shu and joe

sameness

Published on February 11, 2006

About this face of mine. I suppose, among other faces nearby, it appears identical. Dark eyes against a pale face inset with a downturned smile. A course skein of black hair as a frame. One face moving past a million others on an escalator, shrinking behind an elevator door, turning away against a slap of air on Chaoyangmen Street. It’s the same face as all the others, hidden behind woolen scarves and ill-fitting hats. Familiar, expected, and Chinese in every way.

When the mouth opens, words tumble out from all directions and the face changes somehow. Features rearrange themselves, causing confusion and weariness. The face and voice cannot be reconciled. I read the words behind their eyes. Why does she have a strange accent? Where is this person from? Why does she not meet my gaze? I attempt to answer, but I lack the confidence and the vocabulary to properly vindicate myself. My Chinese sucks, but don’t I speak English well?

I expect I would have an easier time here if I looked completely different than everyone else. Perhaps I would be cut some slack, even appreciated for making the 9,000 mile journey. Excused for my spotty vocabulary and stutteringly slow diction. Every new word would be an achievement, while an entire sentence might elicit applause.

I have never been more aware of myself than in Beijing. Less so of my appearance than of my brain, my thoughts, my language. The difference between what one sees and how one is seen. The skin feels wrong some days.

Filed under: Beijing, China

1 Comment

  1. Joanie Magliaro says:

    Your thoughts and words bring tears to my eyes…it must be quite an experience to feel as you do when you get the responses and questioning looks that you receive from those around you.
    When you feel this way, please remember that your beautiful face, smile, hair, voice, extreme intelligence and abilities, as well as your kind and caring ways are loved and appreciated and deeply missed by me. If only I could reach out and hug you right now…

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