Standing side by side, curious eyes would inadvertently dart up and down, from my bare legs to Menna’s hair. Up down. Up down. Up down.
Menna and I agree on very little. She loves selfies, I love seclusion. She loves pineapple on pizza. I love pineapple far from pizza. She insists on dinner before eight. I insist on after eights for dinner.
Yet staggeringly, we unanimously agreed on the name of our travel blog – Ginger Shorts.
We wanted something short and snappy, yet unique and original. Something that characterised our time in China; that in a simple cursory glance, could make the reader of our blog appreciate the change in social norms and traditions we had embraced. We momentarily hovered on the name, ‘From beans to noodles’, in honour of our lacklustre diet and student lifestyle from our time at university. However, it became apparent that a blog name that symbolised how we’re perceived to be identified whilst in China, would be far more fitting and appropriate.
We were both the subject of discussions and talk following our arrival in Xiangyang, a very remote and traditional embodied city. Being two of the few expats in the city, we were, and still are, stared at for our unusual, exotic aura and appearance. Mindbogglingly, I was called handsome by fellow teachers, parents and random members of the public. For Menna, she received an array of compliments about her physical appearance, not surprising unlike myself. Humorously, the flood of compliments about my appearance soon trickled out; my new hosts less impressed by my average looks and unfamiliar quirks. Instead, attention soon switched to something far more compelling and outlandish…
‘Aren’t you cold?’, was a common and consistent question thrown at me by my Chinese coworkers. Far more by my students. My youngest classes would giggle and squeak with excitement at legs. The older students would huddle in awe, confused expressions etched on their faces.
Looking down, I realised the source of their pressing concerns – my shorts.
Efforts to convince them of my outfit choice were fruitless. Following this, comments about my shorts grew traction. Puzzling looks of equal parts amazement and wonderment became a staple of my day. Just to clarify, temperatures in Xiangyang during October to November were around 20°C. For residents of the UK, this was more than acceptable a temperature to don a pair of shorts, or god forbid, flip-flops. Nevertheless, I quickly became aware that due to a combination of Chinese social norms and climate adaptability, shorts and similar summer appropriate attire were almost completely absent in the months up to the present day.
Whilst I hilariously coped with the newfound interest in my legs, Menna was receiving popularity from teachers and students due to her striking ginger hair. Her kindergarten students would gape and reach for her hair upon her arrival in the classroom. It was unusual not to be stopped or pointed at in the street, to be photographed or proudly stood by.
Standing side by side, curious eyes would inadvertently dart up and down, from my bare legs to Menna’s hair. Up down. Up down. Up down. Not as technically impressive as Newton’s Cradle, but comparable to a spectator’s head movement during a lengthy tennis rally.
What was normal and average in British culture, became unusual and unique in our new Chinese communities.
To experience such unexpected reactions to what we perceived as basic and ordinary physical attributes only served to enhance our appreciation of travel, and is certainly emblematic of our time in China thus far.
Orange hair. Offbeat attire.