Blending in in China

It was hard for us to blend in in China, while living in a Beijing satellite city, where foreigners are not a common site.When we came to work in Beijing in 2008 our life was far from touristy. It wasn’t even an polished expat life with all its perks. We lived in a Beijing suburb, home to high rise residential buildings and a large number of various factories. From the looks of it, we were the only 5 Westerners living there.

We rented a flat from a Chinese lady in an ordinary residential compound. During all three months we spent in this town, we never met anyone speaking a word of English – food and pharmacy shopping turned out as a test of our pantomime skills. Our main contact in a Chinese factory, where we worked, was the only person who we could speak English to. I’m afraid, he got sick and tired of us coming up with all the favours we had to ask him, helping us out in everyday life.

It was really unusual for me, how people looked at us – they really stared and were openly curious. Of course, there’re a lot of foreigners in Beijing, so local residents would hardly look at you twice there, but we obviously wandered far enough from the big city to enter foreigner free realm.

My husband and I were not the ones, who got the most attention though – one of our colleagues was very tall (even for us) and another one sported bright ginger hair and freckles. Those guys were local celebrities – people actually snapped them on mobile phones as they walked by. I can’t say they really enjoyed so much attention as both of them were pretty shy, but there was no way around it. If you’re a celebrity, your life belongs to your fans as well.

It was nice to occasionally take a taxi ride to Beijing, go to Sanlitun Road, where all the foreigners go out in the evenings and feel yourself just a part of a mixed crowd. Sometimes, it’s just nice to relax without standing out, enjoy your time, while blending in.

Nevertheless, we still had our fair share of celebrity moments. I already wrote about sightseeing we managed to fit into our time in Bejing (Forbidden Palace, Summer Palace, Great Wall of China). Large number of tourists come from other Chinese provinces and some of them have never seen a foreigner before. We were asked to pose with by quite a few people on the Great Wall of China, they hugged us and we all smiled for the photo and it didn’t matter to them that we’re of an average height and our hair, although not black, was not of a very exotic shade.


  1. Its so funny isn’t it. With dark hair I have managed to blend in most places (Nigeria was a bit of an exception) but I do stand out here. The children are even more of an attraction, however, and we are stopped so that people can take selfies with the three blonde kids. I am guessing yours were a similar attraction….

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  2. Brilliant…love this. Living in 2nd Tier Xi’an, I am the constant focus of stares…day in day out. Who’s the crazy white lady! Outside the hotel bubble we fortunately live in, English is still minimal. Ironically we went to Beijing for the first time last month and ended up in Sanlitun. It was such a breath of fresh air for us, we sat there for ages. Thanks for sharing! :)

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