7.29.2010

Seoul Searching: Beijing Renewal

So I just spent 4 broiling hot days in Beijing and I have to say during my short time there, I had never felt as comfortable in Asia until I went there. Of course being in a country for 4 days is hardly enough time to gauge a comfort level but some of the things I experienced resonated for me as a Black woman.

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.

23 comments:

  1. It's so weird. Your experiences in both China and Korea are so different from mine. That isn't important though. The only thing that matters is that you have a sense of renewal and you have these wonderful memories of Beijing to take home with you. This is the way it should be.

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  2. Glad you enjoyed your trip and were feeling the love. It's interesting how those who tend to be more secure in their identity, can be more accepting of others than those who aren't.

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  3. @Hateya
    Thank you. All I can say is that I am so grateful for all of these experiences I have had and also the opportunity to experience them. Don't get me wrong, I love Korea and its people. I want to continue learning Korean, come back to Seoul and live here. I think I am just going through Culture Shock (http://www.diversityabroad.com/cultural-shock)
    , which is what most people experience but I think going through all that is important for everyone to experience. Thank you so much for your understanding

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  4. @Lenoxave
    tend to be more secure in their identity

    It makes sense, doesn't it? One can't be "white" and have an identity at the same time.

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  5. Sounds like a wonderful trip! You're really having a blast out there.

    The lil sis and I would like to journey to Korea next summer. We checked the price for roundtrip airfare and a few days' stay at an inn, and the ballpark is more than acceptable.

    Ladies with tips and info, email me please.

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  6. This made me smile...thank you. I can't imagine what it's like to live in a country full of people who don't always think that white is right (for the most part).

    I, too, would like to move out of the USA. I'm growing increasingly weary of Privilege Gone Wild. Maybe Japan, or maybe a Spanish speaking country (although a lot of Spanish speaking countries also have big time color issues). I do have to say that Korea definitely sounds intriguing and Seoul is a beautiful city. I'll have to add it to my list.

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  7. @Cinnamon
    I'm glad I brightened your day.

    >>I can't imagine what it's like to live in a country full of people who don't always think that white is right (for the most part).

    I have enjoyed it immensely. Even though Korea is going through some European indoctrination, Koreans are the majority and see themselves as such. The vast majority of Koreans are set in their identity and reject Western styles of beauty, but there are always small pockets of self hate in any country. I feel more comfortable in a majority people of color country than in the US. Because all the issues of Arizona and the Tea Party just...White folks have lost they damn minds. Sad isn't it

    >>I do have to say that Korea definitely sounds intriguing and Seoul is a beautiful city. I'll have to add it to my list.

    You most definitely do. It is like Japan with its Alleys full of neon lights and bustling activity but in a more restrained way. There is always something to do or see. It's an experience of a lifetime :D

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  8. @Cinnamon

    What do you plan to do for a living if you move to another country? Do you intend to study at a university first? I don't know about Spanish-speaking countries worldwide, but you'll need contacts, good ones, to have a fulfilling life in Asia. Otherwise, you're going to meet with that society's privilege.

    Please understand. I'm not trying to dissuade you. Not at all. I want you to be free, but I also want to make sure you'll be all right. Get protection before you go anywhere because tourists and people on short-term educational programs are, by designed, shielded from reality in its ugliest form.

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  9. @Hateya
    What do you plan to do for a living if you move to another country? Do you intend to study at a university first? I don't know about Spanish-speaking countries worldwide, but you'll need contacts, good ones, to have a fulfilling life in Asia. Otherwise, you're going to meet with that society's privilege.

    Honestly, I'm still trying to figure all that out. My englightenment over the past nearly three years has my mind expanding at an exponential rate, so I don't know what the next few months or year will bring. I'm still "learning." All I do know for sure is that I'm dying a little inside every day being stuck here with this stupidity and ignorance and am more than ready for something new. And to not have to look at WP every time I turn around. That would be really lovely.

    Please understand. I'm not trying to dissuade you. Not at all. I want you to be free, but I also want to make sure you'll be all right.

    Don't worry...good lookin' out. :)

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  10. @Bcbgrl33
    I feel more comfortable in a majority people of color country than in the US.

    I feel you. It's been kind of a rough week for me...at work--somewhere that I've worked for nearly 10 years, mind you--I've been warned by a trusted source that some white folks in upper mgmt think I'm a racist. Now, I have no idea what made them think that, although the only thing I can think of is that I really don't deal with them much anymore (read: laugh, smile, make small talk, pay much attention to their innane comments) and I speak my mind way too much for their liking. I really don't care what they think and nothing about the way that I treat them is going to change, but it's still frustrating.

    I've also recently been told in a review that I always look "upset" and that I'm too "withdrawn", which is code for "your face doesn't look right aka you're an angry black woman aka you're not properly bowing down to our superiority aka we need more fetchin' and steppin'." My face/countenance is as blank as Data's and that somehow equals being upset and withdrawn. *smh* Although I know what it's all about, I'm still sick of it. I've had it. Stick a fork in me--I'm done.

