And to quote good ole Bugs Bunny: “Oh the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen!”

More of that later…

On the last day, getting ready to come back, my husband turned to me and asked, “So what did you learn from these ten days?”


The biggest thing I learned is the definition of civilized behaviour.

I now think that being civilized comes as a result of having exposure to different ethnicities and religious backgrounds and learning how to treat people with dignity and basic good manners.

I know plenty of Muslims who are too entrenched within their communities to be civil to other groups. I know of a man who went to work in a small city in Saudi Arabia who was constantly harassed and even had rocks thrown at him by the local kids because they thought he was American.

I have met Jews who have looked down their noses at me, not bothering to hide their disdain in the least, and I’ve met a few Christians like that too.

But I have not felt in North America, the universal dismissal and condescension that I experienced in China over the past few days for a very long time.

Most people in North America are civilized enough to accord basic human ‘civility’ to others even if they are completely different from them.

And to be fair, most of the Chinese didn’t do anything worse than stare.

But you see the thing with me, is that they really have to be obvious about it for me to even notice.

I tend to be oblivious to stares, but some things you just can’t ignore.

My younger sister lives in Ottawa and doesn’t like Toronto. Last time she came down she said to me, “People in your city always stare!”

“What are you talking about?”

“When I was on the subway platform, as they were walking by, they stare!”

“How would you know?” I asked.

“Because I SAW them!”

I just laughed.

Torontonians just don’t stare! Not unless you’re staring first. We’ve seen it all!

Every time I go down town, I never get any looks, nor do all the ‘fringe’ types that are common on the subways here!

When my daughters complained about it, I told them the same. That you only notice they’re staring because you’re staring at them!

So I’m not the type of person who tends to notice stares.

But when people stop in their tracks and actually GAWK at you, even I tend to notice.

Some giggled, others pointed and snickered.

And then they started taking pictures.

When I was at this memorial place, walking up to the shrine, a man coming the other way took out his camera and snapped a picture. When he saw me staring at him, he gave me a thumbs up and smiled. I couldn’t help but smile back.

And then I noticed it more and more. The cameras pointed right at me.

And I said to my husband, “Fine, they’re going to take a picture of me! Then I’ll take a picture of them taking a picture of me!” So I did.

It was hilarious and we all laughed good naturedly.

After that I even started posing. And my Chinese paparazzi chuckled and clicked their cameras all the faster.

And on the last day, something really rude happened!

It was when we were going to be treated to foot massages.

The whole time we were being ushered into the facility to get our foot massages (which were part of the tour package) I kept remembering that Seinfeld episode with George’s father Mr. Costanza’s weird fetish about not taking his shoes off.

I really didn’t feel like taking my shoes and socks off either, but the thought of a foot massage was too tempting!

(The last foot massage I got was two years ago after Hajj! One of the sisters in our Hajj group was treating some of us to them and OH it felt so GOOD!)

There were notices on the wall, not to tip! These folks had already been paid.

So they brought in these tubs of boiling water with some kind of brown medicine in them, and all of us English speakers (they’d taken the Chinese speakers elsewhere) were delicately trying to soak our feet. The water was incredibly hot, so it took a few moments before I could get my feet submerged.

We’d been walking a LOT! So my feet were definitely sore.

Then a Chinese herbalist doctor walked in and started looking at the old man in our group’s palm and diagnosing his ailments. When he started suggesting various prescriptions, the old man’s daughter thanked him and said they weren’t interested. Wise move!

The doctors in China get a kickback for any drugs they prescribe. Yup, it’s a conflict of interest but doesn’t seem to matter over there.

Anyway, when the masseuses came in, I grew alarmed because this guy was coming over to rub my feet.

A man!

Touching my feet!

No way!

So I made myself understood that I wanted a woman, but the woman I got was hmm, less than thrilled, I guess.

I was sitting beside my husband, and while a man worked on his foot, this chunky Chinese woman with angry red zits all over her face, sat down on the stool and started working on mine.

She glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, said something to the guy beside her (the one working on my husband’s feet) and then they both laughed heartily. Then she made a gesture, kind of like she was flapping her arms and pointed right at me, that clearly meant she was referring to my weight and chuckled.

I was too shocked to react.

It wasn’t like she was slim at all!

And then it finally occurred to me.

They were treating me like this because they saw me as inferior. And they thought because of the way I dressed, I should be on the defensive.

Duh! I guess it should have occurred to me immediately, but it didn’t.

They didn’t treat the white people in our group that way.

In fact it was quite the opposite. The little seven year old girl in our group, Alice, was marvelled at everywhere we went. People touched her sandy blonde hair and took pictures of her but in a respectful way, like they were filled with awe. (I’ll talk more about her later)

But me they definitely saw as ‘inferior’. Beneath them.


It’s been a long time since I felt that.

Took me right back to when I was a kid and the other kids in the class treated me quite the same.

And it made me realize how much, over the decades, our society has definitely changed. We don’t mock people. At least not to their faces.

And then I remembered how it was in Pakistan, and how extended family had looked down at me there too, because I didn’t fulfill their expectations of a Pakistani from the West.

I didn’t wear flashy low-cut clothes or flaunt my wealth.

And I recalled how they’d snickered at me in much the same way. But I really hadn’t cared because I knew, if they were to put me and them in a room full of white people, they’d be cowering in the corner and I’d be more than able to hold my own!!!

And honestly I didn’t care that this zit-faced chunky Chinese woman was mocking me either.

It was actually kind of funny in a way.

She was stuck in this not very glamorous job, that I wouldn’t want to do at all–whereas I get to travel round the world and have the likes of her snapping my toes and rubbing my feet.

And yet I felt guilty for thinking that.

It was petty.

Work is work.

And glamorous or not, who am I to look down on someone’s honest occupation?

I’ve wiped bums for a living remember? (Back when I did daycare a relative told me that!)

But it did get me thinking about what makes a civilized society.

I would not call Pakistan a civilized society. A lot of third world very HOMOGENOUS countries are not, by this definition ‘civilized’, and neither, I guess is China.

Maybe it’s because they haven’t been forced to deal with all kinds of people and be CIVIL.

More’s the pity.

Maybe as they learn and grow, things will change.

Or maybe not.