You know how I like to be the centre of attention?
I got it in China. Not travelling to the main cities, I was an oddity. Tall (dare I say statuesque, those who have met me IRL?), brightly dressed and with medium length blonde hair in the homogenous society, I stood out.
Plenty of stares, up and down, plenty of turned heads as I passed, plenty of inquisitive looks, by men and women.
A shopkeeper asked why I had a pointy nose. I should have asked her why she didn’t have a nose but instead said because my mother is German and Germans have striking noses. That probably made as much sense to the questioner as nothing, cause she couldn’t tell a German from an Aussie. And hadn’t seen either. I was her first Westerner close up, in the flesh.
People would say hello and then giggle when I said hello back. “Ooo. Look, she talks.”
Parents and grandparents would point me out to their children. Bringing their children up to say hello to the foreigner.
I felt a bit like “Exhibit C”. See the kangaroo. Now the platypus. Now here’s a female of the white species.
When my companion would ask for directions, she often got worse than gruff, often dismissive, responses. I would step up and their whole demeanour would change. We’d then get help. I told her I should say hi first so they’d look up and smile. Then she could step in and ask the question.
Imagine my horror when there was another blonde waiting to get on my plane out of Fuzhou.
How dare she? How very dare she?
Attention aside, it was interesting to compare our multicultural society with this homogenous one. Yes, we have racism – both the crude and the insidious kind. (Read Waleed Aly’s opinion piece.) But, despite much racism, we accept differences.
Yet arriving in Hong Kong for transfer, after a week in homogeneity, the multitude of races was a bit like sensory overload.
Is it easier to deny racism when you are in an homogenous society than a heterogeneous one? More pressingly, would you like to be the centre of attention?