Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Natural Is Definitely Considered Cool Enough In China!

Every time I travel I get to know myself a bit more, which is encouraging as one would think that as an adult that task has been accomplished.  I just returned from 6 weeks in China and because this blog is about hair, namely natural hair, I will start there in sharing this wonderful experience with you.  I was  told by some, who had been to China and others who have not been there, that my experience in China, as a Black woman with natural locks, would be one which would consist of Chinese people looking at me strangely, wanting to touch my hair and that it would be viewed as other than beautiful and that my experience would be one in which boundaries would be crossed, in terms of my personal space, that would make me feel uncomfortable. Let me begin by saying those folks, who shared this insight, were absolutely wrong. I let go of all expectations and commentary of others and traveled to China with an open mind and ready to see the reality of the nation, which has over 5000 years of history, without any prejudgment, in an effort to understand Chinese culture. What I experienced were warm, intelligent, interesting, gracious and delightful people from all walks of life, in many cities in China. 

First of all, I found that upon meeting Chinese students, faculty members and people in general, there was not one moment in which I felt my natural locks or anything about me was viewed negatively.  In fact, I felt the opposite.  No one  randomly approached me to touch my hair but many Chinese woman told me that they found my hair to be beautiful.   In fact, one Chinese student  did ask me very politely and courteously, if it was ok to touch my hair because she found it so beautiful and that she wanted to have her hair in the same way.  She sincerely wanted to know from me, if it was possible to get her straight, black, long hair to lock.  I gave her an analysis of curly vs. straight hair and told her that I did believe it was possible, but that I wasn’t  certain how she could accomplish it.  Other than this very positive hair moment, me and my husband often found that people wanted to take pictures with both of us.  Why?   Because there are not many African American/Black people in China so it is quite a novelty for Chinese people to encounter foreigners , in general, and particularly black people.   The politeness in which the requests were made for pictures was wonderful and often an entire family joined in on the photo.  Our young adult children visited us in China and had the same experience.  So my conclusion is that in China, Natural Is Cool Enough! Also, I was happy to see natural hair advertisements, quite often, in various locations throughout China.

My natural locks in China, glistening in red from  Henna and the Sun

Examples of Advertisements, in China,  with Individuals Wearing Their Hair Naturally 
An add in Hong Kong 

Natural hair in a very prominent add...
Another beautiful add depicting natural hair in Shanghai

An Ad in the Apple Store on Nanjing Road

An ad in an apple store on Nanjing Road in Shanghai

Below are Photos of People in China who wanted to take pictures with me...A very nice experience.  People always made their requests kindly and with gracious smiles. 

I visited many places in China.  My main base was in Shanghai, which is an absolutely cosmopolitan, phenomenal city.  This was followed by trips to Suzhou, Xian, Hong Kong, Beijing and Nanjing, which were all also rather amazing.   In  several subsequent posts,  I will share photos of each city with a bit of detail about them, based on what I feel was of the greatest interest to me while there.  Some Chinese people said to me while I was  in China “there are too many people.”  Since there are over 1.35 billion people in China, such a statement is understood, but I must say, I found it intriguing to find myself walking  in throngs of people everyday, whenever we went outside, and I am from NYC originally!  For example, taking a ride on the subway or walking down the most famous street in Shanghai, called Nanjing Road, or riding in an elevator anywhere was an experience of being surrounded by many, many people, no matter the time of day and well into the night.  The reality of looking at each face and seeing that literally, every person, for the most part, was in fact Chinese was an awesome cultural experience.  I really felt the experience of being in the midst of a homogeneous population, enjoying their homeland, although China consists of many ethnic groups with the Han people being the dominant group, was wonderfully fascinating. This homogeneity reminded me of the same way that I felt walking amongst Africans in Kenya and Senegal, Africa, amongst Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka and so many other places where I have felt the oneness of people living where their ancestors before them have lived for many, many generations. This is not to say that diversity of race in a society is not as interesting and fantastic but a mere focus on the difference between racially homogeneous and heterogeneous populations is an interesting experience.

