost a month now, well, a month. It’s fair to say that things really are different and significantly it is fair and honest to say that I feel like a foreigner in here, you can’t really miss the difference, I am very close to midnight, if you get what I mean. Actually, if i’m being honest being in China has made me a little bit light skinned. As mentioned earlier it’s not just communication barrier that makes you feel like a foreigner in China it’s a whole lotta of things, and like my title says, I will explain “being a foreigner through 5 natural senses”. Let me remind you what senses I am talking about ‘Sight (Eyes), Smell (Nose), Mouth (Taste), Hearing (Ears) and Touch.
So take a seat, a couch, bed, a stool, bean bag, whatever really makes you feel comfy and hear me out.
- EARS (Sound/Hearing)
A really strange sense to begin with right? Go on touch your ears. We are able to emit sound because we can hear sounds. Communication is important when one can listen. So can we all just listen to our perspective govt and stay at home. The relation between mouth and ears is important so these senses might link.
Chinese are loud when they speak, loud than two conductors arguing for a passenger. To the foreign ear its all gibberish but its clear the conversation is heavy, or maybe it’s not, it’s a quiet normal conversation to them. To you however the demeanor of it seems heavy. Admit-tingly at one point i heard what seemed like an argument, I stopped in anticipation “This is it! first fight I will see between Chinese” unfortunately it didn’t go down that way. As I said in my previous Black Chinese blog post, it’s all stereotype really.
How does one communicate with a person who can’t hear, and understand what you are saying? there’s so much that gestures can say without making you look dumb or worse frustrated. Both of you ‘internally’ screaming why can’t this motherfucker hear me, I’m saying something so simple. It’s no one’s fault really, just the world is designed to be that way.
I have a TV in my room, it’s unused. I did once in a different hotel tuned some channels but all were speaking Mandarin, even football, can you believe that I have to watch UEFA champions without hearing those commentators “PETER DRURY”, is such a thing possible?? in China it is my friends. To not be heard should be amongst human’s greatest fears; Imagine a dog mauling you, and you’re screaming for help or if South African yelling “Fuseg” to no avail. It’s a pitiful example really but it’s enough to create an image in your head. As a foreigner without knowing the language; You end up staring at a person, wishing somehow you had telepathy, sending imaginary waves to the other person’s brain, and explaining that all you want is “Sugar, please hear my thoughts Mr. Chinese man”
At one point I stood while a group of Chinese guys had a 30 minute conversation about me. I had someone translating but you know how translations are; these guys who say 5 paragraphs, and my dude would be like “Naah they are just saying you have a very nice smile” Bullshit, smile is one word bra. So coming to China? get yourself use to Mandarin, learn some words, especially if you’re young.
2. Mouth (Taste)
I did say mouth and ears have a relationship when it comes to being a foreigner; What you say and what others say here can be confusing. However mouth which relates to sense of taste goes beyond just communication; it also relates to food!! Yes, as you can imagine food is different here, very different really, my taste buds either jump with joy or cradle themselves in the corner like a white guy whose seen a ghost in a movie.
“I see dead people”
I grew up wanting to taste a lot of Asian food, a lot, but now that I am here, I don’t know. I will be honest some things are delicious, Gordon Ramsay would want a taste too, and then sometimes I think he would yell and swear
“What the fuck did I just eat!!!”
You can be hopeful that you definitely will find something that your tongue can get use too, or be a none adventurers person who lives on McDonald’s or KFC daily, which is a bad idea really. I want to try it out, to mix Chinese way of making food with my own way. Things are sweet here, savoury products are everywhere, I think most things in China that relate to food have flour in them; if not flour, it rice/pork. I asked myself how are Chinese not fat, but i soon realized the meals are actually quite balanced and Chinese walk, and work out, mostly walk a lot! So people you should really start walking to places. Well don’t do it now, you’re in quarantine.
