Sunday, January 22, 2012

American kids in China

The kids attract a lot of attention here in China. I guess they are a curious sight, given that they are young Western faces and that there are two of them! We've seen hardly any other Western kids during our stay, and thanks to the one-child policy here, it's rare for us to see two Chinese kids from the same family. Literally, I can think of maybe two or three instances of each of those that we've seen, in two weeks here -- and none of both combined, i.e. two Western kids from the same family, like my kids.

(Too bad I'm not showing more with Q. That would really blow everyone's mind :)

Sometimes this attention is welcome. Like when we got to the long line to clear immigration at the airport and an official took one look at the kids and waved us to the front of the line. Sometimes, it's not-so-welcome. Like when Noob throws a tantrum on the subway and I look up to see every face on the train turned our way. Just a typical toddler tantrum folks, nothing to see here, move along... please?

Noob attracts noticeably more attention than Littles. I don't know if it's a preference for his age, his sex, or his blue eyes. (Blue eyes are rare here. Littles' hazel eyes are closer to typical Chinese coloring.)

The attention often takes a form that Americans would consider quite intrusive and rude. For example:

  • Apparently, we don't dress the kids warmly enough, by Chinese standards. So people come up to me and point out that there's a gap between Noob's pants and socks when he's sitting in the Ergo, or that Littles is only wearing tights (not the thick winter pants that Chinese kids wear) underneath her dress. They tell me in Chinese, of course, so while I know what they're referring to by now (after being told a million times), I don't understand the words at all. My blank stares don't deter them from going on. And on. And on. This happens, on average, about once per outing.
  • If I don't put Littles' hair back before we go out, people will come up and brush it out of her face for her.
  • People are constantly trying to touch Noob, play with him, even pick him up. He has some stranger anxiety and so this really seems to bother him. Keeping him in the Ergo prevents some of this type of attention, but not all.
  • People frequently take pictures of the kids when we're out and about. They rarely ask our permission.
  • Lots of staring. Not just when Noob is throwing a tantrum. It's pretty much constant. Often, the stares are accompanied by friendly smiles, but not always.
  • On the train from Shanghai to Beijing, the kids were standing by a big window in the snack car. Noob was being an obnoxious little brother and pushing Littles out of the way -- hey, it happens. So I put him in timeout in the corner right next to the window. He wasn't crying or disturbing the other passengers, but almost immediately, one of the train attendants came up to him smiling and cooing in Chinese, picked him up, gave him a hug, and plopped him by the window next to Littles again. Timeout FAIL.

After two weeks of this, I've kinda gotten used to it, but it was definitely unnerving at first! If we ever return to China when the kids are older (and therefore more aware of others' reactions to them), I'll probably prep them directly about this. Otherwise, they might spend the first week wondering if there's something on their face or some other reason why people are staring at them :)

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