Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Fluffinator

Don't Mess Around

The position of the white expat in China is a paradoxical one. On the one hand, we undeniably benefit from whatever status our race seems to confer on us here. A white alcoholic mailman with a Polish accent will be hired to teach English over a qualified native speaker who is not white, not to mention that Asia is a dating mecca for socially awkward pasty men with acne and a lisp who have a taste for supermodels.  Yet on the other hand, there is also a sense in which we are seen as a bafflingly different category of human being, too incomprehensible to relate to or empathize with. This perception is behind a slew of daily hassles, especially outside of the city centre (where I work), where foreigners are less commonplace. 

I am heckled every morning by a herd of rowdy motorcycle taxi drivers outside the subway. I have people stop in their tracks on the street to gawk. Every time I walk past a group of people the word “lawai” (foreigner) jumps out at me from their murmured conversations. The kitchen staff at my school approach my table to check on my chopsticking skills. Bored supermarket employees have followed me through the aisles en masse, curious about what a creature like me might buy. (Actual quote: "You guys eat carrots and potatoes too? Wow, so do we!") Once on a bus in southern China, a woman picked up her baby so that it could see us over the seat back, and cooed to the child, “Look! They are different than me!” In Taiwan, we didn’t attract quite as much attention, although I still had strangers asking to have their photo taken with me on a regular basis.

For some reason, I seem to attract even more hullaballoo than other foreigners I know. As with many other things, I blame the hair. I feel that my image is that of a fluffy puff-ball bouncing cluelessly around town, oblivious to everything outside of her ploof.

The Hair. It cries out "I'm defenseless and I don't belong here! Steal my wallet! Steal my cell phone! Then try to sell me a phone that you just stole from another puff-ball! And while you’re at it, trample me to make sure that you get on the bus first! Go ahead, I'm a tumbleweed, I won't mind!"

To compensate, I try to walk around with my tough girl face on at all times and act as rough-assed as I can. As I'm sure you can imagine, it's a very convincing performance. Seriously, I'm like the Fluffinator or at least Kindergarten Cop.

Fortunately, I have discovered an advantage to being the Bouncy Other around town. (You know, besides that pesky job and money thing.) Once you have already maxed out the Otherness quotient, you sort of have carte blanche for... well, anything. Any odd, embarrassing, or otherwise unacceptable thing that you might do can just slide through, unnoticed. You are already as strange as you can possibly be, so nothing you do can provoke any further reaction. This really opens up all kinds of doors. 

Go ahead, make a scene. Cry to get your way. Confront policemen who run red lights. Ignore the metro security checks. Give that driver a piece of your mind. Walk by the Sunday morning joggers in your Saturday night outfit without shame. No need to confine those fat pants to Pajama Day - why not wear 'em to work? Take over an empty dance floor. Shout at inanimate objects. Spill that coffee on your shirt. The world is your circus - take that plunge, and embarrass yourself. It won't make any difference anyways.

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