Friday, May 25, 2012

Chinese Being Friendly to a Foreigner in China

The anti-foreigner comments made by Chinese television host Yang Rui and the support they received from others may leave some with an impression of China that would not be accurate. The issue is complex, though, and I hope to share some thoughts about it in a later post.

Before that, I want to briefly share several personal experiences. My point is simple. These experiences would be difficult to reconcile with a belief that all (or many) Chinese have strong negative feelings toward foreigners. To be clear, I would not claim that they occurred only because I am a foreigner. Nor would I claim that all foreigners would have had the same experience. Again, there are many complexities. Regardless, I think these experiences can say much.

What I will share occurred recently in Northwest China, but the experiences are similar to many others I have had elsewhere in China.

young couple in Yinchuan on a tree limb

The young couple above approached me at a park in Yinchuan, Ningxia wanting to take their photos with me. We had a pleasant chat, and they offered to take me out to dinner. Sadly, I had other plans and had to decline their friendly offer.

Another day in Yinchuan I had to find a restaurant open late at night. Fortunately I found one that had excellent food. Even more fortunate was that I met the above three men who invited me to join them after I had finished my meal. Despite being stuffed, they insisted I try some of the special dishes they had ordered (tasty indeed), and they bought me several beers. We had some great conversation about how the U.S. and China compare. They were also curious about my impressions of people's friendliness in various parts of China. They were proud to say that Yinchuan was one of the most friendly places one could find.

girl sitting on a rail and holding a bag of cake in Zhongwei, Ningxia

I saw the girl above with her bags of cake and asked her where I could buy some. She pointed to a nearby store that is popular in Zhongwei, Ningxia. I looked at the long line outside and she said it might take an hour since they regularly need to bake new batches of cake to meet the demand. I sighed and said maybe I would try another day. Before I knew it she handed me a piece of cake from her bag. Refusing it was not an option nor was paying her for it.

four kids in a cable car in Lanzhou, Gansu

I decided to take a cable car up to the top of a mountain in Lanzhou, Gansu. The kids above were very excited to join me in the car. The second girl from the right was particularly eager to tell me about Lanzhou. When we reached the top they introduced me to their families who were having a picnic. Their parents immediately asked that I join them.

two female college students at a park in Lanzhou, Gansu

An hour or so later I stumbled into these two college students who were happy to chat about a variety of topics. They were aware of the news about the poor behavior of some foreigners in Beijing. I asked them if it had affected their views of foreigners in general. Although I am well aware that being questioned by a foreigner could impact their response, their immediate and animated reply seemed telling. They thought the idea was preposterous because they had a very positive view of foreigners. Later, they joined me in walking around the park and visiting several temples.

Muslim student in Xining, Qinghai

During a semi-random walk in Xining, Qinghai I found this mosque and school that were reminiscent of what I saw last year in Zhaotong, Yunnan. Like before, the Muslim students were eager to meet with me and show me around. One of their teachers later insisted on personally guiding me through a shortcut in a construction site so I could more quickly reach a larger and more famous mosque in Xining.

three Tibetans in Xining, Qinghai

These three young Tibetans work at a restaurant/bar in Xining. I was hoping to try a special alcoholic drink in Qinghai--barley wine or qingke jiu (青稞酒). Unfortunately, the restaurant no longer made it and only had a much weaker canned version. Noticing my disappointment, the young man told me he would treat me to some of his father's homemade brew if I returned the next day. Of course I did, and he did not disappoint. He also treated me to several other special drinks. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable night.

At the very least, I hope these experiences show that my being a foreigner does not mean I need to fear Chinese people. If anything, being a foreigner has facilitated a number of positive experiences in China. There is more to say but I need to run. It is Friday night and I am already late. I was told I will be treated to another special drink tonight.

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