….Is a phrase I hardly ever heard back home in the Netherlands. Here on the other hand, it is said to me on a weekly basis. When you’re white you are per definition piaoliang*, and people want to take pictures with you all the time. It happened again last night…
I’m sitting in the coffee place just across the street from my house. Most people around here know me by now and have stopped staring and asking questions. I’m here with my Canadian (Indian looking) and Chinese friend. We’re just talking and enjoying our coffee when I see two teenage girls giggling and turning around in their seats to take a better look at me. I simply ignore this, since white people get treated llike popstars all the time. No biggy.
About ten minutes later, they stand up and awkwardly walk towards our table. “Ehmm, excuse me? You are so pretty, can I talk with you?” I thank her for the compliment and ask them to sit down. But no no, no need for that. “I am 13 years old. My Engllish is poor”. My turn to return a compliment and say her English is really well. The other girl is standing half behind her and appears very shy and uncomfortable.
Then I see her glancing at her hand. Wait, what? Did you write all this on your hand? And I asked her to show me her hand. I am melting, so cute! The other girl sees her chance and swoops in. “can we take a picture?” Sure you can, only if I can too, of you and your hand. No problem.
We take the pictures, exchange Wechat (the Chinese version of Whatsapp/Facebook) and they leave with big smiles on their faces and giggling, ofcourse giggling. About 5 minutes later they have posted the pictures on Wechat and I click on heart to show how much I like it. My friends and I go back to our conversation when suddenly the shy girl is standing next to us again. Now, with a piece of cheesecake on a plate in her hands. “This is for you. You are friendly. I like it.”, she says in a way that obviously shows she has been practising these sentences all the way here. I am overwhelmed by this kindness and accept the cake. She has to go home but hopes to see me again. I hope so too.
Many times have I been warned by other foreigners not to let strangers take my picture. There is no law in China that prevents anybody to use your photo for commercials or advertisements etc. So usually I say no. But this time, I couldn’t care less if I end up on a billboard for toothpaste next week.
*piaoliang , beautiful