Being Black in China

Heather Greenwood Davis blogs about her family's year-long trip around the world at Globe Trotting Mama. In an article at NatGeo's Intelligent Travel blog, she tells what it was like to be a black tourist family spending a month in Beijing. They were the center of attention, as people photographed their every move and crowded around to touch them.

As we looked around, we realized that there were things about our family that made as many as 20 people at a time stand in line to get their photo taken with us:

1. Our skin color. We were in China for 30 days, but it wasn’t until our last week, in Yangshuo, that we saw another black person. The American mother-daughter duo said we, too, were the first they’d seen in the country. The sight of the six of us chatting in the street set off a camera frenzy big enough to draw shopkeepers out to gawk.

2. We’re tall. My husband Ish is about 6 foot, I’m 5′ 8”, and our sons are big for their age. There are tall people in China, but people seemed genuinely impressed with our height, sometimes even using hand gestures for emphasis. But being tall has its advantages. No matter how big the crowd, we could usually spot each other.

3. Our hair. The boys’ mini Afros may as well have been unicorn horns. People reached out to touch them all the time. Cameras were held so precariously close to my son’s hair that I’m sure there are photos out there in which you can count the strands.

From personal experience, I know that outside of China's biggest cities, white people get the same attention. Davis assures us they had a great time in Beijing, and it was a learning experience for their sons. Read the rest at Intelligent Travel. Link -via Holy Kaw!
 
(Image credit: Heather Greenwood Davis)


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When I was stationed in Korea many years ago, total strangers would just reach out and touch my hair without permission. At first, it was amusing. Later on, it was all I could do to say "The subway is not a petting zoo!"
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Because pale skin, round eyes and height are all very desirable traits in asia I was also hounded by fertility clinics to donate.

Doctors would approach me on the street and hand me business cards for their clinics.
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As a white, 6'7" guy, in China in the early 90's, I had the same experiences. I figured folks would be intimidated by my size, but it was quite the opposite. It was like the circus came to town every time we visited a new town or location.

Admittedly, it was tough to get used to the frequent manhandling and small mobs that wanted to take my picture. Back then, they also had coin operated scales in most cities - seemingly on every block -- the measured your height and weight and spit out a card with both and your fortune (while playing horrible electronic "music" as the lever came slowly down to touch your head for the height measurement.) Whenever we stopped moving near one, people would ask me to stand on it so they could get a "souvenir" card - undoubtedly to prove they had met a "Giant" downtown.
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My brother is 6'4", bald and has a bunch of tattoos. He went to China over New Years. Pretty much every time he walked on the street he got mobbed. At first he thought it was neat and kept taking pictures with people, but after awhile it got difficult to get from place to place. He said it was probably the closest he will ever feel to being famous, I told him they just thought he was a freak of nature ( to take him down a notch).
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