In my last entry, I wrote about being a mixed race Asian-American in Asia and how I’m perceived here. In short- I’m not Asian. Simply American.
But what I didn’t touch on was that not only am I not Asian, simply American, I also am often lumped in the “White Person” group. I’m half caucasian, but no one has ever assumed that just by looking at me. I have black hair, brown eyes, and tan skin that browns easily in the sun. People have a hard time believing I’m half Irish, until they see my dad.
So I was surprised when I came to Changping that people were calling me “white.” I don’t look like the other caucasians here. The only superficial similarity I have with other caucasians is that we’re all not from China. After sometime, I realized how just how racially homogenous Changping is. As a foreigner here, you’re white or black. But that doesn’t come from a place of contempt- there just isn’t a significant expat community here.
Changping is a town of transients. We’re the first stop out of Hong Kong into mainland China. We’re full of factories. Foreigners come here often to tour their factories or see the status of their projects. But no one stays. I rarely see foreigners walking around, and when I do, I see foreign European or African men. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen a foreign woman roaming Changping. And I rarely see the same foreigner twice. So the people here probably look at me and have no idea where to put me. “Errr.. uh, what is she? Uhh… Just call her white.”
Again, I don’t think it comes from a negative place. I think it’s human nature to categorize and put things in order.
Being a foreigner seems to come with its own set of privileges and disadvantages. Below is a list of my privileges and disadvantages.
VIP treatment at restaurants, night clubs, hospitals, massage parlors, salons
Ushered to the front of the line by customer service
People are friendlier and more patient with me
I can ask for more and get it
Grossly ripped off at restaurants, night clubs, hospitals, massage parlors, salons
Cut in front of in line by other patrons
Taxis won’t pick me up, or will charge me 5X more than they’d charge a Chinese person
This is something I take issue it. I don’t want to be treated better or worse just because I’m not from around here. Obviously, it’s nice to get better treatment, but everything comes at a cost. You might get in the front of the line today, but tomorrow you won’t find a taxi willing to drive you.
Nothing good comes for free
I’ve been to some places that have separate menus and prices for foreigners. Others blatantly rip me off. A few months ago I went searching for a iPad cover. One place told me, after walking to the back of the store for a minute, it would cost 799 RMB (~$127 USD). Down the street, the same product was listed at 180 RMB (~$28.60).
I don’t want my waiter to run next door to get ice for my water (this really happened). Just tell me you don’t have ice and I’ll deal with it.
I read a survey a couple months ago regarding Americans in India. What stood out to me was the reason why some who answered the survey felt okay with ripping off Americans. Americans are perceived as rich, and therefore we can afford to be ripped off. As an American, I will testify that not all Americans are rich. Case in point (pointing to myself). There have been times, here in China, that I had $3USD to last me a week.
Is America any better?
Experiencing this makes me wonder- do we treat foreigners the same way in America? I come from a family of immigrants and expats, and I was raised in communities with strong immigrant presence, so I feel I was raised to be sensitive to their experiences. But now I know first hand the life of a foreigner. It’s a struggle.
I’ve never heard my immigrant family complain about mistreatment because of their nationality. But then again they could just be silently suffering. I don’t doubt that they have experienced both subtle and blatant mistreatment, especially at the hands of those who have a narrow view of the world. It’s easy to be spiteful to anyone who’s different when you have never been different yourself.
How about you? Have any of you traveled to a foreign land? Were you met with a set of foreigner privileges and disadvantages?