China via Japan pt. 3: From Mao to Yao

I don’t have a beef with Communism.

Personally, I think almost any political system, be it Democratic, Theocratic, Autocratic, Communist, or even a Sultanate or Monarchy, has the capacity for good and dark deeds.  Whether it’s The Great Leap Forward, The Middle Passage, Manifest Destiny or The Third Reich, when the wheels of change get to rolling, usually a lot of heads get to rolling, too. Everyone likes to point fingers at which political, economic or cultural movement is responsible for the most heinous crimes against humanity. I think it’s rather difficult to say. All kinds of people have the capacity to kill all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, and unfortunately throughout history, have done so. Whether it be their own people or those conveniently designated as “others”. Mankind is just fucked up that way, I guess.

So, I didn’t come to China with a loaded finger looking for a villain to aim it at.  I didn’t pack my little red (white and blue) book of Americanisms (though I did feel strangely compelled to sport my red USA cap at all times.) I just wanted to experience a taste of what a Post-Cold War Communist society looks and feels like. To me, it’s simply fascinating how far a nation of two Billion-give or take million- has come. From The Cultural Revolution to the 2008 Olympic Games Host. From Mao (Tse-Tung) to Yao (Ming) in 50 years. 433px-Mao_Zedong399px-YaoMingonoffense2

It’s impressive…kinda. Kinda scary, too.

There certainly wasn’t much communism going on in that awe-inspiring architectural feat known as Beijing Capital International Airport, the largest terminal in the world until recently.


As a Cold-War veteran American, you half-expect that upon landing in Red China you and your belongings will be whisked off into a little windowless room with 3 chain-smoking Chinese Secret Service agents who’ll very carefully review and re-review your travel documents (Visa) and ask you questions like: Loco? Your mother named you Loco? You expect us to believe that??? Not because they suspect you of being a spy or an agitator or anything- they know who all the American spies are. Hell, anybody who follows espionage news knows the Chinese intelligence agents are second only to the former Soviet spies in their knowledge and prowess. No, they’d just want to fuck with you and remind you that you’re not in Kansas anymore, so you best leave your notions of Miranda and Due Process and Fifth Amendment right there in their amnesty box, cuz this is the Middle Kingdom, and don’t you go forgetting that.

Clearly, I’ve watched too many B-movies and read too many spy novels.

But, alas, nothing as sensational as that occurred. But, damn, that would’ve been a good story. Maybe that was why I was sporting my USA cap (and even my Obama T-shirt once). I was trying to draw their ire, provoke an incident. (-:

Apparently, they were unimpressed and unprovoked.

I had booked this trip through KNT (KinkiNippon Tourist company) because they’d had the best deal. It was a package deal including hotel and meals. I had passed on the guided tour option, though. My nihongo is OK but I suspected not good enough to follow a guided tour given by a Japanese person sure to, politely, belittle, ridicule and make snide comments about the people and culture. Yep, I’d heard enough of that over the past 6 years to feel assured that would be the case. Besides, the last thing I wanted to do was spend my entire vacation on a bus full of Japanese people. To be honest, any vacation I take away from Japan is as much about where I’m going as where I’m leaving. I need a vacation from Japan.

However, the KNT staff people in China that met me at the airport and transported me to the hotel, though Chinese, in anticipation of Japanese guests, spoke Japanese fairly well, but no English. Lovely. Here I was, an African American in a Chinese Hotel in the middle of the Middle Kingdom forced to speak Japanese to Chinese people…and to make it worse, the Chinese staff in the hotel clearly were not accustomed to an over-abundance of Japanese visitors so they hadn’t brushed up on their Chinese-version of tatamae…if you know what I mean. They clearly weren’t thrilled about their arriving  Japanese guests…No plastic smiles, no welcoming hospitable warmth of any kind. It was kind of shocking to see having been spoiled by the superior customer service in Japan.

What kind of goddamn Asians are these?

