bad habits

This is my "foreign devil" face...

I’ve developed a number of bad habits in the last few months. I stay up late playing video games, watching movies or drinking with my fellow Shiz expats. I have been lackadaisical about learning new Chinese vocab and putting it into practice. I neglect this blog and I take forever to respond to personal emails. My apartment is disgusting and I have a pile of dirty laundry knee high piled in my bedroom corner. I grew a beard. While all these things aren’t good, perhaps my most disturbing new habit is that I scare children… for fun.

Now, before I get too deep into this there are a few things that I should clarify about the Shiz. This city might have 9 million people but less than a century ago this place was a village of a couple dozen families. Many of the people still act like this is a rural village, and it certainly shows in how they react around the handful of foreigners that live here. Every occupied room I walk into falls silent for about a minute while every turns to stare me. People on bicycles have ran into things while gawking at my foreign friends. I heard children whispering “laowai” as I walk by. Middle-aged men are CONSTANTLY yelling “hello” at me and when I respond they squeal like little girls and trip over their feet to get away from me. If all of this hubbub was due to curiosity or excitement to interact with me as a human being I would be happy, but for those especially annoying individuals it’s about the thrill of seeing (or irritating) an exotic creature. And that’s not fun.

This rural village-like reaction is also partially caused by China’s generally xenophobic nature. I’ve been told by my students that even if I was fluent in Chinese, disavowed my American citizenship, married a Chinese girl tomorrow and had a kid by this time next year I wouldn’t be considered Chinese. My child wouldn’t be Chinese. My child’s child’s child wouldn’t be considered Chinese. Furthermore, Chinese have a general fear of all things foreign (and there are a couple justifiable reasons). Foreigners are always depicted as idiots or monsters on Chinese TV. Limited access to free media and rampant stereotyping means many of my students think everyone in America carries a gun at all times and they love killing people. Heck, dating as far back as to the construction of the Great Wall, China has been a little freaked out about those who are not them.

Thus, fear of the “other” and lack of interaction with foreigners makes the Shiz a perfect storm when it comes to scaring little kids.

My first sojourn into scaring children was a month ago and I swear it wasn’t my fault. Lauren and I were walking to a restaurant near my apartment and we passed a woman with a baby. The baby appeared angelic until it caught sight of me. Then, as quickly as someone flicking a switch, the infant’s face contorted into what was surely an uncomfortable expression and let loose a grotesque scream. Like Quasimodo, I hid my face and we swiftly walked away.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I started using my newly realized power for my own twisted pleasure. I was near the end of one of occasional jogs when I saw two boys standing at a bus stop 100 yards away. One of them made an exaggerated gesture to his friend and began to stare. Something snapped inside me.

“Oh, I’ll give you something to look at,” I said to myself between huffs as I continued to lumber forward.

When I was about 25 yards away from the boys I moved out of the bike lane and onto the sidewalk. I then put on my best “foreign devil” face, complete with scowl and fire in my eyes, and began to sprint at the boys. They didn’t realize what I was doing until I was nearly on top of them. I locked eyes with the animated boy and gently shoved him as I passed. I ran on for half a dozen paces before turning my head to see the boy was clutching his chest. I heard him say “he scared me to death” in Chinese. I had to walk the rest of the way home because I couldn’t stop laughing.

Now I can’t stop. In my defense, I mostly try to freak out middle schoolers because, let’s be honest, they’re the most annoying age group in any country. I listen in to conversations and, when I know they’re talking about me, I growl “You have something you want to tell me?” I give a lot of angry glares (followed by good-natured chuckles). When the kids are following me I like to turn quickly and yell “BOO!”

Of course, none of this is helping dispel the idea that foreigners should be anything other than dancing monkeys, individuals placed on this planet purely for Chinese entertainment, but at this point I don’t care. There is no way for me to get the entire Shijiazhuang population to understand that they should stop objectifying me and my foreign friends. So I might as well have a little fun along the way, right?

Let me know if I’m a terrible person in the comments below!

    • Katie
    • April 15th, 2012


    • Matt
    • April 15th, 2012

    Your apartment is digesting? I hope it feels better soon!

    • Emily
    • April 15th, 2012

    Get your beard under control.

    • ike
    • April 19th, 2012

    hahahahahahahahh i love it! keep scaring them…don’t…ever…stop

    • Blachford
    • April 25th, 2012

    Send me your address immediately. We’re taking up a collection in Meredith Hall to send you a razor and a comb!

    • Nora
    • May 9th, 2012

    I don’t know if you’re a terrible person or not (probably, yes), but I’ve read this aloud to all my friends and everyone thinks you’re awesome. :)

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