A Familiar Problem In A Foreign Land

, , , , | Friendly | December 11, 2017

I go to China with my dad at a very young age. I am extremely tall, so when I interact with people in public, they treat me like a young adult, which is very confusing to me. I only speak Shanghainese, which is specific dialect that has no written language anymore. I know only basic Chinese.

The airport I am in is a lot less crowded than the one back home, but because I am still so young, I am holding onto my dad’s jacket as we walk around. In my head, it should be clear I am a child because of this.

My dad sits me down with our stuff near the bathroom as he leaves to do his business. Not even a minute later, a woman comes up to me and insists I sign something. I try to say my Chinese is not good, but she’s deaf and ignores this as she forces her clipboard into my hands.

Everything on that clipboard is written in Chinese, and I see names written down with numbers next to them, but no money sign of any sort. I shrug and figure she’s collecting signatures. I think that maybe the numbers are the time of day that people have signed, because they don’t go past 24, and because it is a different country I assume they have used military time.

I do my best to write my Chinese name, as my parents taught me, and I write 13.47 down, which is the time. When I give it back to the lady, she smiles and holds out her hand. I don’t know what she is doing and just shake her hand. This goes on for a bit as she gets increasingly more upset.

Eventually, she throws her hands in the air in frustration and shows me the clipboard again, jabbing at the number I wrote down. I keep trying to act out “I don’t know” to her, but she just scowls and keeps referring to the number. My dad finally comes out of the bathroom and sees what is going on. I think he is going to clear things up when he moves me and our stuff behind him as he goes to the woman.

Instead, he puts on a stone face after he sees the clipboard once, and mouths, “No, we don’t want to. We don’t have any,” in Chinese to the woman, while repeatedly waving his hand in her face until she scowls and leaves, glaring at me.

My dad tells me that she was a “donations collector” for deaf people and most likely came to the airport to try and find foreigners to get money off of. He also tells me that my behavior made it clear I was a foreigner because I was willing to listen and see what that woman was doing. According to him, local Chinese people know to shoo those types of people away, and that being rude is the only way to save your money and belongings in China if you’ve been “targeted.”

I’d like to say this wasn’t true, and I still try to be kind to people when I first meet them, but these types of situations continued to happen more times than I’d like to admit whenever I went back to China. I have indeed learned to ignore the “collectors” that wander in places that have many foreigners.

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