Friday was one of the most eventful days I’ve had since arriving in Shanghai. CIEE (my study abroad program) put on an event called “Amazing Race: Shanghai.” We had to get in groups of 3-5 and follow 5 “hints” throughout the city. It was actually incredibly exhausting and I was dressed completely inappropriately (the lack of sun and high humidity didn’t warrant long pants and a sweatshirt) but, despite all the running, we had a great time! I got to run all over the city—literally—with my friends.
Unfortunately, because of the competitive nature of the race and the limited time we had, I didn’t get to take any pictures or spend much time at each of the places, but I will definitely be back. My favorite part of the day, however, was after the we found out that we lost the race (we came in 6th place) and we decided to take a walk around the area where the race ended (called Xintiandi).
Tired and completely drained, we sat down at a table in the middle of a plaza. As soon as we sat down a small boy said “Hello” to us, almost as if asking a question. We each responded “ni hao” and, within a few moments, we were having a full blown conversation with the boy and his two friends (an 8 year old girl and an 7 year old boy). It was actually an amazing experience. They didn’t speak any English really, but we did our best to communicate with them. A Chinese American that had been in my group acted as a translator for much of the time so there was hardly any issues. The most amazing part for me was their curiosity over my identity. They started by asking about my “tóufa” 头发 (my hair) and why it sticks up like it does. One of the boys even came over to touch it!
Later they asked each of us which country we had come from. They kept pointing at me and saying “Àodàlìyà rén” 澳大利亚人, a word I was completely unfamiliar with. It wasn’t until a little later that I learned that they thought I was Australian! (I guess they thought I was an Aborigoni) It soon became clear to me that they had never met—or at least spoken to—a black person before, let alone an African American. I tried my best to explain to them that I was from American, a country where blacks, whites, Chinese, and people of many other nationalities lived and worked together. They asked even asked why my skin was the color it was. I was a bit taken aback by their shock and their ignorance, no matter how innocent; it’s so very hard for me to imagine my life without exposure to diversity. At the same time I felt incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to talk to them.
They were all incredibly smart, witty, and playful who were eager to learn and explore the unknown. We spoke to them for about an hour, in which time they sang for us, drew pictures, and told us about the things they loved. We taught them a few English phrases and answered all of their questions and they even introduced us to their mothers.
All in all, we all learned a lot. Of course, I got to practice my language skills, but more importantly, I got an idea of what Chinese people are exposed to. I hope this experience and others like it will make it easier to deal with my different-ness here in Shanghai. Maybe one day I won’t even notice the staring.