10 August 2009 ~ 16 Comments

China via Japan pt.2: Foreigners

Yes, living in Asia for an extended period, surrounded by Japanese, does something to you. Something quite involuntary. Something you aren’t especially aware of until you leave Japan. You catch a glimpse of it when you go home for a visit, assuming your home-world isn’t an Asian country. Even if you’re returning to a multicultural domain like NY you glimpse it. You can feel this alteration you’ve undergone. Your life in Japan has slowly, insidiously, left its mark on you. Your perception of reality is slightly askew. You feel like a pod person who vaguely realizes that he’s been reconstituted by body snatchers. You hardly know what to do with this other you. You see the world through Japanized eyes; how Japanized, I suspect, depends on how long you’ve lived within the Japanese sphere of influence.

Your friends and family have essentially become foreigners with all that entails: They’re a little too loud, a little too direct, a little too indiscreet, a little too kimoi. They’re NOT Asian (Japanese) so they’re a little too unpredictable, a little too…dangerous?

And they can see the difference in you, too. You’re a little more reserved. A little…I don’t know…daintier? You speak a little too carefully. Your patience has risen to an inhuman level. You’re not so argumentative…not so disagreeable or confrontational. You smile too much and you’re too damn…I don’t know…pleasant. And, you’re jumpy as hell. The blare of car horns bother you. The report of gun shots rattle you.  You notice things you’ve overlooked or never noticed before like how rude service people are and how unappetizing most food looks.

But, all of that is nothing compared to the weirdness you feel when you go to another Asian country where the people look virtually identical to the ones you’ve spent the past 6 years living alongside (but don’t tell your Japanese friends that if you want to keep them as friends. That kind of observation is almost a deal breaker). Why? You see, you’re this connoisseur now. You’ve got this Asian thing down to a formula. You’ve learned, through the ordeal that is life in Japan for an ex-pat, how to reduce your stress level in their midst to a sufferable level. You’ve acquired the language skills and cultural understanding to make your way in their world and even make a good number of them relax in your vicinity. You’ve learned to tolerate the intolerable and ignore the conspicuous. You’ve transformed yourself into a good gaijin.

But, you know what? All of that is for naught in China…

It’s kind of funny actually. I used to…ok, let me stop lying…I still get uptight sometimes when some Japanese assume that because I am not Japanese I must speak English. And because they usually cannot speak English the assumption on their part is that any attempts at communication between us will prove embarrassing to one or both parties. Thus, it’s something to be avoided all together, if possible.

Then, you find yourself in China on vacation looking in familiar Asian faces…and you know what happens? Yep, you guessed it…You start spewing Japanese, sumimasen-ing and gomen nasai-ing all over the place, and nodding and bowing like an imbecile…and the Chinese will look at you displaying your well-honed Japanese etiquette with a look on their faces not unlike the one you would wear to indicate you’re thinking, “You gotta be shitting me! Are you for real?” Halfway through your ninth or tenth bow, when you realize that they aren’t being returned or even acknowledged in any way, shape or form, you snap to the foregone realization that this is not Japan, or rather, Japan is not Asia, only a tiny friggin’ island group, a rash on Asia’s rump, and that these people before you are not Japanese.

What helps you achieve this cognizance is the long line of Japanese people behind you, the ones that had deplaned with you. Whereas, at Narita Airport, when you’re returning to Japan from NY, these Japanese passengers would have gone to a separate (faster and more efficient) line for Japanese passport holders (though the line for foreign re-entry Visa holders isn’t so bad, either), here in the Middle Kingdom, in the heart and soul and body of Asia, you’re all in line together- Japanese and Westerners alike- standing before an Immigration booth designated for…wait for it… Foreigners.


It takes a minute to get it through your thick Japanized skull, but eventually it gets through. You’ll spend the next few days constantly reminding yourself that these people are not Japanese, But don’t worry…the Chinese will help you. Oh yeah! they’ll help you, alright. You’ll find out, as a matter of course, that you are more Japanese than they are. But, in the meantime, you can do what you came to China to do.

You only have 3 days, so what is that exactly? See the Great Wall? Yeah, I guess. See the Forbidden City? It’s a World Heritage Site, isn’t it? Blah, blah, blah… Wanna go see where the line of Ming emperors rest in perpetuity? Sure, why not? But, that’s not why you came to China, is it?


