Friday, May 22, 2009

My effort to fit in

There are days when I am out riding my bike, get overtaken by a big truck where two young Chinese boys are hanging out of the window, yelling: ‘HELLOOOOOOOOOO!’,  and I just smile, and wave back.

But then there are days when I pass by ayis that out with their grandchildren, and notice that the ayi is pointing at me, telling the kid: “Look, look at the big laowai! Look at the her big nose!,” and feel like yelling: ‘Stop talking about me like that! I’m not a ZOO animal!’

These feelings are totally dependent on my mood of the day. What I can find cute one day can suddenly become unbearable on another day.

It has crossed my mind to dye my hair dark, just so that I would fit in a bit better. However, seeing that I’ve always been blonde, I figured it would be quite a big change, so I decided to start off by getting myself a wig (for bad days only!). 

At first at the wig store, none of the young, cute Chinese girls understood why I wanted to hide my ‘yellow mane’ under a wig. After having explained my reasons, however, they all nodded and made a real effort to fit me into one of their wigs, even combing my new, dark, Pocahontas mane for me.

As we all can tell, however, a wig is never going to be an option.

Gotta give them credit for their effort...
A bit like the scary girl in 'the ring', right?
Not a short one either!

But it was fun to try!


Brad Farless said...

Looks like fun, but ya, you're gonna fail.

I can really empathize with you on this one. I'm in Singapore, where foreigners are fairly common. Even so, I get enough stares from people, and especially children, that it starts to get annoying sometimes.

Sometimes I just want to say, "I've been coming here to eat for a year! When are you going to stop acting like it's the first time you've seen me!"

Adding to that, I just moved recently. My wife and I are renting out a room with a nice Chinese family. The problem? The kids treat me like I walk on water and the USA shares a zip code with Heaven. I had to realign their concept of the US. It's great, but it's not THAT great. Not the way they think it is anyways, especially in comparison to Singapore, which is very well built up.

Sorry for the long comment. I just... know how you feel. I wear a hat all the time to try to make it less obvious, but I grow a beard quickly and don't like to shave, which defeats the purpose. At least it makes me feel a bit better though.

Jen said...

There have got to be better options out there. A little less Blue Lagoon/Flapper...somewhere in between?

sarasophia said...

I think you look adorable in the short dark one!

<3 sarasophia

Anonymous said...

With your long hair, you look like one of my Vietnamese friends.

Little Tiger said...

hehe you really do look like Pocahontas in the first one! You look like an air hostess in the second :)

Steph said...

When I first moved to Taiwan, I thought for sure my red curly hair would be quite the spectacle. Surprisingly, it wasn't. People here are much more inclined to notice my big nose or green eyes, etc. And in fact, the Taiwanese word for foreigner, when literally translated, means "big nose"!

When I was talking to one of my friends about it, I realized that 1) they assume my hair has been permed, and 2) that they think anyone who is not Asian has golden hair (she told me this directly). One of my friends has dark brown hair, almost black...and they still call it 金色.

So, all that to say, I don't think getting a wig (or dying your hair) is really going to help you blend're still going to be tall, your face is still going to look western, and it's possible they're still going to think it's yellow anyway.

I understand your frustration, though. Sometimes I just wish I could be invisible just long enough to get where I need to go...

flyingfish said...

It will get better. People here in Beijing used to pull that kind of crap all the time. But now nobody does. Instead they tell their kids, "Say hello to 'Auntie.'"

Maybe you could talk directly to the some of the worst offenders. Tell them you think they're setting a bad example to their kids. And losing China's face, too, by the way. Pointing and calling out "big-nose" is just not civilized behavior. China's a major world power, a vibrant part of the global community. Her citizens ought to show some class.

You wouldn't have to be confrontational about it. As long as you were straightforward and reasonable, I bet it would work. You might not change their behavior, not overnight anyway, but you would definitely give them something to think about.

胡崧 said...

ha ha ha ha!!! I think the short one looks better on you. I dont know, but I think dying hair can be fun. It will completely change your image.

Anonymous said...

Can I just say -- Ba!ha!ha!ha!ha!ha!

It reminds me of when I tried a long dark wig over my blonde hair and everyone told me "Don't ever dye your hair dark! " It was bad.

