After a few centuries of immigration, it’s easy to overlook the diversity of large US cities. Everyone has their own heritage and the differences between us blend together in one large melting pot and no one really stands out in a crowd. However in many other parts of the world, it’s quite the opposite…
It’s not exactly award winning investigative analysis to say that China is largely a homogeneous society. Let’s face it, when a single fair-skinned, blond-headed, kid from Georgia climbs aboard the Beijing subway late at night long after the other tourists have left, you can’t help but notice one of these things is not like the other.
I received a lot of attention from the other passengers on the train when I first stepped on, but not in a threatening way. After a minute or two most of them found other things to occupy their minds. Except for one woman directly across from me.
I didn’t notice her right away, but it’s hard to shake that “someone’s staring at me” feeling after a couple of seconds. I tried to catch her eye with mine as to acknowledge her and graciously end the uncomfortable interaction, but to no avail. Little did I know this wasn’t just any stare – it’s the kind you’d give a car accident as you rubberneck by from the passenger seat. The kind you give animals at the zoo. Hell, it’s the kind you’d give aliens if they showed up at a bar. You just can’t help it. I tried to look back at her for a second or two again before I began to feel uncomfortable and looked away… again. Why won’t this woman look away? Has she never seen a white guy before? Fighting back all cultural norms, I gave in and finally started staring back. Our eyes locked in, and neither of us budged.
There’s no telling how long our staring contest lasted. It’s almost as if time stood still, but eventually I broke. I was no match for her. A few minutes later my stop arrived, and I wandered off to catch the changing of the guard at Tiananmen Square. Before I left the train, I noticed that her eyes had wandered off too. I’ll never know why she was staring at me so intently, but I’ll never forget that woman or that slightly awkward feeling riding through Beijing.