Stalking,gawping,finger pointing…


Guangzhou metro

For the past two years, I have been a victim of these unpleasant situations on a weekly basis. Literally not a week goes by that somebody doesn’t try to take a photo of me, film me or follow me. Yes, follow!

I wouldn’t like to go all anti-Chinese here but sometimes you just feel like a having a good, old rant and my time has come. So here it goes. You’d think that after two years here either a)I’d get used to the kind of behaviour I seem to attract or b) people would get used to seeing me and hundreds of other foreigners living here. WRONG.

First of all, I could never get used to being followed or filmed. I know some of my colleagues manage it pretty well over here but I don’t think I have the confidence to simply ignore someone pointing a finger right at me (or their phone), neither do I think that I should accept such disrespectful behaviour. Maybe they are just more laid back but why should I put up with that? In which culture it is ok to take someone’s photos without their permission? We’re talking having a phone or a camera shoved right into your face! Who knows what happens to those images later?

Well,actually I do know what happens-they appear on Weibo and Wechat profiles as any other even remotely news-worthy piece of information. I don’t need a specific reason to be unhappy about featuring on someone’s ‘wall’; in my opinion if I don’t wish to have my photo taken, I have the right to refuse it. I don’t tolerate that and get really upset when people, old and young, relentlessly try to take a photo of me despite clearly being striked by the very evident hate stare on my face.

Following is just creepy to the point of scary. Last weekend my friends and I went sightseeing when suddenly we realized that we were being followed by a strange-looking man. He wasn’t even taking pictures of us (first thought every single one of us had), instead he took out a pad and a pen and started making notes! We were disturbed, to say the least. Even asking him in Cantonese to please stop following us didn’t have any effect. He continued to walk right behind us wherever we went. At one point, when we saw him making a phone call, we got worried that he might be phoning his mates and they would gang up on us somewhere ahead. I know it may sound like panicking for no reason and you must think my friends and I are proper scaredy-cats but if you were there, you’d find it scary too. It is simply not normal.

Another unpleasant, although nowhere near as weird, situation happened at a local cafe. After vividly expressing my utmost wish NOT to have my photo taken by two young girls (at least one of whom could understand English) they completely disregarded my request, ignored me and my shocked/disgusted expression and carried on taking photos. From different angles for good measure. I know I few Chinese swearwords by now, though only the mildest ones, and even though I have never used them, that was the moment they were literally pushing themselves onto my lips!

I won’t even mention the pushing and shoving on the metro, the cutting the queue, the permanently grumpy waiters and shop assistants who wish nothing but to be somewhere else than serving you. This type of rudeness is universal and affects everyone. It is, surprisingly, considered part of the local culture. What I’m referring to, are scenarios involving us, foreigners in China.

And yet, I don’t consider these situations and such behaviours racist. Perhaps I should but I don’t. I just see them as incredibly rude. I know all about the Chinese culture being very different from Western one (if there is such a concept). I’ve lived here for 3 years in total and have a Chinese family so even though I’m by no means an expert, I have an idea. It has nothing to do with culture and all to do with manners. My husband, born and bread over here, completely agrees with me and is constantly astonished as to how ill-mannered his fellow-citizens can be.

Lots of Chinese have been nothing but lovely and kind to me. Sadly though, the idea of respect and privacy seems still quite foreign to many. In the era of social networking and constant updates on everyone’s profiles, they appear to have forgotten that one might not wish to be the object of their interest, might not want to have their face plastered all over the internet. Incomprehensible, I know!

I’ve also met plenty of people, who’d asked me politely for a photo, said Hello to me without being idiotic about it (yes, I’m talking about all those who suddenly interrupt their conversation in Mandarin/Cantonese to burst into English (whatever few words they know, makes no sense whatsoever) whenever a foreigner passes by!Most bizarre experience!Why would you?) and are genuinely happy to meet me and interact with me. Unfortunately, the earlier described situations prevail…

The sad thing is that I know things will never change. Not in ten, not in twenty years from now. Not with an increased influx of foreigners to China. There will always be some rude girls and some weird man making you feel really uncomfortable and inducing that feeling of loneliness and alienation. Imagine feeling like an alien every single week of your life here.

How can you possibly get used to that?

I refuse to be one of those expats, who hide in their little enclaves and won’t even stick their noses out of their neighbourhood but I must say that sometimes I really don’t want to leave the house by myself and if I had kids, that feeling would undoubtedly grow even stronger.

Chinese are by no means the rudest people on Earth, neither is this the only place where stuff like this happens but, perhaps due to its massive population and overcrowding, the aforementioned situations are more noticeable and much more frequent.

Rant officially over.

Am I exaggerating? Or do you agree with my opinion? Have you every faced similar situations?

4 thoughts on “Stalking,gawping,finger pointing…

  1. Funny to see this post tonight. I was just on the metro, which, amazingly, wasn’t busy. A guy across from me kept glancing at me, and then awkwardly took out his phone without looking at it. He then proceeded to do these weird gestures that involved him raising the phone with the camera in my direction, but not actually looking at the phone (like he was scratching his head or something). I was tempted to get really annoyed, but then I decided to just get up and walk away, to another car. Fortunately I wasn’t followed. I know that scenario too though.

    I was teaching my students (English class) about racism the other day, because they mentioned it in a discussion about America. I asked them, if you saw two people struggling in the street, and you didn’t see what started the struggle, one looked Chinese, one looked something else, who would you help? I was amazed at how fast they grasped the idea (“ooooh, racism is everywhere!”).

    You’re right, it’s not quite racism, but if it were about life or death, or finding a job (Asian looking English speakers have a hard time finding English teaching work), it quickly descends into racism. And gangs (as you were rightly concerned about), are particularly dangerous. Or the reverse, white folks get paid well to look white all the time in China!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets upset/annoyed by situations like having your photo taken without consent or being followed around. Sadly recently I was a victim of what I can only describe as a racist attack so, by comparison, the scenarios I reflect on in my post are not racist but I can see your point of view.


    • As much as the city must have changed since the 90s (recognizably,I suspect)the behaviour of Guangzhou’s citizens hasn’t(I’m pretty sure it applies to most cities in China though). I find it strange as you see a lot of ‘white’ faces on the streets and on the media these days and yet evidently seeing a foreigner is still a great novelty for most…


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