Gweilo, part 2

Let me begin by clarifying my last post. I was not trying to construct an argument that established a causal relationship between Chinese racism and Chinese behavior.   I was reacting to my new environment, and I observed two things: they refer to me as “ghost man,” and they often act as if they can’t see me.   Also, other “ghosts” appeared to be able to see me much better than non-ghosts. These things I thought were amusing, and made for a nice metaphor which I could use to describe my experiences in my first few days in HK. That was the extent of my intent with “Gweilo.” “Why” is a strong word, and I will be more careful with it in the future. Lesson learned.

My invisibility here has been a bit surprising. I had been to mainland China before my immigration, and experienced what most white people experience in poorer parts of the world; people really noticed me, and went out of their way to get my attention. “Hello, English! You come here. We have special English menu for you!” In HK, it’s not like that at all.  I could stand on a busy street corner all day,  and the only people who would see me would be other ghosts.

IMAG0096

Copy watch? Rolex?

Another contrast with mainland China is that in HK, I feel small sometimes.  I’m about 5’10”.  In Beijing, I felt big, both in body and in bank account.  In HK I’m not big, and I’m poor.  People just aren’t small here; that is one Asian stereotype that definitely does not apply to the HK Chinese.  And the gweilo here are giants.  Americans are shorter than Western Europeans, and most of the gweilo here seem to be European, or English.  I was prepared for a lot of the emotions this city can elicit, but I was not expecting to feel short.

In Beijing, my name was “Hello! English!” In HK, my name is gweilo (except in Tsim Sha Tsui, where they refer to me as “Copy watch?  Rolex?”).  I prefer gweilo to “the European,” which is what people who don’t know me refer to me as (when they’re trying to be P.C.).   At least gweilo isn’t factually inaccurate.  I’m coming to terms with my status as a gweilo.   As I said before, the term is surprisingly apt.

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