Why? You’re not just a foreigner, you’re an American. And to make it worse, you’re a New Yorker…so you’re not easily impressed. You’re a little snobby and not a sucker for sightseeing. Plus you’re a writer, and not one of them travel writers, either, spending 1000 words talking about the best place to get a good photograph of the Bird’s Nest. Hell, you didn’t even know what the Bird’s Nest was until a cabby drove you by it and pointed it out.

You wanna see some communism, don’t you? You wanna see at least a hint of why your country is so afraid of these people. You wanna see why the Japanese hold them in such contempt, as well.

You wanna see what all the hubbub’s about.


I tawt I taw a communist…I did! I did! I did taw a communist (-:


PS: And, oh yes, you wanna eat real Chinese Food for the first time in your life! (-;

Hey, what"s on the menu?

Hey, what"s on the menu?

Ummmm, Scorpions and Sea horses...

Ummmm, Scorpions and Sea horses...

click here for pt.3

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16 Responses to “China via Japan pt.2: Foreigners”

  1. freedomwv 11 August 2009 at 6:59 am Permalink

    China is Red for sure. I have been in the exact same spot as you in the pic.

  2. Rune 11 August 2009 at 7:36 am Permalink

    Your writing just keeps improving Loco-sensei, I am really looking forward to next post.

  3. Chris 11 August 2009 at 8:19 am Permalink

    I bet those sea horses really made your mouth water 😉
    Looks like shit I'd eat if i was stuck on a deserted island. I'd not be too pleased even under those conditions.

  4. Locohama 11 August 2009 at 8:51 pm Permalink

    Hey Freedom, thanks for the shout! No Soc, dude?
    Rune-san, ever faithful and flattering you are…thanks.
    Chris-san, nope, I'd eat sand first…or the bark off of pine tree…once i ran outta sand then maybe, maybe, scorpions might have to run for their lives when I come a-tiptoeing through the brush hehehe

  5. tokyo moe 12 August 2009 at 6:27 am Permalink

    Loco, I imagine you had some mind-blowing food there. Didn't you? Chinese food in Beijing can be amazing, and there's more types than us Americans ever imagined. I guess I'll have to wait for your next posts. Great story-telling so far.

    • Locohama 12 August 2009 at 6:34 am Permalink

      Thanks again Jared san…it's on the way (-:
      Yep, the food was all dat!

  6. billywest 12 August 2009 at 10:52 am Permalink

    Did you get a chance to see one of those public executions that sometimes get talked about. I mean, now that would be something real.

    • Locohama 12 August 2009 at 11:15 am Permalink

      hey Billy, Nope. Glad i missed that (-:

  7. areason2write 15 August 2009 at 1:56 am Permalink

    we want to go to china too – thanks for the great posts – now I can't wait!

  8. Francisco 19 August 2009 at 11:38 pm Permalink

    been to all those places a s well ah the night market where you can buy any living creature fried and skewered my favorite was the fried lizards the scorpions were my second favorite but a little too pricy 10 rmb damn

  9. BoukenLou 15 September 2009 at 3:22 am Permalink

    I've only been to Japan once and it was only for a week. That week was all it took for me to notice how incredibly rude service people in the States can be. Hell, that rudeness all but slapped me across the face as soon as I hit customs when I returned to JFK.

  10. Lord Balto 18 October 2011 at 10:15 am Permalink

    The funny thing is, genetically, the Japanese are 70% Northern Chinese. The rest is Eastern Indian and, surprisingly enough, American Indian. So where do they get off being so negative toward the Chinese? They are their cousins.

  11. mike 5 June 2016 at 5:18 pm Permalink

    Im kind of the opposite of what you described. Im in a cleansing, reconnecting with what was lost or stolen, rediscovery of myself mode when I leave Japan. I quickly shed myself of anything “Japanese” and if I see one, I glance away with involuntary disgust, sorry just being real but thats what happens. No chains, leashes, or thought control. I want nothing to do with them and miss nothing about Japan. I dont eat Japanese food or act Japanese; I do just the opposite. I will stay in a hostel or participate in some other non japanese behavior and seek out the companionship of other people who arent Japanese. Now, there was a time, when I traveled abroad from Japan, I would act Japanese and become critical of everything around me, and only go to those sanitized spots they also go to. I guess I had been washed, but not anymore. I join humanity and at that moment and watch the Japanese tourist with strange curiosity and interest just like the natives of that place do.

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