Getting stared at is something that you eventually get used to in China. Walking down the street you’ll almost certainly see some old person sneer, or glare at you, or simply seem bewildered. It isn’t that surprising, considering that it wasn’t long ago that there were virtually no foreigners here. The younger generations enjoy it too. Adorable kids gaze at you with huge, fascinated eyes, while women sometimes give Western men a glance that is at once intrigue mixed with contempt – though they generally withdraw it when you return it. Young men, however, deliver an amused look and, being spunkier than the rest, often accompany it with a “hello!” Replying to this generally leads you to a small conversation in broken English or Chinese.
I’ve never quite understood why this frustrates some people – I’ve always found it one of the charms of being here. Chinese people that visit England are met with cold indifference, so to be acknowledged in any way while in a foreign country is rather a delight. Even the hostile looks provide some sense of the rapid change that has gone on here and, moreover, by chatting with them in Chinese you can often change them to those of warm acceptance. If you’re disappointed that no one has taken any notice of you, don’t despair! Simply walk past the American Embassy on Huai Hai Road in Shanghai and every guard on each of the corners will register your presence with a sharp look of scrutiny, jerking their heads from left to right.
Sometimes you can even be chosen as a centrepiece to a club simply by being Western! This one time a few months ago, I’d been dragged into dancing to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ with Pachoo by three girls from the Uni Christmas show. Nyima, May and Sarah had sexy outfits modeled on Mean Girls while we wore body hugging red long johns, Santa hats and a length of tinsel. We also only had an hour of rehearsal before the show. The following day we then learnt that Rocky, a Chinese friend, had told a club owner about this and set us up to do a show. Thus we found ourselves jiggling around on a tiny stage while the talented Ramsay sang for us on the night before Christmas. We were even paid! Boys got 10 quid, while girls got 20.