It may actually be impossible for me to ever really get a pure, untainted impression of what life in China is like. Why? Well, to borrow a concept from the Dictionary of Scientific Experiment Phrases Applicable to Jamaicans in China: “I skew the results.”
I found this example of the use of the phrase on the web:
“If you add too much of a redox indicator you end up changing the equilibrium of the main reactants and skew the results..”
*A redox indicator (also called an oxidation-reduction indicator) is a substance that undergoes a definite color change at a specific electrode potential.(how appropriate, eee?)
I get a very skewed perception of people’s behavior as I walk the streets of China. Very few people are acting normally once they see me. I hate to belabor the point (if you’ve been following the journey from the beginning), which I’ve covered at length here (download the free ebook), but in certain quarters, my very presence changes the natural equilibrium of the main reactants, and skews the results.
Entire groups of people, families, tourists and little children stop what they’re doing, stare, point, turn around as I pass, point some more, quip amongst themselves, giggle, (some will turn and follow me for a while), when I walk by. Strangers ask to take their photo with me. People (men and women, uninvited, at least the men) reach out to touch me as I walk by.
Like a redox indicator, there’s just too much of a visual difference when contrasted with the everyday norm. It’s a bit of challenge for me to disappear into the crowd. I’m working on it, though.
Now, this is different from the familiar Observer Effect.
No, this is no ordinary observer effect, this is an observer effect on steroids (or MSG), where those being observed become themselves fascinated observers of the observer! So, I’m taking photos of them taking photos of me taking photos of them!
Of the people I meet, I get a uniquely friendly, foreigner-curious sampling of people and those who aren’t nervous about testing out their English-speaking abilities.
Many people have told me, “You’re my first foreign friend!” One woman saw me and her first words to me were, “Can I be your friend?”
Being the first foreign friend puts me in a unique position. For example, I’m learning things that tourists never learn, and that only transplants will ever know about life, living, learning, working, dating, marrying and more in China. I’m hearing things that people might not say among familiar Chinese ears. For example, did you know that most single girls are–um, well, why don’t I just save that for another post…..or the book!
On the other hand, as a first foreign friend, I’m sure there are many things I am NOT being told. As a foreigner, I’m sure there is some degree of “put your best foot forward for the visitor” going on.
So, with that said, knowing my prime directive and the questions I ask, my stance on non-judgement, and the fact that I’m skewing the sample, I’ll (finally) attempt to answer some of YOUR questions about being Jamaican in China (and Laos).