black / girl / abroad

That time Chinese mainlanders used me for photo opps

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debbienews / Pixabay

So if you’re a certain color and you go to another part of the world where a certain color like you is rarely encountered, you’re going to get stared at, touched even, etc. etc. I’ve been blessed to not encounter this often, but it did happen — ironically, in Singapore of all places. Singapore is a melting pot, lots of expats and folks come through, but blacks (of whatever country) can still be fairly infrequent there. Nowadays, there are definitely more, namely American military men, so something must be shifting with the Singapore government or perhaps more and more of the local US men stationed in Asia are just deciding they want to play around in SIN. Pun intended? lolz Nah, Singapore isn’t a very sinful city, you go to BKK or MNL for that.

Anyhoo, where was I? Oh yes, so I had just hit up the Duty-Free store — Singapore is a blissfully commercial and capitalist place; rather than just limiting your Duty-Free shopping to the plane catalogue or the airport, they have an entire MALL for Duty-Free shopping off Orchard Rd., a major boulevard at the center of town, it’s kind of ridiculous.

So I had wandered in there to see if there was anything worth buying in 2009 or so (there wasn’t) and hot and bored and tired, I parked it on the steps out front. Up drives a tour bus. Had Chinese characters on it. Out spills a collection of Asians. Now, I’m in Asia, this doesn’t surprise me, I just chill, staring around.

And then I notice that half of them didn’t move away from the bus and up the escalators to go shopping. No, they’re standing next to the bus on the other side of the driveway … staring at me. With cameras tentatively in their hands. They were waiting for me to look and catch eyes … They were talking amongst themselves, and I confirmed to myself — definitely Chinese.

One guy gestures. Some women and men next to him giggle, point, talk aside, look to him then me. None of them want to walk up and ask, no, they just want to take a picture of me like I’m a lion on the Serengeti, from a distance. Like I’m dangerous and beautiful.

I couldn’t bring myself to smile, but I nodded and allowed the paparazzi to snap their pictures. It went on for 10 minutes, like, a group of people just zapping away with their big long-range lenses and little pocket cameras and whatever. When they were done there wasn’t even a gesture of thanks they just turned way like they’d been to the zoo.

It was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time, since I was a kid. It had been that long in Asia since I’d felt different, which was a wonder in itself. But I took pity. I realized these folks have never seen one of me live before. I might as well have been a giraffe or a polar bear or an anaconda to them. I decided to be magnanimous. I’m not a particularly great-looking specimen, but if they could take this knowledge forth to the folks deep in Mainland China and say LOOK. THEY ARE REAL. THIS ONE IS PRETTY CHUBBY AND WEIRD LOOKING BUT ISN’T IT FASCINATING?! She looks just like grandma, only her hair is curlier. Grandma gets pretty tan like that in the summer, yeah? 

It’s a little more exposure for them. This sort of cross-pollination is good for the soul, I think, it leaves a little seed of openness. I didn’t bite, hiss, or attack. I took it for a win. Hopefully they went home and showed friends and family and assured them, no, the brown girls don’t dance half-naked with their boobs out in the streets and wear loud colors, this one just sat quietly on the stairs, fanning herself with a piece of paper. Like Grandma!

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