Firstly let me apologize about the recent lack of posting; my computer has been acting a little strangely for the past week (last night I came home and it was watching TV with the telephone). I'm not sure what's wrong but it has caused the follwing problems: All of my pictures have been erased, all of my music has been erased, I cannot download anything, and the list goes on. I have wanted to include pictures for some time, but the software is not recognizing the files. This being said, I wanted to share some of my thinking about Staring in China. Ken Harvey recently brought this up during a conversation and it has been a topic of concern lately. I will even give it a nice little title...
One of the most interesting aspects of the Chinese Culture is the relentless staring. Each volunteer (or anyone who goes to China for an extended period) goes through stages related to staring. For me, this has progressed very typically. Before we got to our sites we were told about staring and people saying "hello." This may not seem very strange, but it becomes so when it is incessant. And I notice it more when I'm in a bad mood.
I can classify people who say hello in many ways, but generally there are a few:
Some people will say hello in a friendly manner (especially children).
Some (generally older men) will say hello as soon as they see me just because they see I am a foreigner.
Others will be walking toward me on the sidewalk and whisper something to their friend, who will then look at me. They will stare at me and continue to talk until they pass me. After walking past me one of them will shout "hello!" at the back of my head.
The first two are no big deal. The third becomes a little unnerving. I must say that this is by no means how typical Chinese behave, and it is considered rude to do this by Chinese standards.
Nearly everyone will stare at me if they see me, and many people will generally fall into one of the three categories for saying hello.
Getting back to my main point, the hellos and staring become different as one lives here longer and longer. I have only been here a little over 3 months, and already I have felt many different things.
At first the staring and hellos were a little strange. I chalked it up to a new culture. I didn't worry about it, but found it rather interesting. After awhile I began to love it. The people were giving me so much attention! And it was free, guaranteed attention! All I had to do was show up. At some point, however, it began to bother me. I think this really hit me last week. I have been in my community for a month and people were still staring, pointing and whispering. I felt like this place was becoming "mine" the more time I spent here. It bothered me so much, in fact, that I had to think about it - really think about it. This is because it was causing me to feel like being rude as a reaction to the unwanted attention.
I came to the conclusion that I was internalizing the staring in the wrong manner. By identifying the behavior as staring, I missed the point entirely. The Chinese have no social rules about staring; if they find something interesting they have the "social" right to "stare" as long as they would like. For me to identify this action as staring was unfair to everyone. I am the guest in this culture. Bringing my expectations of how I should be treated is a huge, haughty mistake. It's a bit like walking into someone's house with mud on my shoes because I do that at home. This is not to say that I am feeling much better about the staring, but I more deeply understand my own thinking.
I am interested to see how my feelings continue to change. For now I just smile and wave. Like a movie-star.