When I am in China I get so many stares, plus with 3 kids we stick out! Friendliness really helps I know, but some days...I just wanna stick out my tongue.

Holidays help - enjoy your summer workcation.


PS moving to Nanjing this fall, much more cosmopolitan than Suzhou right?

Pingu said...

i'm sorry, it just doesn't work on you :p

Wearing a wig is always a bad idea.

Penjelajah Waktu said...

i'll choose the short ones

******************** Shanghai MiFeng said...

Jonna .... Helllloooooo !
I agree with Sarasophia , the short black one is really you as a chinese Lady . Let's hope that all those Men , don't start to whistle at you now ( if you decide to buy that one ) , instead of the long hello . Hehe

Mark's Blog said...

I found the 3rd picture to be the best,haha

I agree with flyingfish, talk directly to the some of the worst offenders might be a good way.

Last time I met some guy on Queen Street yelling 幸会幸会 to me, I went out shake his hands and saying Hello Hello to him. But you know, it was a Saturday night, he was bit drunk.

Jonna Wibelius said...

I'm glad that these pictures made a lot of you laugh... because I wasn't really being serious about it. Although now when little tiger (and some others) said the 3d one looked good (I personally think my face look round like a bowling ball in that bob-with-a-fringe-cut) who knows? Maybe I ought to get one?

Sometimes I get angry and say something back (like u suggested I would do, flyingfish), but that only triggers a new roar of laughter. I haven't realized it before, but apparently I look really funny when I am angry? (only in China though, no where else in the world have anyone laughed at me when I've been pissed off... or hm... maybe it's just in China I lose my temper?! Just thinking about what happened when I tried to buy that radio at carrefour some month ago and everybody were laughing about my angry face...)

Anyways, as some people pointed out, dying the hair wouldn't solve anything. I'd still be the 175cm tall, big nosed, big feet giant... so nah, why bother! I should just try to laugh about it more. It's just on some days... oh well, I don't even have to go there, u all know.

anonymous -from what I've heard, Nanjing and Suzhou are pretty much the same... not very cosmopolitan. U'd have to go to SH for that!

mantse said...

Looks not bad... and have a good try on that.... sometimes change image can make people happy.

(i just wonder if your parent see your new look, they should feel much funny!!)

Ramesh said...

Haha Hehe HoHo

You look nice in all three !!

Why not tell the Ayi back in fluent Mandarin that she looks funnier with her flat nose :)

Jenny King said...

He he you look good as a brunette!!

The Candid Yank said...

i quite liked you in the dark one, but judging from what you say about the weather there it probably wouldn't be too comfortable!

i compleeeeeeeetely empathise with what you're saying about tolerating certain stuff on certain days, and wanting to scream on other days. Hang in there ;)

Chong Hum said...

Jonna ... I bet you would look great with a "BLONDE" wig, hehehe

Anonymous said...

Dear Jonna,

Please dont do that again. Had near heart attack. Think I need therapy again.


Kate said...

Why try to blend in when you were born to stand out? You are an exceptional person and those are rare. Don't let mediocre people define your inner psyche. No matter where you go, there will be people who uplift you and people you could simply do without. Rise above them and shine everyday! Your cheerful heart will win over even them.

Anonymous said...

Why would you even care?

Veronique Renard said...

I do get the same reactions here in Thailand. However, I didn't change my looks to fit in, but I did change my behaviour. I have become quite Thai. Interestingly, Thai people envy my blue eyes, long blond hair, nose and long slender body. I am 1.78 and 57 kg. Despite my age of 44, I still attract the romantic attention of very young men Here, my different , because I look different. My looks are appreciated. I do stand out, but not in a negative way. But I do understand your frustrations.

Martin said...

At 6 foot 3 inches, and also bald, I was quite the attraction when I went to visit my wife's hometown in southern Hunan Province. Apparently not a lot of white foreigners make it to this town. After a few days, I was getting a little tired of being stared at...people literally stopping dead in their tracks at the sight of me. I can totally relate to what you are saying here. Great blog!

simon said...


can someone tell me how do i view blogs in china thru a proxy? im new to this...thx.

Anonymous said...

the short one really makes u look chinese ;)