A city block in China is huge compared to those in North America. Often the area within a Nanchang city block will contain a small maze of streets connecting the random collection of buildings.
Another foreigner introduced me to a small restaurant that was in an area hidden from me until I was introduced to the pedestrian thoroughfare that links two major shopping streets — essentially a shortcut. I’ve now decided this little restaurant has the best eggplant dish I’ve eaten in China. Tonight I decided to show this restaurant to another foreigner.
While sitting together in the small empty restaurant, a Chinese man came into the restaurant to pick up some food to take out. As he walked past us he stared a little bit and casually asked the restaurant owners about their new foreigner customers in the same way someone might ask about the weather. I met his gaze with a polite ”你好“ (hello) and suddenly he was standing over our table and interrupting our conversation with 3 questions:
- Where country are you from?
- Where do you work?
- What is your salary?
Every conversation I have in Nanchang starts with #1 and #2 and usually becomes a chance for the person to ask as much as they can about my personal life. People are curious in cities where foreigners are a rare sight, but it surprises me that no one seems interested in my opinion of their city, or what life is like in other parts of the world. Not that my opinion matters, but instead of talking to people, I find myself being interrogated.
Recently I mentioned on this website about different privacy boundaries held by North Americans and Chinese people. The students of my oral English class think it’s pretty funny that western women would keep their age a secret, let alone lie — even jokingly — that they’d been 30 for the past 10 years. It seems equally amazing to me that a total stranger would ask me about my salary.