    And I also agree about the feeling more comfortable living in a POC country. In our own country, WP can go places where they don't have to look at black folks, whether it be at work, in their neighborhoods, at the store, etc. Black people don't have that luxury. No matter where we go, we have to be around WP more often than we're not. It would be so refreshing to live in a place where a majority of the people knows what it's like to be me...a POC.

    I certainly don't have stars in my eyes, or think it'll be all roses and wine, but I'd at least like the experience of what the world is like outside of U.S. borders.

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  11. @cinnamon

    They think YOU'RE RACIST? Clearly somebody been watching too much Fox News.

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  12. "...I will gaze upon this world; we will know each other again and marvel as we did when our youth seemed eternal. I have no need to smile at you and make you feel at ease. I am not a part of your conversation. You have spoken loudly and long without aid from me; our voices do not entwine and your words are useless to me...."

    ~ from "The Black Woman as a Vulcan"

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  13. @Ankhesen

    Your poem is FANTASTIC!!! Wow! This should be required reading for every African-American woman.

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  14. @Cinnamon

    I've also recently been told in a review that I always look "upset" and that I'm too "withdrawn",

    Was this a verbal or written review? If it was verbal, please take a recorder with you next time. Protect yourself because it appears as though they wish to drum you right out of your position.This is blatant discrimination and harassment. Such a review is only appropriate when your job requires you to present a certain face to customers when you interact with them.

    It would be so refreshing to live in a place where a majority of the people knows what it's like to be me...a POC.

    Except they won't know what it's like to be a POC like you. As members of the majority in their countries, they might have disdain for American racists, but you'll still be an American and you won't find much sympathy. People can relate to Africans who have suffered under colonization (because most POCs have had this experience in one form or another) or Apartheid (because it is more tangible) much easier than they can a black American. Again, the key word is AMERICAN. Obama's election has made it increasingly more difficult for blacks abroad to make our case.

    I'd at least like the experience of what the world is like outside of U.S. borders.

    This desire in itself is worth the risk and sacrifice. You should go out and see as much as the world as possible.

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  15. @Cinnamon,

    All I do know for sure is that I'm dying a little inside every day being stuck here with this stupidity and ignorance and am more than ready for something new. And to not have to look at WP every time I turn around.

    I understand. I don't know if any other nation works as diligently at keeping its people undereducated and under-prepared for the world at large. I don't know where you are in your life right now but since you need to get out, you can start the process mentally and emotionally right now.

    Here's a list of suggestions because like I said, Americans as a whole are undereducated:

    1) Gain more general knowledge,
    especially in geography, math and science.

    2) Read the classics (American, British, Greek, Roman) even if you are sick of WP. Everyone else has read them.

    3) Review American historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. The world is familiar with them as well.

    4) Read the translated literature and fiction of the country you target to visit and/or live. Include at least ONE travel guide such as Lonely Planet.

    5) Begin learning the language of the target country you wish to visit and/or live. If there are no classes in your area, click on Amazon.com, read the reviews and choose a book. I like Idiot's Guide to (insert language) for base knowledge. It's all you'll need to know before arriving. You need not be proficient.

    6)Learn the value of things in the target country and earn/save enough money to keep you afloat for the duration of the tourist visa period (usually 90 days).

    7) Look for an exchange or language programs in your area that'll get you where you need to be the first time. Make contacts/connections in advance just like WP.

    8) WP are every where. Avoiding them is damned near impossible. Come to terms with them before you leave the US. Focus less on their bull on more on YOU!!!

    9) Use the library and the internet to obtain as much of this information as possible because you'll need to save your money. :D

    Pre-pre-pre-preparation is essential for black women. We can't afford to go anywhere unprepared.

    On a personal note, I lived abroad for five years ALONE before I met The Husband. He did not introduce me to the world.

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  16. There's an idiot's guide to Korean? *scurries off to Amazon.com*

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  17. There's an idiot's guide to Korean? *scurries off to Amazon.com*

    There better be!!! I should learn Korean, but I'll milk their willingness to speak Japanese or Mandarin Chinese while it lasts.

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  18. @Hateya
    I'm thinking of continuing Korean at my University. It's such a fascinating language

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  19. Yes you should. Then we can meet again, with more time and go on adventures and see concerts together.

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  20. @DN
    I'm on it I am definitely coming back to Korea...mainly for the adventures

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  21. @Bcbgrl33

    It's great you intend to continue studying.

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  22. @Ankh
    There's an idiot's guide to Korean? *scurries off to Amazon.com*

    Just don't get Korean for Dummies (I already made that mistake). It only teaches a romanized version of Korean, which makes absolutely no sense to me. What's the point of learning a foreign language if you don't learn the true alphabet of that language?

    I guess it's good if you only want to learn how to get around by talking and not reading...which is definitely a personal choice. Everyone doesn't want to learn a whole new language just to take a vacation or business trip. I guess I'm just a stickler for details.

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  23. Cinnamon, darlin' -

    Romanized works just fine for me.

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