Saturday, June 7, 2008

Being greeted

It happens everywhere.

When I am riding my bike to the uni. When I am riding my bike back from the uni. When I am locking my bike outside the gym. When I am standing on the pavement waiting for the lights to go green so that I can cross the road. When I am buying fruits from the local fruit man. When I am riding through the gates at uni. When I am buying train tickets. And when I am just, simply, standing somewhere outside.

A car, a bike, a scooter, or some pedestrians will pass me, and yell:


You can tackle this in two ways. You can either be the moody bitch and not reply, which I do sometimes. Especially when I am in a bad mood.

Or, you can, of course, reply. Gather your forces, take a deep breath and from the bottom of your lungs yell:



-NI HAO! back.

Exception: small children. For them I always put on a bit of a show: a smile, maybe a bit of laughter or giggling before I say 'Hello' back, meanwhile I wave with my hand. (Actually, something I've noticed is that in China, I use my hands much more when I talk to people. Whatever I tell with my mouth I also show with my hands... everything from how many mangoes I wanna buy, to if I want to go left or right, to what I have been eating, cooking, or how far I have been running... yeah, well, U get the point. I suppose I look quite idiotic sometimes when I speak).

Most of the time, the HELLO (which is often followed by a giggle) comes from a car that is passing by, but when it comes from outside a factory (eg. very common case when I walk back from uni as I walk buy several factories where the men are sitting outside having lunch) the 'conversation' can go on. If you reply to a facory HELLO the respons is most likely to be a loud laughter. Once I decided to laugh back. Big mistake. That resulted in them cheering.

Another time I was out horseback riding in Suzhou with a group of friends. We passed one of those temporary houses for workers that are working on a building project, and I sincerely believe it was the first time for some of those workers to either see horses or foreign women and Mongolian guys on horses. Because when we came, the 10 guys that were sitting outside started yelling, and a moment later, the rest of the workers poured out of the houses and lined up to great us.

HELLO HELLO!!!! someone yelled.
NIMEN HAO! I replied. Which resulted in roars of laughter. And an applaud.

Yeah, the latter was a bit weird. There we were on our horses (that, thank lord neither reacts to the sounds of cars honking or the sound of workers laughing) receiving standing ovations. I am not even necessarily good at horse back riding..

Point to be made? I am not sure. Saying Hello to a foreigner in China is obviously a big deal. The smaller the city, the bigger the deal. In Shanghai, this rarely happens meanwhile in Suzhou, this is an every day event. Once we had friends visiting and were walking around in an old part of Suzhou city, looking for a place to have lunch. People even came out from their restaurants and shops just to say hello. I've been thinking about if I should do the same thing now when I go to Scandinavia. Should I greet every Chinese looking person I meet on the street?

Or, should I simply settle for the fact that this happens in China only.


Solano Palacio said...

Hello. First off, excuse me if my english is not good, or if it turns uncomprensible at any time. English is not my "original" language, and it's been a wild since I last read, write or spoñe in english. Encouraged by some of the words of your profile ("Feel free to contact me on my email or via my webpage") I decided to ask you something I've been wondering for a long time, and that I think you probably have the answer. The issue is this: For a long time now, I desired to travel arround the world, live a couple of years in different places a couple of years and then move on to another country, start over and get to know a new culture, language and stuff... If I didn't misunderstood your profile box of the blog, that's the path that you have chosen for your life, am I right? xD. Well, what I wanted to ask you, (in case I'm right about what I just said) is how did yo take the desition? what about friends? family? (if there's one... I'm sorry if I speak to you about something that brings you bad memorys). Those facts have been holding me, and not letting me grab a bag, choose a destiny and leave. Well, that's that. Excuse my english please. Sorry if I disturb. Nice blog... Glad I found it :P.

Anonymous said...

This hello phenomona definitely happens in China only. I have heard many other lao wais complaining about this. Some Chinese barely speak English but want to practice it on foreigners. You should write an article to English Daily, the official Chinese news in English, and help Chinese understand this annoying problem from a foreigner's perspective.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Solano Palacio -after graduating from high school I moved to London. Back then it wasn't such a big deal, I was 19 and fearless, and didn't have so many worries in life. From there, it just went on... Studying in Australia was a natural decision (I LOVE Aussie!!! It's such a gorgeous place and the ppl are simply outstanding -so happy and warm!), and after graduating I got a job in Finland, and then it suddenly became hard to 'move back home' again. Mainly because 'home' wasn't that easy to define. I had become used to living far from everyone. I had become used to being 'a Swede living abroad.'

Of course I miss my friends and my family back home in Sweden. I go back home to see them once a year, normally during the Scandinavian summer (which is the best time in Sweden!). My family and some friends have also visited me several times over the years. I guess for them, having me moving around have been a good excuse for them to get out and see the world :). It might sound weird for someone who has never lived abroad, but for me it works like this: the longer I live abroad the harder it becomes to 'return'. I don't know if I ever want to live in Sweden again. I think family and friends have accepted this fact too. Although of course I miss them like crazy. But that's the price u have to pay I guess.

I've now been living in China for almost 2 years and I am planning to stay for a long time still. I have no idea where I eventually will end up. I guess that's part of the excitement rush that I have become a bit addictive to :)