Hey! It’s a Foreigner!

Yesterday I wrote about Mr Li, the English teacher stuttering he was so excited to meet a foreigner.

But this is China. Passerby, seeing me, will loudly announce, “foreigner!” Strangers stare and point, kids sometimes cry out in horror. Once, on seeing me, a migrant worker dropped everything he was carrying. Wide eyes (his, I mean — mine always are), gaping mouth, a look of pure shock on his face.

And so, pretty often, I’m asked to pose for pictures. “Can you stand with my parents?” “…with my girlfriend?” “…hold my baby for this one?” I mean, I know I’m pretty, but this is just weird.

“Thank god you’re here,” my pal Blake said, the other day. “I’ve posed for like a dozen pictures already.”

I rarely think to pull out my camera and record the fun… But every so often I do!





Where do these pictures end up? On their mantelpieces? Albums? Sina blogs? Am I touted as their new best friend, or forgotten and shoved in a drawer somewhere? Are stories told about me? Or was this all just a chance to stand beside a foreigner?

The lovely Ember Swift has a song about the phenomenon. “我不只是一个老外,我不是那么奇怪,只是一个人!” (I’m not just a foreigner. I’m not that strange. I’m just a person!) Come see her at her Sept 2nd album release show, at Dos Kolegas, and hear it in person… she’s great.

Ironically, right before this went live, I read the _exact_ same post on Sticky Pikelet. Now that’s embarrassing!

Strange Tourism /

6 Responses to Hey! It’s a Foreigner!

  1. Noah says:

    I had similar experiences in India, even stranger though I once was asked by a couple with a small child to take just their picture with my camera. I did, assuming they would want something for the privilege or want me to somehow send them the image, but instead they just shook my hand and walked away. I guess they’re just happy to know that other people will see them in a photograph: http://www.flickr.com/photos/noahscalin/4279368950/in/set-72157623220829612

  2. Reginald Selkirk says:

    “Where do these pictures end up? On their mantelpieces? Albums? Sina blogs?”

    Google image search knows.

  3. MF says:

    At least you just get photographed! I was picked up and carried around by a bunch of drunk people in Harbin who kept saying “The smallest foreigner we’ve ever seen! The smallest foreigner we’ve ever seen!”

    (They took a lot of pictures of me too. I always wondered if they woke up with hangovers the next day not remembering the night before, and were like “Who is this foreigner?!?” when they developed the pictures.

  4. Dean Pickles says:

    Haha! That’s brilliant, MF!

  5. Sage says:

    Do they love you and see you as a celebrity figure? Or do they just think you’re weird?

    • Dean Pickles says:

      That’s a really interesting question… there’s definitely a moment of thrill at seeing the foreigner in person, but I wouldn’t say it’s celebrity. It’s more like you’re an animal in a zoo. Some pointing, some staring, everything short of throwing peanuts at you. The photo is the occasional reaction, but the everyday one is the gaping through the restaurant window at you eating.

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