Where skin color attracts curiosity

By Darnell Gardner Jr. ( China Daily ) Updated: 2012-10-16 10:13:04

On seeing a black foreigner, a Chinese co-worker remarked, "He's too dark." I looked at my skin - certainly lighter than my fellow laowai's but darkening quickly in the summer sun - and wondered what my colleague meant by "too dark".

For me, an African-American, these kinds of awkward situations crop up all the time in China.

Related: The fairest of them all is tanned?

Where skin color attracts curiosity

"What do you mean, 'too dark?'" I asked her. She replied that she thought Beyonce was beautiful and assured me she saw nothing wrong with my particular hue.

And I believe her. I'm sure she sees me no differently than she does any other foreigner.

But with people like me being such a rarity in China, working out how others interpret my presence here has been a bit challenging.

Reactions to me have varied.

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Once while caught in a storm, a friendly security guard invited me to take shelter with him in his booth. Tired of fighting against the wind and rain with my umbrella, I accepted his offer and took a seat inside.

The guard was elated. He fired off a string of questions, most of which I couldn't understand, and then took to rubbing my skin and hair. A few minutes later I'd exhausted my limited Chinese vocabulary, and my new friend was now asking to try on my shoes. I indulged his last request, gave him my thanks and left feeling like an alien life form.

Almost every day I have someone grinning and pointing at me. Sometimes they'll smile and wave, and sometimes they'll just look plain astonished.

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