Monday, October 09, 2006


As I was walking home from work yesterday evening, reminding myself not to try too hard to seek out ideas for blog posts, because they will inevitably just happen, I had one of the most quintessentially Chinese experiences.

I think I can safely say that Americans are generally prone to "rubbernecking," a phenomenon wherein a traffic accident causes people to slow down and try to catch a glimpse of what is going on. Chinese people, however, take it to a whole new level; at the first sign of the slightest bit of commotion, a crowd of people will gather around to see what is taking place. It doesn't matter if someone is getting arrested, or if a shopper is arguing with a produce vendor over the accuracy of his or her scale, people here love to stop and stare.

Often, my mere presence as a foreigner in China attracts attention. So when I stopped yesterday evening to buy a caramel-peanut candy concoction sold by Uighurs (a minority group from NW China) off the back of their bikes, a few older Chinese men stopped to watch, ask where I was from, and amuse themselves by providing a running commentary on their opinions of my Chinese speaking ability. The Uighurs actually have their own language, and this vendor spoke very little Mandarin--my attempts to tell him that I only wanted a small corner piece of his enourmous, bike cart-sized mound of candy were very much in vain.

Berfore I knew it, he had cut of a massive 2 kilo hunk of candy and was telling me that I owed him 60 RMB ($7.50). As I tried to explain that I wanted less than the portion he had cut for me, a fellow vendor arrived to assist his friend. This second man spoke Mandarin, and even a few words of English. I told him that I just wanted half of what his friend had given me, but he replied that that wasn't an option because once my chunk had been cut, they couldn't resell it and I had to buy the whole thing. At this point, there were about 30 onlookers, gawking at my peanut candy folly. Yes, 30 people, determined to find out what could possibly be going on, had stopped on the sidewalk to form a crowd surrounding me, the vendor, and his bike. I wish someone could have taken a picture, but you'll have to rely on your imaginations...

I really didn't want 4.5 lbs of this confection, but it certainly wasn't worth risking an argument over a couple pounds of candy--especially because I think my peanut gallery was curious as to how I was going to react. We negotiated and eventually agreed on a price, and the old Chinese men who had been my first onlookers grinned and waved good-bye as I continued on my way home.

No comments: