Being a foreigner in Beijing, by Andrew Cooper

With its vast population, pirate accents and passionate love for karaoke, Beijing may seem an overwhelmingly alien place at first. However, in the same way that people back home have come to view hot dog stuffed crust pizzas as a socially acceptable thing, time and familiarity eventually accustom you to the quirks of being a foreigner in Beijing.

Back home, if you catch someone staring at you, one of two things happens: they notice that you’ve clocked them and quickly shift their gaze, or you begin to wonder if you’ve left your zip down all day. Again. An insistent stare can be the cause of some discomfort, but in Beijing it is quite a common occurrence. It mainly comes from children, who then alert their parents to the presence of a “wai guo ren”. The parents have usually seen a fair few foreigners before and usually shrug it off with the Chinese equivalent of “Whatever, I’m trying to play Candy Crush.”

During the holidays, when Beijing is busy with Chinese tourists from the countryside, the stares become more intense and people might also stop you for pictures. This is your chance to indulge your fantasy of being a C-list celebrity and become a part of someone’s holiday sightseeing itinerary: Forbidden City, check. Summer Palace, check. Random foreigner on the bus, check. If you don’t take it with good humour, it would probably get quite annoying pretty quickly, but you can inject a bit of fun into it by telling them that you’re a famous actor in your home country. That way you get a taste of the celebrity lifestyle without the money or acclaim, and they get to tell their friends and family that they met a genuine movie star who, now that they think about it, didn’t give the names of any of their films and whose identity is completely unverifiable. It’s win-win!

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