During my first visit to China in 2017, I kept asking myself, “Why did l decide to come to this country?” But as I learn and grow, the question evolves into “Why not?” Many choices were available to me for my school exchange program, but l chose Shanghai because l thought it will be interesting to see this part of the world known for their rich culture.
Prior my arrival, my mum, as a careful and well-planned as she is already is, made a long list of things l should do and shouldn’t do. For example, she told me not to disobey the law (a cardinal rule everywhere you go), to be aware of pickpockets and scammers, always ask what’s inside my food when eating outside my home, but most importantly, to always be NICE and SMILE. All these pieces of advice were very useful.
When l arrived in Shanghai, it was quite different than what l imagined. l thought the citizens would be dressed as mythical figures of ancient stories, or in traditional Chinese garb. l know what you might be thinking, and the answer is yes! l had stereotypes.
As everybody should, because if not we will never be able to leave our comfort zone when dealing with other culture. Stereotypes are meant to be broken.
But do l feel that way living in China? The answer isn’t clear.
It’s easy to fall in love with Shanghai. The Chinese architecture, the buildings, the lights, the language, the food, and countless other elements of culture are stunning. But you would think that living in a city like Shanghai, one of the biggest in the world with its 26 millions of inhabitants, it would be more open-minded. When going out, you have to be ready for people staring at you with looks of confusion and sometimes disgust. The sheer curiosity moves people to snap pictures with and often without your consent. The reality of being black in China is overwhelming. As I mentioned before, you have to deal with people constantly taking pictures of you. Many foreigners can attest to being accosted with cameras, but the fascination people have with the Black body draws a different level of attention.
A barrage of questions come my way that stem from the same ignorance I held about native Chinese citizens. Questions such as was l was black because l ate too much chocolate. At one point, someone has once touched my skin and wiped it off a napkin to see if l was really black. l have friends who were asked by their Chinese classmates if when they take a shower is the water clear or brown. l can go on and on with stories such as these. The point is people here also have their stereotypes. Their stereotypes may come from the fact that they don’t have access to all the tools which will allow them to be more open to the world. The Chinese government puts many restrictions on their citizens when it comes to access social media. But that’s a story for another day. We both come to the table with our preconceived notions, but what matters is that we sit long enough to learn.