Think of the most annoying questions someone ever asked you. Now imagine multiple people asking you that same annoying question on a daily basis. Being Black in China has its ups and downs. The downsides are, that I had to get used to the constant stares. It seems hard to believe, but there are still some Chinese who’ve never seen non-Chinese people before. Every single place I went, people took pictures of me. Did they have my permission? No. They just snap away. Some do have the courtesy to ask if you’re willing to pose for a photo with them, others just snap away.
It irritated me to the core when I heard a “snap” from a camera. Someone sitting next to me on the bus posed with me for a selfie. They just take pictures with you and of you without your permission. That’s one of the things I severely dislike about the country. Don’t even get me started on the how many people ran their fingers through my hair, or rubbed my skin to see if it was dirty. 90% of the time, it was done without my permission. They were so curious to find out why my hair wasn’t as coarse as that of other Black women they see walking down the street. And, why are my roots different than the rest of my hair? So many questions. In the beginning I thought they were funny, but soon enough I thought they were some of the most annoying questions EVER!
One of the most annoying questions everyone I met kept asking me, is if my country is in Africa.
It surprised me how little people know about the world. In school we’re taught about every single country under every single rock, but no one knows where Suriname is. Let me sum up 3 of the most annoying questions people asked me in China:
- You’re name’s what? In which part of Africa is your country?
- If you’re not African, why are you Black?
- If you’re thirty-one, why aren’t you married?
People asked more annoying questions, but these three are asked on a daily basis.
Because I know my name isn’t the easiest to pronounce, the question doesn’t bother me anymore. Nelsen, my Chinese-Suriname friend who helped me out, thought “Sanrizz” was too difficult, so he called me “Tiara.” That’s my middle name. On campus people know me by three names: my real name (Sanrizz), my middle name (Tiara), and my Chinese name (凤凰 – Phoenix). If someone calls me “Tiara,” I know that I met them through Nelsen or through my roommate. People who call me by my real name (Sanrizz), are people I taught how to pronounce it. Last by not least, people who call me by my Chinese name, are my classmates or friends of my classmates. Confusing, I know.
I know people cannot pronounce my name, that doesn’t really annoy me anymore. What did annoy me, was the second part of the question: “In which part of Africa is your country?” Some people look at the color of my skin and automatically assume I’m African. Intrigued by the history of slavery and the multi-racial pot that is my country, most people I meet want to hear more. It surprised many Indonesian students that I could say a few things in Javanese.
Yes, I know some words in Javanese. I loved surprising them, LOL!
On to the second question… Someone really asked me that. I was in a taxi on my way to the city. The cab driver and I started a conversation. It went something like this:
Taxi Driver: “What are you doing in China? Are you studying?”
SIDE NOTE: 读书can mean to study and to read a book. At that time, I only knew that it meant to read a book.
Me: (Thinking: why is he asking me if I came all the way to China to read a book? Doesn’t he know the ticket is super expensive?) I answered: “No, I’m not here to read a book, I’m here to study.”
我： （ 为什么他问我如果我是在中国看书的？他不知道飞机票很贵呢？）我回答：“我不是在中国看书的。我在中国学习的。”
Taxi Driver: (He looked at me like I was crazy)
Me: (Thinking: he’s probably a racist. Thinks all Black people are Africans and that all Africans are poor. Racist Chinese bastard).
Taxi Driver: “Where are you from?
Me: “I am from Suriname.”
Taxi Driver: “Is that in Africa?”
Me: “I’m not African.”
Taxi Driver: (Look of surprise on his face) Really? Then why are you Black?
The taxi driver isn’t the only one who is unaware of the location of my country.
I didn’t even get mad at the guy, because he probably also thinks that all Blacks are Africans. Another encounter with a Nigerian young man at a party was kind of like the one I had with the taxi driver. It was around Christmas, a guy I met invited me to his going-away party, so I went. There was nothing else to do. On arrival, I met a lot of people, of course. Check out the conversation between one of the guests and I:
Guy: “Where are you from?”
Me: “I’m from Suriname.”
Guy: “No, no, where are you from?”
Guy: “I didn’t ask you your name, I asked you where you’re from.”
Me: “I’m from Suriname and my name is Sanrizz.”
Guy: “Oh! So sorry! Is that in Africa?”
Me: (Thinking: an African asking me if my country is on his continent? Someone needs to get acquainted with Nat Geo and Google) I said, “It’s in South America, but we’re part of the Caribbean. We share the same history… you know, slavery and Asian indentured laborers, and all.”
Now to the last annoying question: it surprises many people that I’m not married. Once I went to the mall to buy new sheets. The woman asked me if I wanted new pillows as well. I told her I wanted one. It surprises many people, because women in their late twenties have husbands. Imagine their shock when I’m thirty-one. Because I am “old” (to them), I should have a husband and at least one child. Well, I’m not getting married this year, so that question will follow me around for a while.
Much LOVE to you all!