Do you have blonde hair, blue eyes, and very light skin? Congratulations. You have just earned yourself a minimum of 1 million stares while you are teaching in China. You will be stared at on the street, in the bus, at the bank, in the restaurant, at the train station and wherever else you go. You may even have the honor of causing some car accidents as drivers take their eyes off the road and strain their necks to look at you. It does not matter what your mother taught you about staring at other people;if you look different in China you will be noticed and observed.
But do not let the stares bother or intimidate you. The looks are usually out of curiosity especially if you are in a city where few foreigners live. For many people in China, life is very dull and repetitive and your brief appearance may lighten up their day. Some of them may even muster up enough courage to come and talk to you. There are too many Chinese people who have studied English but have never had the chance to practice with a foreigner. If this opportunity arises, be polite and encouraging.
However, I do talk to my students about good manners. I explain to them that in my home country there are people with purple hair and orange hair. There are people with one arm and one leg. There are even people with glass eyes. But I inform my students that we do not stare at such people. They are human beings just as I am in a human being in China. Staring at me because I am different is rude. One glance might be fine. Maybe even a second glance is permissible. My students usually nod their heads in agreement when I talk about this topic but I doubt any of them stop this bad habit.
So, people are going to stare at you; it is just part of the culture. But you can stare back! I do this frequently. Usually, the ‘offending’ starer drops the gaze and turns red. Then I smile kindly. I do not want to make anyone feel bad. However, I do draw the line at people who want to take pictures of me. I do not take pictures of people in China without asking for their permission. I should be shown the same courtesy. If someone attempts to take an unsolicited picture, I will do everything in my power to make sure the photo does not turn out well.
Do not take yourself too seriously in China. Have fun and enjoy the attention. People are just curious about you. Sure, it might get annoying after awhile. But just remember, it might be the only chance you have to get a taste of what it must feel like to be a movie star.