Counting stares – From Africa to China

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 – Wadeisor Rukato 


I started to write this post on the sixth day after my arrival in Beijing in August 2015. I finished it almost six months later on the 30th of January 2016. I am happy to finally be able to share it.

Today is my 6th day in Beijing, China. I feel as though I have been here for considerably longer. Since my arrival, my days have been filled with everything from trying new food, doing on campus admin, looking for parts for my laptop, getting medicals done for a residence permit, drinking Chinese beer and learning Chinese. The sun has shone relentlessly at a high of least 32 degrees Celsius since my arrival and the days have been divided into those with clear blue skies, and those with a smog induced milky white sky.

Before I left South Africa I received all manner of preparatory and survival advice, tips, secrets and information from friends, family and acquaintances. While some of this advice was considerably insightful, some of it I listened to and dismissed quickly because it seemed loaded with generalisations that I didn’t feel comfortable adopting in the absence of personal experience.

I am a young black woman from Zimbabwe who grew up in South Africa. I have dark skin. This being known, I can’t count on one hand the number of people who warned me to prepare to be stared at, photographed, poked, prodded or marvelled at. This advice sounded dramatic at the time. I spoke to my dad who had travelled to Guangzhou recently, and his experience seemed mild enough.

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In any case, I found it worthwhile to write about and share my experience of being stared at since I got here. I have mostly found it amusing and also very interesting. Staring is not a habit unique to any one group of people. While some people stare more often than others, one usually stares at something when it is different, curious, intriguing, confusing or stands out. On the other hand, people also stare out of shock, amusement or disgust.

Given my observations, the greatest number of stares has come from young children, the elderly and men. Some stares are brief, and quickly broken by the eye contact of my reverse stare (which I am gradually perfecting I might add). Other stares are long, brazen, and include a slow and deliberate up down scan with the eyes.

Now, if there is such a thing as a level up to staring, it would be the aggressive picture taking. I was amused by the poorly-executed attempted discretion of the first photo taker. Said lady pretended to be looking at something on her phone, which she held up at face level. She maintained this odd position as she probably tried to focus the image and had to turn around as I walked past to get the shot…

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Photo credit: From Africa To China blog


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