Outfit worn for an afternoon of playing Duck, Duck, Goose, Football, and other assorted games with preteens at the park while their parents (our coworkers) sat on a picnic blanket and laughed at our amusing antics.
I hadn't noticed, not that time. I usually don't notice. After a while, staring simply became normal.
Some who visit countries where they are stared at find this behavior invasive and offensive--but I'd like to argue that it's not helpful to view it that way. The fact is, in a lot of non-Western cultures, staring itself is not rude. People stare at anything that they find interesting, and you might just happen to be one of those interesting things.
Here in China, the reactions tend to go a little beyond just staring. Angel and I will no sooner step outside the door of our apartment building when a little girl walking by, chattering away to her grandma, will stop mid-sentence, stare at us in open-mouthed awe, point, and shriek to her grandma, "Wai Guo Ren!" ("Foreigners!")
It's awesome. It's at least partially due to my personality that I think it's way more fun to walk down a street where I hear a constant echo of "Wai Guo Ren!" from all sides (especially from children, who, as we all know, tend to say what they think) than to walk down a street in my own country where no one takes any notice of my mediocre presence .
In restaurants, we're often asked where we came from, why we're in China, and occasionally, how much our salary is. I carry on more random small-talk conversations with strangers in Mandarin than I ever did in my home country in my native language.
I don't mind the uncalled-for attention--most of the time people just want to say hi, ask where I'm from, ask if I can speak Chinese, tell me I'm pretty, or take a picture with me. After living where we have for this long, even I am startled when we suddenly come across foreigners on our home turf. Maybe a few years down the road, I'll be asking them if I can take their picture, too!
The place where we live is not diverse. I would not dare be offended by a few stares and open remarks about how I appear different than everyone around me, because it's nothing other than the truth. I do look different from everyone else in my neighborhood. I'm watched constantly, and talked about often. My home country and the color of my skin makes for a big conversation starter in this part of the world. I've had enough run-ins myself with rude, uptight, and entitled Westerners, both in my home country and abroad-- I choose to view the fact that I stand out as an opportunity to be a pleasant example of my own culture.
p.s. Funny Story: A teacher that I hadn't previously met at our school was chatting with me, and mentioned, "All of the teachers talk about you and the boy teacher [Angel] often. We think you must be very good friends." Good friends, indeed.
p.p.s. Bonus Funny Story: A few months ago, my curly-haired, blue-eyed, ivory-skinned baby sister told my parents, concerning her decision to start dancing in the middle of the mall to a favorite song that was playing, "You know, people are just going to stare at me anyways, so I might as well be dancing." I think we may share a few personality traits in common.