Thursday, May 27, 2010

Xenophobia Much?

Hm so I kinda had a traumatic event on my way to the MinQuan branch today (for both me and an old lady).

This school is right across from a big temple where there are dozens of old ladies trying to sell you little things (I'm not exactly sure what). Well, I see this particular woman almost every time I go there. Unlike the others, she doesn't wear a farmer's hat and she seems to have a disability.

Well today, it's raining like crazy and it's not that warm outside; and I see this woman again with no hat and NO UMBRELLA. So I think to myself- I have two umbrellas, why don't I give her mine. It would be much worse for her to catch a cold than for me.

So when I'm crossing the street she walks toward me saying something in Chinese to get me to buy from her, and I try to give her the umbrella "gei ni hao ma?" (here, take it. okay?) She looks apprehensive and says something else in Chinese. "Xia yu le!" (it's raining) I say and move the umbrella closer to her. She has a fit- she reacts as if I had just punched her in the face and she falls down backwards on the wet street. I'm really dumbfounded and touch her arm to help her up. "May I help you?" I say in English. She wrenches her arm away and says what sounds like "NO! NO!." So here I am in the middle of an intersection and I just made an old lady fall down. I look up as if someone might help me, and a Taiwanese gentleman gives me the hand signal that means "no" or "don't want." Almost to say that I would only make the situation worse if tried to help her again. So I walk to the sidewalk and I see a Taiwanese woman help her up.

When the light changed, the old lady came back to my side of the street and the Taiwanese gentleman placed himself between me and her while we waited for the signal to walk. I don't know if he was trying to make sure she didn't see my face and get scared once more, or if he didn't want me to see her and try to talk to her again.

Either way I felt completely horrible. It's one of the worst feelings when you try to help someone and it has the complete opposite effect. One of my psychology/sociology classes taught me that it's actually normal for people with disabilities or so-called "outcasts" of society to get upset if someone tries to help them. As part of a project for that class I asked two disabled women if I could help them and I had similar reactions to this.

What makes me really sad, however, is that I helped validate this old lady's fear of foreigners. She's not going to remember that a "wai guo ren" (foreigner) offered her an umbrella on a rainy day. She's only going to remember that a foreigner made her fall down and touched her arm.

Well, I guess I can't do anything to change what happened. Next time I'm just going to be really careful if I want to offer help to someone from an older generation. The next entry will be positive- I promise! I had a big adventure a few weekends ago. Me and some friends from the Xin Hu branch went on a hike and I'll tell you all about it next time.

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