Ugly Foreigners: A Cautionary Tale

According to Beijing Cream, an unnamed man of unknown nationality (we only know he is not Chinese) slapped and spat on a woman over a minor traffic accident on Sunday. Of course physically attacking and insulting someone over such a minor incident is completely unacceptable and is an ugly thing to do. However, it is not uncommon for these minor instances to quickly spiral out of control. I know.

Several weeks ago I was driving my bike through an underpass near the Carrefour. The area is under construction. Bikes, cars, and pedestrians are everywhere going every which way, and it is generally a mess. But people generally keep their eyes open and try to go through as best they can. I was going through this area following an elderly man who was also on a motorbike with his granddaughter. Several bikes were coming towards us, but moved to the side so everyone could pass. The last bike heading in our way went around the man with the girl but then moved in front of me and hit me nearly straight on. We weren’t going very fast and no one was hurt. I had swerved to try and miss him, but we hit anyway and my bike tipped over. I didn’t say anything to him, just sighed, straightened by bike back up and started to pull away. These things happen.

But that was where things went very wrong. As I started to pull away, the man grabbed me by the arm. At first, I was shocked. How dare he touch me?!? I instinctively tried to pull my arm from his grasp. But he didn’t let go and started talking angrily in Chinese. I revved my bike to help me get more force to pull myself away, but when I did he grabbed my arm with both of his hands letting go of his own bike and started yelling at me. At first, I was just offended, but now I was scared. My Chinese is still very poor so I just started screaming in English “help me! Help me! He is hurting me!” which he was. He had on gloves that were of some strange rough material that was digging into my skin and his grip was very tight to keep me from escaping. 

At this point, people were starting to gather around because it is a busy interchange and I just kept yelling “you’re hurting me, you’re hurting me!” After a few moments, a young-ish Chinese man came over and started saying “mei guan xi,” “it’s ok” to the man who was holding my arm. He started yelling at the younger man, but after a minute he finally let me go. I started to pull away, I just wanted to get out of there, when the younger man stopped me and handed me my bike lock which had fallen off in the scuffle. I hadn’t even noticed. I thanked him, but then pulled away as quickly as possible. I drove home, but was incredibly shaken. It was several days before I drove the bike by myself again. I was so upset by the whole event that even though Seth told me I should write about it on the blog, I just couldn’t. I don’t know why, but it was probably the most upsetting thing to happen to me since coming to China and I really don’t like talking about it. Plus, when my mom reads this, I know she is going to flip out.

I don’t know why the man was so mad, little bumps and scuffs happen all the time driving in China. And he had a protective railing around his bike that actually scraped up my pretty purple bike rather badly. There were also some bruises on my arm the next day. So I should have been the one who was mad. But I wasn’t, because it just happens.

My point is that, as foreigners, things happen that can really push our buttons. Babies pooping on the sidewalk. People littering. People driving poorly. But it is really, really important to remember that we are the ones that stand out. We are the ones people are looking at. We are the ones who will be remembered long after we have passed by. During my scuffle with the angry man at one point I did think “what if someone has a camera?” As scared as I was, I was at least lucid enough to just keep calling for help instead of grabbing that 5 pound bike lock and hitting him with it. As I warned Oleg Vedernikov in a previous post, “live life as if the whole world is watching – they just might be.”