Instead of chocolate on their pillows, my fellow Japanese KNT customers should consider themselves lucky that there weren’t  hand-grenades under them, or scorpions, if I was reading the Hotel staff’s facial expressions, body language and remarks to one another correctly.

redAnd, as for me…I got the distinct impression that I was an oddity beneath contempt. I don’t know what Mao’s Little Red Book says about customer service but I was beginning to suspect that CS, too, was considered beneath contempt. In this respect, I think Mao would have been better served if He’d stolen a page from the Japanese little Pink Book: お客様神様 Translation- The customer is God!

Yes, I’d gotten my first heaping helping of culture shock and my first backlash resulting from the spoiling I’d received in Japan.

The hotel room was no sanctuary, either. Adequate is the best way I can describe…and my perfunctory search of the room uncovered no hidden cameras, mics or other recognizable surveillance equipment. I was disappointed. Apparently even the communist government didn’t find me worthy of their efforts. So, I wasted no time taking to the streets of Beijing and heading on foot to the nearby Tienanmen’s Square. Gotta be some communist around there, I told myself.

On the way, I caused quite a stir. I was still gagging on the first helping and already the Chinese were dishing up another. I mean, over the course of the past 6 years living in Asia I’ve grown quite accustomed to being stared at. Hell, stares hardly register anymore. So, I was prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was the Chinese style of staring.  It’s so different from the Japanese style that it was downright disconcerting…I mean, it rattled me.

I hadn’t experienced fear caused by another human being  in years. I hear myself say such things and I have an outer body experience. I can’t believe it’s me saying them. I mean, in NY, fear could reach out and grab you by the nuts at any time. But, in Japan, I could walk through a mob of Yakuza shouting at one another in the street and feel nothing but curiosity. In NY I’d at least cross the street and depending on the intensity of the argument maybe detour two blocks away for fear that it might turn into a gun fight and a stray bullet would find its way through me. That’s just plain common sense back home.

In Japan, people stare at me in such a cowardly way that it’s virtually impossible to feel threatened. And, they only stare when I’m not looking. Of course, I catch them so often that I don’t even have to look to know it’s happening, and frankly I don’t even care. If I do catch them they invariably look away quickly or pretend they were looking at something else (like the particles of matter floating around my head) or close their eyes or scratch their heads or all manner of strange idiosyncrasies Japanese utilize to indicate that they were not doing what they were caught red handed doing. I’ve yet- and I mean in 6 years- come across an adult with the audacity to hold a stare once I’ve acknowledge it in anyway, unless they’d had an agenda (a girl infatuated beyond self-control, someone dying to practice their English, etc…) or drunk out of their gourd. Only Japanese children stare unabashedly.

Chinese, on the other hand, have the audacity, in spades! MY GOD! I’d never seen anything like it in my life. Here was a nation (or at least a city…I don’t want to get carried away) of Asians who had no fear of me whatsoever. I mean, they were comfortably gaping and gawking, safe in the knowledge that, hell there’s 2 billion of us and one of you. What the hell should we be afraid of?

If I hadn’t lived in Japan for 6 years my initial reaction to this wouldn’t have been fear, I suspect. I would have thought something more akin to, damn these Chinese are gangsta. But to see these very Japanese looking people behaving so un-Japanese felt like I was in the Japanese version of  Invasion of the Body Snatchers surrounded by Japanese pod people who, due to their strange cheeky behavior, I’d recognized to be their alien counterparts. It felt like, for a few moments, the end of the world as I knew it.

Then, once I had arrived in front of Tienanmen Square, out of the blue, one of these pod people walks up to me…I would have jumped out of my skin if he didn’t have a little boy with him, looking dazed and confused, as his father shoved him beside me, and with body language, explained that he wanted to take a picture of his son and I.  No sumimasen-ing (excuse me), shitsurei shimasu-ing (forgive my rudeness), just shoved his son beside me…And, you know what I did, right? Yep, you guessed it: I bent down to his son’s height, threw on a big smile and hoisted two fingers in a peace-sign.  Before this trip was over I would be approached in this way for photographs another 25 or 30 times.

