TCB is a phrase coined by one of my co-workers. It is not original, those of you who are Elvis fans have probably heard it before and with a different connotation. For our little group of expats living in Shanghai it refers to something one might see, hear, or experience in China which probably would not or should not be seen heard or experienced anywhere but China. Whenever we see something that makes us stop and shake our head, gives us a chuckle, or just plain ticks us off you'll hear someone say "TCB, that's China Baby!"
Because this phrase is said by someone on an almost daily basis I thought it would be interesting and perhaps entertaining to write a regular installment titled "TCB". While pondering which TCB I should write about first I decided that perhaps I would start with something that was quite annoying when I first came to China but now happens on such a regualr basis that usually we find it humorous. We call it the Shanghai stare.
In a country with such a large population you might think it would be quite easy for a foreigner to get lost in the crowd. Not in Shanghai. The locals here notice you immediately and when I say notice, I mean they gawk. Think bearded lady or two-headed calf.
Now, it's not like we are the only foreigners in Shanghai, there is actually quite a large expat community here, but for some reason my friends and I, a tall blue-eyed redhead and two short black girls, elicit the Shanghai stare on a regular basis. I'll share an example.
The first week of October is National Week in China. The schools, and many businesses, take this week as a vacation. This gave myself and a colleague the opportunity to travel around Shanghai a bit and do some sightseeing. Everywhere we went, we drew the attention of the Bug-eye Brigade. Have you ever seen someone stare so hard they look like their eyes will pop out? If you have, you understand what I mean. One day in particular stands out.
We traveled an hour southwest of Shanghai to China's version of the beach. It was a beautiful, warm day and we were looking forward to some "fresh" air and relaxation. Immediately upon our arrival the gawking began. We remained good-natured about it though because we were excited. We were at the beach IN CHINA! They had some paddle-boats there and because neither one of us had ever ridden in a paddle-boat before we decided to give it a try. All was going well and we were both immensely enjoying the experience until our wheel got caught in the buoy rope. We were stuck, we tried forward, we tried reverse, we weren't going anywhere. Then, the chain came off the pedals, so we really were stuck. As we struggled to put the chain back on and keep the boat from tipping over we began to draw quite a crowd of spectators. Did they offer to help? Were they sympathetic? NO! What they did do was pull out their camera phones and start taking pictures.
As frustrated as we were with the paddle-boat situation seeing a crowd of Chinese people whip out their camera phones to take a picture was quite humorous. We thought, if this were happening to someone else, we would probably be taking pictures too. Thanks to the heroic efforts of my friend, our chain was finally repaired and we were able to continue on our way. We soon discovered however that it wasn't just our predicament that had encouraged the shutterbugs, it was the two of us.
When we returned to the beach and settled ourselves on our towels we began to notice people slowing down and even stopping as they walked by us. Then we saw a couple of girls standing quite close. One of the girls was hiding behind her friend and attempting to surreptitiously take a picture of us. This happened several times over the course of the next hour. The first few times, it was funny. But then it became downright annoying. My friend would look right at the "sneaky" photographers, smile, and wave. After the 20th or so photo we decided that perhaps we should start charging 5RMB for a picture. If only we had known how to say, "We charge 5RMB per picture".
We began reading our books and did our best to ignore the spectators. Then a couple of boys came up and started watching us. They took a picture, chatted with each other a bit, took another picture, then one of the boys came a sat in front of us and began to pose. At that point my freind sat up and posed with him. This encouraged him to scoot in between us, put an arm around each one of us take a group picture. Afterwards both boys tried to speak with us and they thanked us many times. When they left we had a good laugh, then looked at one another and said, "That's China Baby."
After that experience I have pretty much taken the staring in stride. Once in a while, if I am having a bad day, I might stare back. Some will look away, others will just return my stare. Once in awhile, someone will pass me on a bike and be so enthralled they watch me instead of the road. I have seen a couple of collisions and a few near misses. One night in the grocery store, I actually saw one woman sprint about 6 meters over to her son, grab him, turn him around and point at me. It was funny, because as excited as she was, he could have cared less. TCB.
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