Monday, 2 July 2012

From time to time, when letting off steam about being constantly stared at, someone (it’s usually a man) will say: -

“Well waddya expect.  You’ve got PINK hair.  Hullo??”

Which shows that some, at least, of the Westerners I meet in China, think I have pink hair because I WANT people to look at me. These are, once again, usually men.

Because any foreign woman in China understands how it feels to be scrutinized,  from head to toe and all places in between, by elderly men, young kids, curious contemporaries, and Uncle Tom Cobbley and All. It’s very, very difficult to try not to feel somehow violated. Women seem to react to  being stared at in a completely different way to men.

 Though everyone has their tolerance point, men seem either not to notice the staring, or to bask, somewhat, in it. Then when it gets uncomfortably intrusive they tend to get angry.  It’s probably this, coupled with the fact that foreign men are, on the whole, bigger, hairier and more unpredictable than their female counterparts, which results in them not having to go through the same experiences as women.

So I dyed my hair bright, shocking, neon pink not long after I arrived because I couldn’t shake my seemingly irrational conditioning that this behavior signaled something bad.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a country, however, where people stare so blatantly, extendedly and so imperviously as they do in China.  My conditioning led me to think that being stared at in public was what happens in those nightmares when you turn up for some event with no clothes on. Or you were behaving, or looking, in some way not socially acceptable. 

So, try as I may, I could not rid myself of the idea that there was something wrong with me: did I have parsley in my teeth? Was my skirt tucked into the back of my knickers? (oddly enough, the day I actually paraded through the city in that state I found that no-one affords it even a flicker of a glance. Which means not one soul took pity on me as I sashayed through a city of 8 million people displaying my g-string and, consequently, bottom cheeks to a goodly percentage of that 8 million).

So finally, when I realized I was actually becoming reclusive, I marched in to the village hairdresser with a neon ribbon in my hand, pointed to it and to my hair a few times and he got the message.

From the minute I walked out of the hairdressers, I stopped fearing people were staring at the parsley, or my knickers. Or my bum-cheeks.  Now, every time I was surrounded by a ring of impassive faces silently staring, I would know exactly why – they would be staring at my hair. There was a reason for their behavior which didn’t involve the idea that I was, in some way that everybody but I knew about, transgressing in some way.  Nah.  They’re just staring at the hair.

 End of reclusive period.

But the thing is that now, over time, I have come actually to be, for the first time ever, perfectly happy with my hair.  Not that I ever give it much thought until I see the roots are growing out again. Pink has just come to be the colour of my hair – the same way ‘mouse’ used to. (“Mouse” was what my father actually wrote when he filled in a box marked “Colour of Eyes” in my first passport application).

Not that it stayed mouse for very long. I’ve always had a need – doubtless due to my father – to change the colour of my hair frequently.

By now however, and for most of the past half a dozen years, it’s pink.

Now in China the fact that I have pink hair does not actually outweigh the other thing about me that causes people (quite literally!) to walk into lampposts: I’m a foreigner.  Foreigners are strange.  Middle-aged foreign women are the strangest species of all.

 Foreigners aren’t judged on their differences; assumptions aren’t made about them based on the way they look.

So it gives me great pause to wonder: what’s it going to be like going back to where I’ll be part of the majority and no longer a seldom-spotted species about whom or what nothing is really known?

Is the way different people will see me, in a culture that makes a snap judgement within the first few seconds of seeing a person, going to effect me? Marginalize me? Label me in some way?

Will it matter?

I've just read the preceding post. Wow! Didn't that turn into a whole heap of old cobblers, then?

THOUGHT: - but it IS proof that I do think about my friends.