800px-TianasquareBut, where the hell are the communist at? I mean…this was Tienanmen Square, for crying out loud. Y’all remember that Tank guy, staring down the Red Army, right? This is that place…I figured if I were going to see me some communism this would be the time and place.

Nope…not yet.

Want to know what I did see in the yard behind that wall bearing Mao’s famous mugshot? Want to know what lies before the gate to the Emperor’s Palace, the famous Forbidden City?CIMG0900

Yep, my first glimpse of those commies at work…kinda



Yeah, working on their jump shots, that is. From Mao to Yao in 50 years…

Oh well…Wish my finger wasn’t still half broken. Maybe I could’ve put my old school moves on these wannabee commies (-; I mean, you wouldn’t have caught the KGB doing lay-up drills or working on their jumpers  unless of course they were sleeper agents in deep, deep cover in the US. Ah, the glory days  of communism…when a commie was a commie and a cappie (capitalist) was a cappie and God help those guys who crossed the line.


But wait…a few minutes later I would get my first dose of communist doctrine. Stay Tuned.


PS:  Notice the court is made of astro turf??? What’s that about?

17 Responses to “China via Japan pt. 3: From Mao to Yao”

  1. 1 Vin
    August 12, 2009 at 5:49 am

    I’ve had frank conversations with plenty of mainland Chinese about the staring thing. They admit they know it’s rude to stare at people. If a Chinese person stares at another Chinese person, it’s considered as rude as it is in America or any other country. But they don’t view foreigners as “human”. Chinese people are human. Non-Chinese are not quite human. In some cases, considered sub-human. So they feel it’s ok to stare, because it’s a foreigner and something novel and strange. At least that’s what they told me.

  2. 2 Angie
    August 12, 2009 at 6:17 am

    Sub-human eh? jeeze…

  3. 3 ike
    August 12, 2009 at 7:52 am


    you sure they’re as frank as they can get?

    i can communicate in mandarin and they hadnt say anything like that when asked.

  4. 4 Charlie
    August 12, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Great blog.

    Chinese don’t see foreigners as sub-human.

    Chinese, in general, stare. At us, at each other, at anything. It doesn’t take much for a crowd to gather, because they’re naturally curious, and don’t hesitate to express it.

    In the areas where you’re hanging out, there are TONS of Chinese tourists… many of them come from rural or 3rd/4th tier cities where there are no foreigners. They’ve probably never seen a non-Chinese before. I’ve lived in Beijing for a year and 1/2 and have had my picture taken countless times. Consider it a compliment… they’re fascinated by you/us and your/our culture.

    In addition, Chinese are especially intrigued by African Americans. The general assumption is that if you are a black American, you must be a basketball player or a rapper, and Chinese youth love both. So… again, the stares, as they look at you because (a) you’re different and (b) you may well be famous.

    Don’t take it as rudeness…

  5. August 12, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    After a few weeks in China, I find I start staring at other foreigners and feeling a fascinating revulsion at their gawkiness.

  6. 6 Aka Gaijin
    August 12, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Loco, thanks for keeping this blog going. I sometimes wonder how the lives of local ALT’s differ from mine. Having to work in a fenced and guarded slice of the states gives me only a partial Japan experience. I have to travel two hours (motorcycle/bus/train) to feel like I’m really in Japan.

    Again, thanks much!

    P.S. Any earthquake or typhoon stories?

  7. August 12, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    That’s some quality stuff you’ve got going over here, Loco. I’m a fan now so please keep it up.
    And on behalf of my fellow Chinese, may I say to you: WELCOME TO THE DARK SIDE!! MUAHAHAHAHAHA

    …no not really.

    Anyway, I think you should’ve taught the young soldiers a lesson or two over on that court, showing them how people down in Brooklyn play ball. I heard these commies were SOFT!! lol

    Regarding the staring, it’s mostly curiosity. Like Charlie said, the places you’ve been to so far all have out-of-towners all over the place and most of them have very likely never seen a foreigner their entire lives, so I think it’s somewhat understandable and I don’t think any of them mean any harm. Beijing is a very internationalised city so I can’t imagine one of the locals asking a foreigner to pose for a photo with their child.

