I’m about to finish my first year of Chinese studies and I have to say that my last five months at Shanghai Jiaotong University have been quite…interesting! Much due to my teacher “Xi Laoshi” (Xi is his surname and Laoshi means teacher… but we call him by “X Laoshi”, that’s the polite way in China). He’s a man in his mid 20-ties and he’s completely fascinated with my height.
Although I’m not considered to be particularly tall in my native Sweden (175 cm is quite average over there for girls!), a lot of Chinese people see me as a UFO: I’m at least two heads taller and probably 10 shades blonder than them. And I am a girl. So yes, to them I’m a very obvious UFO.
In my Chinese class, I’ve been an outcast from the moment we all had to introduce ourselves (we are 18 students: 14 Koreans, 3 Japanese and me!). This is mainly due to not being petite and Asian. But being an outcast isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially not if your teacher has got a good eye to you. And for Xi Laoshi, I’m wonder woman.
Everyone knows that Xi Laoshi is obsessed with my tall legs and my height. In the beginning of the semester, he often asked me to come forward and write on the board how tall I am meanwhile him and my (short) classmates did the compulsory ‘ohhhs’ and ‘ahhhs’. Several times I also had to stand next to him meanwhile he made up sentences in Chinese about "how tall I am, how all Swedish people are tall, and how all Chinese people are short".
As our Chinese level has become better the discussions has also become deeper.
“WHY are you so tall YouNa? (“YouNa” is my Chinese name: “You” mean friendly and “Na” means girl).
I have explained several times that I am not considered to be very tall in Sweden and that both my parents are well over 170 cm. But that has never been enough for Xi Laoshi. He has always continued to dig, desperately seeking for a more specific answer.
Some of the things he’s asked me about includes: what sports I did as a kid, where I studied, and what friends I played with.
Then one day Xi Laoshi cracked the nut. We were discussing Chinese breakfasts when he asked me:
-What do you eat for breakfast?
-Hm.. Nothing special. I drink coffee. And eat bread.
-Have you always eaten bread for breakfast?
-Yeah, I suppose so…
-Do Swedish people eat a lot of bread?
-I guess they do…
-Did you guys hear that! Bread! Swedish people eat bread! Guys, if you want to grow tall you should eat bread! You should feed your babies bread! You must eat more bread!
By this time, the whole class was quite tired of his length obsession, so most of the girls just giggled while the boys rolled their eyes. I suppose they were all secretly wishing that this ‘new discovery’ would put and end to it all. For good.
But Xi Laoshi refuses to let it go. I once mentioned I like long distance running, something he obviously took note of. Recently he told one of my class mates (who’s wife just had a baby) that they should feed the baby bread and make him do long distance running so that the baby will grow tall (!)
-Because that’s what they do in Sweden! He said, and smiled to me.
All I could do was to smile back.
And yeah, if someone wonders… That’s exactly what we do in Sweden: We give birth to our babies on the treadmill and then quickly stick a loaf of bread into their mouth.
-Chew this! We yell, and the baby starts chewing. And starts growing. :)