You’d think we somehow copy paste these race-related stories off of each other as foreigners who’ve been to China but you would be wrong.

Every foreigner interacted closely with in China with an exception of none and more so black people have at least one of these stories. This is the second post on my ‘The China Experience’ series. Look back with me through 2011-2014 when I was studying in China. Enjoy….

Do you remember the first time you discovered you were black? I do. I was teaching at a kindergarten in Beijing for a few months in 2012. Yes, I have imparted knowledge in young minds and influenced the great minds of tomorrow. You may be inclined to applaud me right about now, go on, I would applaud me too.  So I walk into my first class and the kids’ eyes couldn’t be any more widely open in shock. One kid was totally freaked out and wouldn’t sit anywhere near me. My glass ego decided to try to convince me that they were reacting that way because I was new; a stranger. That argument flew out of the window when during the break and many breaks there after I would be bombarded with questions about my skin color from both the kids and the Chinese teachers alike.

“Why are you so black?”

“Were you born like this?”

“Why am I white and you are black?”

”Why is your hair weird?”

When the questions were from the kids, it was ok, they were young, not much exposure; it was forgivable that they asked me the same thing every single day. I decided to have a little fun with my answers;

“I eat too much chocolate.”

“I stayed in the sun too long that one time”

“I’m not exactly black like the color black, more like a dark brown”

“You are not white, more like yellow so maybe explain that to me first?” (That last one shocked many of the kids, one actually never spoke to me again; oops). In my defense, I never said I was good at teaching kindergarten did I?

One kid kept scratching my hand every day, almost peeling off my skin and never said a word. After hearing a few other stories from friends who have had similar experiences, I think I can now conclude the poor boy was probably trying to see if the color comes off.

I started teaching during winter so I was somewhat covered up but come spring/summer, the most bizarre thing happened. I was preparing the kids for class after nap time as usual, then suddenly I feel a tug on my top, next thing you know, the same kid is lifting up my top, and within seconds am surrounded by five screaming kids all saying in Chinese; ‘Oh my goodness! She’s black all over!’

If they weren’t so adorable, I would have had so much to say about that.

Months later, I had to learn to brush it off and try not to get shocked or offended. I may not have seen it all but I think I’ve heard it all. Here are some of my favorites:

“Was your hair like that when you were born or did you change it at some point” (referring to my locs)

“Do you wash your hair, like ever?”

“Can I touch it?” – This is only when you meet the polite ones; otherwise you’d just feel a tug on your hair and have to fill in the blanks yourself.

“Oh you come from Kenya? So many wild animals running around right?”

“Oh you are Kenyan? So you can run really fast right?”

“We would like to go to the slum area please, we want to see the real Kenya” – This one was a gem because it followed me all the way home. I had a group of professors (you know, those considered well-read and knowledgeable, some even well-travelled) visit Kenya from China and I was sort of their tour guide and translator and I kid you not, this was something they actually said.

“Oh my your name is so hard to pronounce” (Yeah, you put yourself in my shoes and try saying  Xiao Yuan Liang 10 times fast and then tell me whose name is harder)

I’m all for curiosity, that’s how all the great inventions came to be but there is a form of curiosity that just gets on my nerves. I had never touched non-afro kinky hair before going to China yet you didn’t see me going up to random Caucasian/Asian strangers visiting Kenya and asking to touch their hair or worse still pointing a camera in their face and clicking away and not even being kind enough to turn off the flash.

But I guess as a foreigner in any country across the globe may run into such occurrences so China isn’t the exception; or is it?

I’d love to hear your story.



  1. […] is part three of my China experience […]


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