3. Nose (Smell)
We all know when you get to China you have to wear a mask, no that is not something new, it’ has forever been like that. While just randomly walking I thought of this, I looked at a guy close to my age with a mask on, he looked rather comfortable while I was having a hard time managing my mask then it hit me, this man has been wearing such a mask ever since he was young. He has grown up with the idea of it constantly being on his face, at that moment I kid you not, a child passed by with his mom and I was like yep, i was right.
Where am I going with this? well in China I have to use my sense of smell differently, I have a mask on all the time. So I am not using it at 100%. It’s hard to get use to it, but rather alive then dead. Odour is really different too except farts, those unfortunately are the same if not more potent and deadly, don’t ask me how I know. Just know I was like Mario in that moment ” How do I breathe?” If you’re a fast food human being you’ll be glad to know that KFC still smells the same. You know that smell one experiences in the taxi when someone opens a box of KFC? How hard the smell hits and instantly you crave? Yeap! that smells hits the same way.
There is a distance between me and my Asian (Chinese) companions; the distance is quite apparent I can tell you that. In the Metro train, the common form of transport here in Shanghai (Probably whole of China), there exist a distance when we sit on the bench. The trains get really full, apparently I haven’t yet experienced the capability of it’s fullness, but I can tell you it gets crowded. If it was that crowded on South African Trains, i tell you by the time the train gets to the end, a lot of cellphones and purses would be lost. I began to notice that when I am sitting on the bench I mostly end up sitting alone, if someone is sitting next to me, there is quite a distance between us.
I thought I was paranoid, then I began an experiment for myself. First finding an empty chair in a region that i know gets full then sitting in the middle of the bench, so no matter were you sit, you’ll definitely be close to me. Well people opted to rather stand at most times. Telepathically I was telling them “Dude it’s a long way, come sit down”. One time I kid you not an older couple stood and walked to sit somewhere when I sat next to them. Well it doesn’t happen as cruelly as it sounds. However there are times were I wonder god damn, do I have COVID-19, and these guys see it; but then I am like “whatever”
5. Eyes (Sight)
I can see the fear in your eyes! I can see the curiosity in your eyes! I can see a lot in your eyes! In the previous writing i did mention the constant occurrence of the stare. Yes, the Chinese can see that I am a foreigner, I see them, see me, see them. It’s rather obvious, I am black & handsome looking, and I have a beard. Oh yes, I haven’t seen anyone with a beard yet in China, even the older people?? hmm what about that! Wherever I walk I am reminded that I am a foreigner, I am reminded that I am different through the stares. You can instantly sometimes the “why me” look when you enter a store. The young Chinese lady screaming why did she have to be the one at the til. I secretly laugh at that one; I am laughing at it now.
Some young ladies really get excited, get excited to talk to you and look at this foreign man. First day I arrived there was a girl who couldn’t stop wanting to talk to me and look at me. I think she was the first and probably last person to break the invisible contact barrier. The girl was so curious she wanted me to get her numbers/socials, her boyfriend didn’t like that very much. I think after I left they had “The talk”
The most interesting stare I have gotten however was from a young kid, a very young kid in the train. He did not know either to be afraid or curious, he was in limbo! He kept looking at me. So I looked back at him. He would run away but curiously comeback, it has probably been the cutest thing in the train for me.
I am speaking from male perspective in this situation, a lady acquaintance I know said her butt is quite a main attraction, surprisingly rather from females then men. That is another thing that I have seen a lot of actually. Perhaps it’s just a common thing but I have a lot of females holding hands, I mean really, really holding hands, and quite affectionate. You know what, no one really cares about it too. No one gives them any stares except me, i get stares.
It’s a wow, how these simple things can make you feel out of place. Being a foreign really is feeling out of place, but then like any foreign substance that enters a certain space, it’s either you adapt or get rejected. I am not aiming for rejection, so it’s a matter of adapting. These foreign shoes fit nicely, there make me feel like I have really taken a strange interesting adventure in life.
If you got something to add, something to say, don’t hesitate.