the panda effect 11/15/2010
photo by Michael Crowe on flickr
Being a foreigner in China, you are often exposed to what I like to call "the panda effect."  Pandas are one of those baffling creatures whose numbers are in decline because they sometimes don't care to breed in captivity. We put a male panda in with a female panda and say, "well, go ahead," and scratch our heads in confusion if they don't want to bone right then and there. I mean, why not? He's a panda, she's a panda. Shouldn't that be enough? 

As a foreigner in China, I sometimes feel like those pandas in that zoo. If I'm with some Chinese friends and we spot another foreigner, they'll push me towards him or her like parents do to their kids on the playground. Look, another little girl! Say hello! I hated it then and I don't care for it much now. Look, another foreigner! Say hello! 

There's one extremely awkward example I can think of where the panda effect was at its peak. I was stopped while shopping (which on its own is a huge offense) by an eager Chinese boy who said "Please wait a moment! My friend is from Wales! I just called him, he is running over here!" I blinked at him in surprise and confusion. I tried to get away. I explained that I'm not from Wales. It didn't matter, he was insistent. While we waited, he told me his friend is very strong and works out often and is very handsome. Oh brother, I thought, I know where this is going.... And in a few moments I found myself face to face with this other foreigner, the Chinese boy grinning like a proud papa. It turns out, he wasn't "running" to meet me after getting his friend's call, but was also doing his own errands, and he probably felt as accosted by this forced encounter as I did. We didn't have a whole lot to say to each other. We have no basic similarities beyond our skin tones and eye shapes. But from the point of view of this Chinese boy, why shouldn't he try to put us together? I mean, he's a foreigner, she's a foreigner. Let the sparks fly! I guess the assumption is that our mutual alienness in this land should unite us, and sometimes it does, but those meetings need to happen organically. Maybe if I were to run into this person again, we could strike up a normal conversation and size each other up for potential friendship, but as it was it was a typical awkward panda moment for both of us. I was relieved when I had an excuse to get away, and I think the guy from Wales was, too. 

My conclusion: It's one of those funny things we just have to put up with in our newfound status as a minority. We're an endangered species here, like the panda is on earth, so we get just as many fascinated stares and people wanting to watch us eat and interact. We also have to deal with the ocasional silly urge of our zoo keepers to toss us in a pen together and hope we will mate, without so much the benefit of an eHarmony profile! 


11/15/2010 04:12

Just my opinion.Maybe in west,especially a country like America,people live in a much more multi-cultural society,there are white people,black people and brown people,it's normal to meet somebody differ from you.But in China,we are used to see all people are the same:same skin,same hair color,same eye shapes...and suddenly here comes a different creature,like you or L,people would feel "Wow!See that?A white person!" I think most Chinese mainland people are shy and would be very very careful when they talk to you...That brother might be a minority,I think.As a Chinese guy,feel sorry for that.

11/15/2010 13:08

There could be worse things than be compared to a panda! they are so cute, just like you!

11/16/2010 04:17

M, that is very true! I think it is natural that people are curious about foreigners, but it is a new experience for me to feel so foreign! And I am sure this boy is a minority, there are weird people all over the world!! Thanks for reading and commenting! I would comment on your blog, but, the comment page is in chinese.... haha.

Emily; you always know just what to say <3

11/18/2010 06:30

The red thing is a popular snack in China,I just looked up the dictionary,maybe it's "sugarcoated haws on a stick"...We call it a "sugar bottle gourd" in's always made of sugar and haws,and now they also use tomatoes or oranges with sugar to make it.I'll bring some if you like to try.

11/25/2010 23:27

This made me laugh. Fortunatley (or unfortunatley) there are lots of foreigners in Seoul, so unless you're super blonde or super tall, you don't get many stares.

You should come visit. You'd like it here, I'm sure.

07/11/2011 21:02

katie. i can't believe i'm finally reading this. i forgot you had a blog and constantly cursed at the computer each time i tried to find you on facebook. but i remembered you mentioned it - so thanks to google i am now studying up so when i do see you, i'm not behind. :)

sorry to not capitalize. i will next time.


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