Finally, a moment I had been waiting for, anxiously, for now eight years was so close I could almost grasp it. After all that chaos at the airport, my well rested and happy mood had experienced a slight drop and I wasn’t so sure anymore about wanting to experience the next moment. What if I disappointed her? What if she didn’t recognize me? What if I didn’t recognize her? What if she had changed so much and we don’t get along so well anymore? What if I had changed so much and she hates being around me? What if…? My head started spinning. What if I had come all this way and we wouldn’t click like we did in elementary school? What if…?
I managed to somehow stop myself right there. I took a deep breath, just like I’d learned in Yoga Class, stopped for a second, took a second deep breath, braced myself and walked out into the gate.
The long anticipated reunion
… and there she was. Looking extremely relieved. She frantically started motioning for me to go to the other side of the mass of people that were waiving their banners with names of arriving folks on them. At the end of the line, she was already standing ready to greet me, a big grin on her face. Unsure whether or not to hug her, I remembered a good friend of mine who always greets people to America with the words: “We hug here.”
So I decided to go for it and hug her. It was a tentative embrace and I was somehow reminded of dogs sniffing each other at first encounters before openly expressing their joy of making the aquaintance with the dog opposite.
But the part of ‘openly expressing joy’ came soon after when we were sitting in the car in a Shanghai Traffic jam, talking about everything we had missed in each other’s life in the past eight years. Suddenly, it felt like back in the day with her. Easy, joyful, trusting and especially filled with laughter. We talked about our taste in books, family, her high-school experience in China and started comparing it to mine in Germany, compared our University majors etc. etc.
Meanwhile, I sometimes gazed out to observe Shanghai a little bit and I was amazed. I had imagined it differently!
Chinese Housing Architecture
There were some green patches here and there, but they grew increasingly rare the closer we came to the center of the city. Near the airport you could sometimes spot a comparingly ‘small’ house as I was used to them in Germany, but soon after we left the airport area, they were replaced by very large towering building-complexes. They weren’t that big – I’m used to skyscrapers in Chicago – but those buildings definitely had potential. The buildings in one complex were almost identical. Usually there were five to ten buildings in one complex. The longer we drove, the closer these complexes were built next to each other. I was amazed at the efficiency of the Chinese, having one architect that designs one building and then just sticking ten of the same buildings that have proven to work next to each other. Brilliant! Although I have to say that to me it seemed architectual taste wasn’t a requirement for architects wanting to build housing complexes in Shanghai. But that’s just my personal opionion. Do comment yours down below 🙂
An hour later, we arrived at her house. It was also one of those house complexes! Surprise! It started to dawn on me why her home address I always send letters to was so damn complicated. All those identical buildings next to each other with so many stories and flats on each floor and so many different entrances to one building… those poor chinese mailmen!
We arrived at her house and the first thing I saw when the door to her flat was opened was a hairy something dashing across the living room. The hairy something turned out to be her cat who wasn’t so comfortable with new people. Even when we had dinner an hour later, she was too scared to say a mere hello – in cat language of course.
Chinese Beauty Standards
The greetings of the rest of the family were much more welcoming. Everyone, I’m not exaggerating, really everyone exclaimed how beautiful I was when they first saw me. Beautiful because of my white skin. My pointy nose. My redish-brown hair. My earrings. My white skin. Yes, mostly my white skin. I am not telling you this, because I want you to think of me as this Hollywood goddess, au contraire! I would describe myself as beautiful, yes, but only because I’m learning to love myself (btw. learn to love yourself;-)), but in the grand scheme of things I’d say I’m mediocre. In Germany and the States there are Million people much more beautiful than me. Million more with tan skin and blonde hair… slimmer than me. Considered more beautiful where I come from. But suddenly arriving in China, everyone seemed to agree that I was inexplicably beautiful. Because I had the ideal of beauty in China, which is naturally completely unattainable for Chinese women. That ideal was pale white skin, a pointy nose, big eyes. A typical ‘western’ look.
I was so perplexed and taken aback by all these compliments, that it was only later, that I could explain my wonder. I told her and her family at the dinner table that where I come from, I wasn’t considered extremely beautiful, on the contrary, I was often told that I’m too pale, in winter frequently asked if I’m sick due to my extremely white skin and dark undereye circles (thanks genetics!) and in summer only told I’m beautiful if I’m tanned and thin/lean enough.
My host parents and my friend were flabberghasted. Immediately they started explaining that in China the ideal was all that we in Europe for example naturally have, but detest about ourselves and with lots of effort try to change. I’m just talking about the weeks we spend lying in the sun to get tanned, not too much sunscreen on, because then the tan wouldn’t be as intense, practically saying “I don’t care about skin cancer as long as I’m considered beautiful now is all that matters.” And how we celebrate one another and compliment our beautifully brown skin. Chinese have naturally browner skin than we do. My friend told me that she stays out of the sun on purpose, whenever she can! There are whitening creams available everywhere and she still sometimes get’s “too brown”, only to then get remarks on her vanishing beautiful whiteness.
We started noticing how messed up that was. Each of us wanting the exact opposite of what was our naturel.
To be continued…