The Taxi Corner: Black People, White People, and the Taliban

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November 29th 2009
Published: December 2nd 2009
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City Park on a SundayCity Park on a SundayCity Park on a Sunday

Contrary to what people may be inclined to believe, Kunming's city park is not a relaxing place to be on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
As a foreigner in China, I am constantly aware of being different. Children ask me why I'm "so white." My Chinese friends ask me, "what's wrong with your hair?" (nothing, it's just curly). I can't fit into women's shoes because my feet are too big, and six of my foreign friends overloaded an elevator marked "Capacity: 13 persons." Many Chinese people are curious about foreigners because we stand out in a society whose people generally have the same racial features. The majority of Chinese people are respectful of the physical and cultural differences between us, and almost always welcoming and willing to help me with my Chinese.

Of course, there are always exceptions.

The cab ride started out like any other. A friendly driver asked my friend Libby and I questions about where we were from, life in America, how we liked China, etc. Then the routine was abruptly broken:

Libby : What do you think of the new American president?
Driver: I don't like him.
Libby: Why not?
Driver: He's black.
Libby: (pause)... oh. Um, why is that a problem?
Driver: I don't like black people. Black people are wild and primitive.
Libby: You shouldn't talk like
Kunming from the Western HillsKunming from the Western HillsKunming from the Western Hills

View of Kunming from the Western Hills, a mountain area surrounding Kunming that houses many famous sites and temples.
this. We voted for Obama! White people and black people are the same.
Driver: No, black people are stupid. White people are smart.
Me: Have you ever met a black person?
Driver: No.
Me: So how do you know they're stupid?
Driver: Well, because white people are smart.
Me: But why does that mean that black people are stupid?
Driver: Errr. Black people are just stupid. You shouldn't vote for Obama again! (driver grins at us in rear-view mirror.)

I was floored. My jaw had literally dropped and was hanging open like Scooby Doo drooling for a treat. I had never heard someone so openly defend racist views, especially without having any personal experience or supporting evidence for such prejudices. At this point I was morbidly curious to learn more about the political views of this smiling, friendly neighborhood driver who snaked through the crowded streets of Kunming spouting racist stereotypes with a smile on his face. I pulled out a piece of paper and started scribbling notes.

Me: What about the Japanese? How do you feel about the Japanese?
Driver: I don't like them. Sure, I could kill one.

Driver: I don't like America, it makes too much war, like in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think China should go to war with America in Iraq. (Puts a big smile on his face). I like the Taliban! I like the Taliban because it fights America!
Libby: But Obama is against these wars, so you should like him, right?
Driver: No, he's black. I don't like black people.

I couldn't make this stuff up. That is how it happened, word for word. While this attitude may not be the norm in China, it certainly exists and reminds me that ignorance breeds racism and hate... all the more reason to take the time to explain my own viewpoint and experiences to people I meet here.

Recipe for Thanksgiving Dinner in China

- Stick chicken pieces with raisin bread stuffing in oven
- Boil and mash a wok full of potatoes
- Coat carrots and cauliflower with brown sugar and steam
- Saute Yunnan mushrooms and cook into pasta
- Warm up the last can of cranberry sauce that was for sale at the foreign import store
- Bake homemade apple pie
- Serve watermelon and Chinese mini-clementines with dessert
- Enjoy with chopsticks and Chinese beer
Thanksgiving DinnerThanksgiving DinnerThanksgiving Dinner

It took us a while, but Libby and I managed to cook dinner without any major disasters
Top off with an international crowd celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time 😊

Next research trip: Xishuangbanna, the southernmost region of Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar and Laos. Home to the Dai minority people, who are ethnically similar to the Thai.

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'Nuff said.

2nd December 2009

Great opportunities to share your point of view but hard to keep your cool with ignorant comments. Thanksgiving dinner looked wonderful. Enjoyed the picture of you two beauties. I'm thankful you could be together.
2nd December 2009

Hi you two! So glad you were together for the holiday. Tom and I are vacationing in New Zealand and crusing back to Los Angelos all the while checking our friends in China from our computer in Sedan...Small world, as they say. Love love love your blogs Merrill..brings smiles to us..and Libby, so proud of your culinary skills..We anxiously await more..until then , take care
2nd December 2009

Much to be thankful for
A very impressive Thanksgiving dinner!! It looked delicious but I would go hungry eating with chopsticks. Like Sue, I am thankful the two of you could spend the holiday together. And as for the bigotry, I think some people in the US have similar attitudes but they don't always admit to them. Can you find a less crowded park for us when we're there??! PS: You two look great!

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