Because I do theater, I accept that people will watch me. That’s actually the goal – to get an audience.
But I also am used to my day to day activities going unnoticed. It’s not the case here.
Here, everything I do in public is observed obviously. People stare at me when I walk down the street, so much so they turn to continue watching me as I pass. When I shop, I get followed, to see what I’ll buy. When I write in public, people come to stand over my shoulder to see what I’m doing, or walk a circle around me to observe surreptitiously. It’s not obtrusive – no one interferes with me, no one hassles me. It’s just a liberated curiosity – which would make me the curiosity (noun). It’s why I don’t leave my hotel without putting on makeup – I feel like I have to make a good impression. Who knows? By week 7 the shine might wear off and I can go back to being slouchy.
A teacher at the school where I work put it like this: “Seeing a Westerner in Wenjiang…It’s like if you see a wild panda.”
An American Panda in Wenjiang….
Children are the best, though. They stare too, but they’re the brave ones. It’s the children who will test the waters and say “Hello” to me on the street. They want to see if language works. I always smile for those children and say “Hello” back. There is something rewarding about seeing the light of knowledge in a child’s face – the realization that language is a key. >Because it is – I believe strongly in communication, in language as a tool. And bravery deserves to be rewarded. It takes guts to try a foreign language with a stranger. There’s a little “Do unto others…” here as well. I’m trying to learn Chinese, and I would want my efforts to be met with enthusiasm and patience.