Scenes of Shanghai (More to come in Upcoming Blog Post)
Model of the City of Shanghai at the Urban Planning Center of Shanghai

A Section of Shanghai during the Day

The Bund in Shanghai at Night

I found everything about China intriguing and interesting and although 6 weeks was a good period of time to visit, it was not nearly enough.  Upon leaving, I felt sad that the tremendous experience that I had there was over.  Every morsel of food that I ate was incredibly fascinating and most of it was delicious.   I enjoyed the food immensely and ate every meal with chopsticks.  There were many days in China where I felt overwhelmed as I realized the grandiosity of the cities that I visited.  Each of them had over 5 million inhabitants, whether transient or local, and their living spaces range from minimal to grand.  There are tall apartment buildings everywhere, small walled community dwellings and all sorts of variation in between.  I cannot  provide an adequate explanation with words, in terms of description,  but hopefully the pictures will help.  There are tremendous office buildings with LED lights and screens on them, grand malls and other types of shopping centers,  incredible hotels including many four and five stars of which we had the pleasure of enjoying several in different cities, innumerable restaurants  of all kinds from fast food to top shelf overlooking cities and well, I just cannot describe all that exists there in terms of restaurants, universities, hospitals, malls, historical sites, entertainment and businesses. We even had the opportunity to visit the zoo in Shanghai where I saw Pandas, which was thrilling.

Somehow, based on the limited images that I see of China at home on television, I was shocked and overwhelmed by the grandiosity of China.  It was utterly mind blowing  to see the technological advances and overall sophistication of this nation while simultaneously experiencing some of the “old ways” of the country. I also found it very interesting how there has been an effort to combine the old traditional style of architecture with the new so although you see a great deal of modernity, you also get a sense of China’s illustrious history, of over 5,000 years.  The museums and historical sites are literally mind blowing.  I literally spent full days in some of the museums and was awe struck by the statues, porcelain, calligraphy, furniture, historical artifacts, art and beyond. As I traveled through China, I was also reading an excellent book entitled “In Search of Modern China,” by retired Yale Professor, Jonathan Spence, who my son took a course with while he was a student there, so I was well informed about the dynasties of the past and feudal societies of the past in China. My reading was enhanced by visiting the actual sites which are reminiscent of the Ming and Qing and other dynasties prior to and after the dynasties. 

In short, my experience in China was a true cultural experience.  I am grateful that I took the time to take a brief Chinese culture, history and language course before going there and then Mandarin Chinese language lessons while I was there.  So, not only did I leave China with a better understanding of the culture but an appreciation of the language of Mandarin as well, both spoken and written.  I learned many words and Chinese characters while there and will pursue both further and intently now that I am at home.

I will have further installations about China so I hope you will look forward to my next post which will also include photographs with commentary.  Although this and upcoming posts about China seem to deviate a bit from my Natural Hair focus for this blog, in a very deep and profound way perhaps not because I believe that having my hair free and natural, without the limitation and dictation of the mainstream and dominant group of  the society that I live in influencing me to emulate the hair of said group, by straightening or wearing weave, etc., as examples, my mind is also free, which enables me to see the world with an openness to value and appreciate other cultures in a very positive way.  I believe that this appreciation of other cultures in the same way that I hope others value and appreciate my hair, as an example, in its  natural state,  as wonderful.  A young Chinese college student, who is from China and studies in the U.S. during the Fall and Spring semesters, asked me if it was true that many of the Black women that she sees on the campus she attends in the U.S. are not wearing their own hair when it is long and straight like her own.  She said she had been told this but didn’t believe it.  I explained weave to her and  told her that many Black women do wear it and other types of "extensions" and that the latter in the form of braids relates back to traditional African styles.  She looked at me very puzzled and surprised and asked why about weave,  because she said she feels that the natural hair of Black women that she has seen is so beautiful.  I explained to her that it was a long and complicated history to explain it all but that in my case, I absolutely agree with her because I embrace the notion, 100%, that Natural Is Cool Enough!

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