Each time a family member or friend asks me about the strangest aspect of Beijing, I always say the attention from the locals. Sure, I could say the bathrooms, but I like to keep it positive and telling people that I’m basically famous with strangers taking pictures of me tends to get a laugh or shocked gasp. I know I was certainly surprised when it first happened. While it does take a moment to become accustomed to the observations and pictures, I’ve grown to find it pleasant. It’s typically well-meant and your smiles, in response to the stares, are always returned.
A few times, however, I’ve needed to reflect some of the advances. A number of people have already approached me in numerous places, from the airport when I just walked off of the plane to the bathroom at a restaurant, to ask for private lessons. Of course, I have always rejected the requests since 1) I don’t have the time and 2) I could technically be deported for going against my work visa.
Typically, these approaches are pleasant experiences. One such time, I was visiting a landmark with a fellow teacher. A lady approached us speaking hesitant, but eloquent English. I was completely prepared to give her the usual immediate no to her forthcoming request to teach her or her children, but she was more interested in teaching us. We spent the next 40 or so minutes listening to this woman explain the significance of the site, partaking in the customs, such as circling the temple three times, and exchanging WeChat information with her. I’m looking forward to future meetings, dinners, and cooking lessons from this stranger turned friend- a classic example of the friendly attention from the locals and an occurrence that I could not have imagined at home.