Stephanie’s Reflections

Hey, lovely blog readers! This is Stephanie, Marsha’s older sister and, in my unbiased opinion, the prettiest of us all. Since I’ve been here in China for over a month, Marsha wanted me to answer questions she prepared.  Even though I could use this time to recount horribly embarrassing stories about her from our childhood, I’ll just answer these questions as honestly as I can as a black woman travelling through China with absolutely NO knowledge of Mandarin (I just learned the proper tones for “ni hao” 2 weeks ago).

What was your first impression of China?

I’ll break this into two parts because I first landed in Hong Kong five hours before heading to Tianjin. When my plane landed in Hong Kong and I saw the pretty green mountains and clear blue skies, all I could think is: This is it? Where is the beastly, ghetto fabulous China that my sisters told me about with smog and streets that would make you regret wearing open-toed shoes? When I landed, there it was, the China-beastly-ghetto-fabulousness that I was seeking. There were people pushing in lines…a lot of people and I had to choke back my anger when more than a handful of them wedged in front of me in line.  At 5’6”, I know that some of them thought that they could squeeze past the Amazon, but I definitely didn’t think it was cute. Then there was the fact that gate for the flight to Tianjin wasn’t announced until a half-hour before takeoff. In Tianjin, the air was smoggy and during the initial taxi ride, since my sister Diana told me it would be rude to buckle the seatbelt, I had a good time trying to hold onto the seat because apparently my taxi driver was an extra in Fast and the Furious and found it amusing to put my life in danger multiple times weaving through rush hour traffic. All in all, my first impression of China was pretty memorable.

What shocked you the most about China or Chinese people?

I was shocked at the variety of heights I saw here. I came expecting to just completely tower over people (yes, I know I’m only 5’6” but I have body dysmorphia, OK?). While this is true of a good portion of the people here, there are plenty of people my height and taller. I heard it might be because I’m in northern China, but I don’t care as long as I don’t feel like Gargamel preying on innocent Smurfs. I was also shocked at the spitting that happens here. It’s not the fact that the men here spit that shocks me but the method that Chinese men seem to have down pat. Imagine someone hocking a loogie from deep within their soul before spitting it out anywhere with impunity. Yup, the sound traumatized me when I first came but now I just keep on moving after making sure not to step on it. I was also shocked at the level of PDA I saw in the younger Chinese couples. I’m talkin’ kissing-all-over-your-face-and-rubbing-your-rump PDA. Maybe it’s specific to Tianjin but it definitely broke the stereotype I had in my head of Chinese people being conservative virgins, ha.

What DO you think about Chinese people (coming from a non-Chinese speaker’s point of view I’m curious)?

I think I summed it best the first day I was in Tianjin and I tried to make myself as small as possible in Helen’s while the waiters and patrons were rushing past: “I have never felt so in people’s way in my life.” Chinese people seem to always be in a hurry and don’t like to be inconvenienced. When I fumbled for the change in my clutch at 7-11, the person behind me already has their products laid out and their bills ready to hand to the cashier. There also seems to be a language Chinese drivers developed with their car horn that allows them to switch lanes with impunity because the taxi drivers I had did not seem to like to wait in lanes when they could just make their own by squeezing between other cars and honking to announce our presence. Another observation I made was that Chinese people seem to be TERRIFIED to speak to foreigners. Not in the xenophobic sense that one would assume but because they are afraid of exercising their limited English. I won’t be a douche and be angry about that, though, because my Mandarin is VERY limited and whenever Marsha asks me to recite a phrase I learned to one of her friends, my tongue gets twisted so fast it’s ridiculous. But it’s hilarious seeing the panic on the faces of people at a fast food restaurant when all I have to do is point out what I want and seeing a cashier literally push us onto another in Beijing while muttering “sorry” to his partner in Mandarin before rushing off with a red face. It makes me wish that I spoke Mandarin because whenever Marsha is around, they get sooo relieved when almost perfect Mandarin comes flowing out of the lips of a black girl. From what I’ve seen, though, Chinese people seem fairly friendly and I’m sure would be even more so if we could properly communicate.

I also love how girly and over-the-top accessories can be for Chinese girls. Chinese girls seem to relish in being excessively feminine. Everything is sparkly and frilly and colorful…right up my alley. If they had covers for Kindles here I would have bought it twice over because they seem to have pretty covers for everything: cellphones, IPhones, laptops, you name it. I bought nail art sparkles to paste on my nails and about seven bows to jazz up my locks and I’ve gotten compliments on my hair throughout the whole trip. I guess my locks can also look a little confusing to Chinese people and the question my sisters, cousin and I get about our natural hair is: how do you wash it? Pretty hilarious.

Chinese people also seem to live in both the past and the present. I see Chinese people riding fast cars with headlights that blink red and blue; on the other hand, I’ve seen rickshaws being peddled down streets and old women practicing traditional dances in the park. I kinda like how the Chinese embrace new developments while holding on to their culture.

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