What are you looking at?!

Phew! What an afternoon. I’ve just returned from on of Linyi’s biggest supermarkets, where I go once a week to pick up essentials I can’t find at my smaller neighborhood market, like butter and mayonnaise.

Usually, I find these trips fun and interesting. I like to walk leisurely around, looking at housewares and food, taking my time. Today, however, I felt off somehow.

It all started in the taxi. My Chinese skills are pathetic, but I generally have no problem telling the taxi driver where to go. The cab I grabbed today was not one of those. He flat out refused to understand my Chinese. “Da Run Fa” I said. ?? He said. “Da Run Fa” I said again, with a slightly different emphasis. ?? He said. Finally, he says another name for the supermarket and off we go. At this point, it is fairly clear that I can’t speak a lick of Chinese, but the driver insists on asking me a million questions. I can usually anticipate what they will ask, and I can understand the common questions, like “Where are you from?” and “Where do you work?” But with this guy I couldn’t understand a thing and quite honestly, I got really frustrated.

Then I get to the supermarket and it is packed. Granted, on weekends it is always busy, but this was abnormally busy. I took a deep breath. I’ve recently become nonchalant about crowds, but after the frustration of the taxi ride, I just wasn’t prepared.

I had to check-in my backpack, because in China, bags are not allowed in the grocery stores. There was a long line, and as I was just about to be served, this woman pushes right in front of me with her bags. Of course, the girls behind the counter serve her as if nothing happened. I tried to say something, but when you can’t speak the language, all they do is just look at me and shrug.

In the store, it was like a zoo. I don’t mean that in the “crazy-busy” sense of the word, but in the “I am like an animal on display in the zoo” sense. Everyone stares at me anyway. As a foreigner in a city where there are few, I am used to it. But today, my frustration reached critical mass and I just flipped out.

People of Linyi – I am sorry that I scowled at you today. I gave you all dirty looks when you stopped everything you were doing to stare at me. I rolled my eyes when you grabbed all your friends and made them turn around to see. I ignored your child’s “hello.” When you came over to the checkout counter to look in my basket to see what foreigners buy, I told you to buzz off – and that is not something I would usually do.

Because of the culture shock moment, I felt I needed the comfort of something thoroughly familiar – and American. So, despite the fact that I normally much prefer the greasy street food of China, I went to KFC. The place was crowded, nothing unusual there, but compared to the supermarket, it felt serene. The girls taking orders were so sweet and they spoke to me in their broken English and I to them in broken Chinese and it was good. And I even smiled at the kid in line behind me, mostly because he didn’t try to cut in front of me.

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One Response to “What are you looking at?!”

  1. Mark Says:

    Haha too true. We’ve all been there for real. Though a Chinese KFC feels as Chinese to me as a dumpling dive. I’ve lived in small cities in China with very few foreigners so I got the laowai monkey treatment pretty heavily but I learned to ignore it. That’s really all they want is for you to acknowledge their attention, but if you look through them as if they’re decorative plants and pretend not to hear, they get disappointed quickly and move along. And I’ve gotten pretty crafty about clandestinely hiding my shopping basket when I notice prying eyes. Don’t apologize for getting flustered, but don’t let it phase you. And of course if you feel particularly devilish, glance over the clothes or peer into the basket of someone staring at you, wrinkle your nose, add a huff if you like, and walk past them. Even if their fashion taste is impeccable and their cuisine delicious, they’ll get the message.

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