Blue eyes, pasty skin and blonde hair stand out in Idaho like a chubby kid in a McDonalds or the Mets having a losing record at the end of the season. It doesn’t. (Sorry Matt!) Take those same light-colored eyes, nearly translucent skin and “yellow” hair and plop them down in the center of China and the simile is more akin to a tiger in a petting zoo.
Some people hate the constant attention that comes with standing out in the crowd in Sichuan and for families with young kids, I don’t blame them for feeling frustrated. American kids are unique and cute and everyone wants to take photos of them when they are out and about in town. But, I’ve spent my two years in Gansu and then this last year in Sichuan being thoroughly amused at the photo ops, the signature signing and the peace signs flying right and left.
Just Saturday, as we were showing friends around JinLi Street, a local tourist attraction that lures in Chinese and foreign visitors with its abundance of great souvenir shopping, blown sugar in the shape of animals and roasted frogs on a stick (think of it like the Chengdu version of a seaside boardwalk!), I had the chance to be an unwitting member of a photo shoot. After wandering the shopping district, purchasing a rather large, but beautiful, Tibetan mandala inscribed with Buddhist sutras, we decided it was time to give our feet a rest. As we sat on a stone bench, resting our weary dogs, a middle aged Chinese woman plopped onto the bench next to me. After sitting down, she suddenly scooted over next to me, radiating a full-on, camera-ready smile. Then, before I could gather my thoughts enough to laugh at the preposterousness of her nerve, she actually leaned against me as her husband snapped a photo. I’m sure when they go home and pull that slide up on their computer they’ll not be impressed, as the look on my face had to read “Oh my goodness, are you kidding me?!?” If she would have given me half a second, I would have turned into the camera, pasted on my own cheese ball smile and flashed the ubiquitous two-finger peace sign, making her day.
While I’ve graced innumerable pictures over my years in China, (I really have no idea what people do with those snapshots. Do they claim me as a family friend or just point out the random foreigner they happened upon in town?) today I experienced a first. As I was walking along the sidewalk, hoping to catch a cab rather than having to take the crowded subway home, I was intently watching the traffic, eager to glimpse the red sign light of an empty cab, I watched as the cars came to a stop for the changing signal. The driver of one car was having a nice long stare at the rather conspicuous “laowai” standing on the curb and didn’t notice that there was a line of cars at a total standstill in front of him. As he was getting his good look at the foreign girl, his foot never made it to the brake pedal, crashing him into the back of the delivery truck in front of him. Yup, that dude got in a wreck because he was staring at the blonde woman. Nice! Needless to say, I stood and watched the negotiations go down as both drivers got out of their vehicles, examined the bumper/hood damage, haggled over a payment price (liability was obviously on the part of the rear-ender-er and not the re-end-y) and cash was handed over. No drawn out saga with an insurance company, claim forms or law enforcement. Business was conducted in the middle of the road, traffic weaving around the deal as it happened.
Lesson for this fine (fine being used lightly, as our air quality read “very unhealthy” for a good deal of the day) afternoon: staring at white woman=fender bender=money changing hands. You’re welcome delivery truck driver! I’m pretty sure I just financed your dinner this evening.