Seoul Searching: Beijing Renewal
Everywhere we went, Chinese tourists wanted to take our pictures. Wherever my friend Rabiya who is Pakistani-Canadian, an Afro-Caribbean professor, and I went, many Chinese would ask us to take pictures with them with the Great Wall of China, the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace as our backdrop. It got to the point where I think they just go to those sites to find foreigners to take pictures with them.
Yeah potentially kind of creepy and fetishist but after just being silently gawked at in Korea, I found it pretty endearing. They were fascinated by us brown skinned foreigners and would approach us hesitantly, welcoming us to Beijing and wondering if we could take a picture with them.
While I was at the Great Wall, Rabiya and I were resting halfway up with some Kenyan girls who had been in Beijing for 3 weeks in a bridge building competition and there was this little Chinese girl who was really shy and said, "Welcome to Beijing. May I have a picture with all of you" You could tell she was fascinated with the Kenyan girls' beautiful dark skin tone and was enthralled when we said yes. I wanted a separate picture with just Rabiya and the Kenyan girls, but invited the same girl back over to get in our picture.
Their faces, especially on the young children's faces, would light up when we agreed. It could have easily gotten weird and uncomfortable except for just how welcoming they were and how it made their world when we indulged them; it was personally the most hospitality as a Black woman I've felt during my time just among the people in Asia. It was just a welcome relief to hear enthusiasm for us as people of color being there rather than Koreans fawning over my White girlfriends' skin color.
The 2nd thing that endeared me to China was that their strong sense of self-worth and identity that was much more solid than that of Korea. Where Korea has ads with nothing but really pale White/European models, the ads in China featured actual people of color. Chinese and Black models were side by side in ads, and I even saw an ad featuring a little black girl with an afro selling a lollipop. The only ads featuring all white models were at department stores featuring foreign brands like gucci and prada (which meant I didn't shop there). They also were selling a magazine called ChinAfrica which chronicled their relations between Chinese and Africans. It was just so refreshing to see people of color not willing to bow down to western styles of beauty that is gripping Korea.
China is a 5000 year old civilization; they look to no one but themselves for self-realization and power so none of that European fetish crap that Korea is unfortunately going through. China knows they are powerful economically, culturally, and militarily so it's basically a huge screw you to White Europeans/Western world and I love it. It was great to be in a country where they are solid in their identity and look to no one but themselves for strength and actualization.
That's not to say that they don't have colorism issues, have huge human rights abuses toward their ethnic minorities, and don't peddle skin bleaching creams but there was a slight balance that didn't automatically lean towards "White is Right" but more "White is alright, but we are a 5000 year old civilization of Brown People who can destroy you at any time". Pretty intriguing.
However, let me clarify in saying that I don't at all enjoy Korea. I love Seoul and its people. I want to continue learning Korean and come back to Seoul. Now, I feel comfortable here but I think I was just going through what all Study Abroad Participants experience: Culture Shock
I pretty much went through all the stages: The Honeymoon Phase where I enjoyed all the looks and attention I was getting; then the Frustration Phase where I became annoyed and irritated at the attention and gawking stares whereas I had previously enjoyed it, and now I am back to the Acclimation and Understanding Phase. I'm sure I was still in the Honeymoon Phase in Beijing and I feel it would have gone through all these phases again had I stayed longer.
I think journaling, talking to friends, and writing on this Blog really helped me actually enjoy, reflect, and appreciate this amazing experience. Thank you all for being so understanding.