    Anyway, hope you have a good stay in Beijing, although three days is far far from enough if you wanna get to know the city, never mind the whole country. Therefore I await the day when you finally come to your senses and switch to the red side of Asia ; )

    Rock on!

  8. August 12, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    I’m guessing your first dose of communist doctrine involves the soldiers coming over to query why your there and what your doing taking pictures of them………maybe you’ll surprise me with them asking you instead about basketball tips.:)

  9. 9 hobofat
    August 13, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Great blog!

    I have lived in both China and Japan and your observations are very interesting to read. I found the biggest difference in the attitude of the locals towards me living were this: In Japan, people would always ask me when I was returning to my home country. In China, people would always ask “why would you return to your country, China is the greatest place on Earth!” Hearing that a few times made all the staring and jostling bearable. Eventually every laowai (gaijin) comes to a point where they snap and start staring/pushing/ogling right back, and you know what? That’s when they start fitting right in! As much as laowai can anyway…

  10. August 13, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    “In NY I’d at least cross the street and depending on the intensity of the argument maybe detour two blocks away for fear that it might turn into a gun fight and a stray bullet would find its way through me. That’s just plain common sense back home.”

    That got me thinkin’….

    You know how many kids rollin’ on 20’s right now don’t even realize how bad the “Big Apple” once was. They could never have hung when crack rolled in in the 80’s. They can watch Taxi Driver, King of New York and maybe Juice, to even fathom how much safer and cleaner N.Y. is now.

    It may be a Player paradise for some now…but back in the day it was where dreams died…or got stabbed to death.

    You can still get “dressed” pretty quick in the right spot but they got cafes serving latte’s on corners that used to be Dope Man’s Land.

    Time goes by….

    • August 13, 2009 at 9:51 pm

      It certainly does!
      Yeah, the crack years were fucked…they had some kids even then rolling on “20s” equivalent of the time but they were a lot tougher then lot I think.
      Thanks for the shout yo

  11. 12 ses
    August 15, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Heh.. “Chinese are especially intrigued by African Americans” is an especially nice way of putting it. Young people may be more accepting, but most Chinese are fairly racist (hard to avoid with no actual exposure to foreigners), and black is definitely below white on their scale of acceptable skin color. I doubt you’ll find any overt racism in Beijing, though, besides the staring.

    (American in Shanghai)

  12. 13 Sexy Lingerie Nights
    August 15, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    I spent a month in China, it is true about how they look at black people, but saw no overt bad treatment. The Chinese people while I was there were fantastic to me. I was in Beijing and a smaller city called Yantai on the ocean. I hear a lot of things about China before I went and after my visit I knew that most of what I was told was not true. You really have to go there to know what I mean. I will say this that if you go you will love it there.

  13. 14 Francisco
    August 19, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    yeah i had the same experince when i left Japan to CHina but I did ny boat took the Su ZHOA HAO
    ferry FRom osaka TO china THe diffrences were stunning and yeas a buch of people asked me and a bunch of other foreigners to pose for pictures me being mexican people said i loooked like the slumdog millionaire guy that was a huge laugh and people asked me if i liked break dancing and nikes ah good old china makes you laugh

    oh yeah customer service and lines were very diffrent in Japan everything was neat and orderly and in CHina everything was chaotic and had at least fifty fuckers try to cut me in line over all i liked china a lot more

  14. August 31, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    I was in China for the first time last October. My wife is Chinese. I found that just some Chinese tourists and migrant workers (they’re easy to tell apart from the Beijingers) would stare at me in Beijing. I got a few requests for photos at tourist locations. But I’m white and so less rare in China than you are. There were heaps of white foreigners and Indians, middle easterners etc. in Beijing, though at any tourist locations we were completely outnumbered by Chinese tourists. In Tianjin I’d only see about one other foreigner each day, but generally there was little staring.

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August 2009

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