La La How The Life Goes On

Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

Posted on: July 23, 2011

July 19, 2011
We drove four hours to Bambina’s hometown to the West. The drive was breathtakingly scenic; I only recall oohing and aahhing this much in Hawaii. Lush green mountains partially obscured by subtropical clouds. Palm trees. Lotus farms. Rice farms. Trees on top of more lush, verdant trees.

Bambina’s town is the now-textbook Chinese mix of agrarian poverty and palatial, high-end luxury living. This is recent, of course. Back when Bambina was a bambina, it was almost entirely agrarian. The architecture reminded me of the West side of Los Angeles; those red-roofed hacienda-style homes that say, “I’m near the beach but not AT the beach.” Nestled side by side with these gorgeous developments (which you should buy now at rock-bottom prices), are the old box-style buildings, kind of shabby, all painted some variation of Miami Beach pink or blue, but without the jaunty gay insouciance. It’s clear that many people here live in poverty. It’s clear that many people here live in spectacular wealth. Our hotel, for example, had the freakin’ Sistine Chapel paintings inside. Unbelievable opulence, and all for the price of a night at a Newark Best Western.

We were the only lao-wais (foreigners) in town. Our guide said that the only Westerners who come here are visiting the orphanage, so we are few and far between. Which explains why I was not the second coming of Madonna as I first thought, but rather the weirdest effing human these nice people had ever seen in the flesh. We went to the supermarket to buy diapers and formula for the orphanage, and we pretty much brought business to a halt. Random people came up and asked to have their photo taken with me. At first I was like, “how nice! I rule! Makin’ friends!” but after the 7th person I realized that I was a space alien, a circus freak and I started to feel weird. Everyone was lovely and friendly and practicing their English with us, but I definitely understood (as certain Westerners don’t [I’m talking to you, asshole American frat boy in the Beijing airport talking loud on your cell phone about how everyone is staring at you because your hair is light and awesome]) that people are not staring because they think you are beautiful and awesome and want to be like you. They are staring because they genuinely are trying to figure out how you go around looking like that. In a nice way, of course. {As an aside, I recall furtively staring at the intensely black African man who pulled my coffee at the DC Starbucks, feeling just awestruck at his amazing skin, because (I know I sound like a rube) I had never seen skin so very very black before in my life. I was transfixed on him.} So I get it. It’s not ill-intentioned, and they might actually like your hair or skin or whatever. But they can’t stop staring… and that weirds Westerners out. Like me.

Anyhoo. More importantly, one person NOT feeling like a freak was Bambina. My sweet Bambina, who has always wondered aloud why her skin is brown when even her Chinese-American friends’ skin is ‘kind of white.” Who sort of humored us but never really bought into the idea that somewhere on this Earth there live millions of people who look just like her. Well folks, today was the day and I could have cried. An entire city jammed with brown-skinned Chinese people, all mostly under the 5’8″, 120 pound mark. I could see it in her face, her eyes, her demeanor: Mecca. Here in YangJiang, China, Bambina is not “so little! So petite! So cute!” Nope. She was just another girl in the big city. As evidenced by the fact that no one wanted a photo of her at all. She could finally just blend in, go under the radar, and not be harangued about her small stature. She was home. Where she would go completely unnoticed, if not for the presence of her big nosed, fluorescent, sideshow parents.

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