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Home Living in China Foreigners in China Foreigners in China 老外看中国:别歧视我们老外
老外看中国:别歧视我们老外
Foreigners in China

"Don't Discriminate We 'Foreigners'"

By Cecilie Gamst Berg

Have I mentioned before that I love China? I love China. Last week as I sat shaking with fear on a flight from Lanzhou to Guangzhou in a plane that, it has to be said, looked like a dented old Coke can with wings, I started counting the China stamps in my passport. Wow! I had visited the mainland 74 times in four years. That's something like twice every hour.

I suppose the main reason why the world today is in such a sorry state (and always has been, come to think of it) is that people can't imagine that other people think differently from themselves. Some people want to kill people who think differently from themselves just to make a point, and I am no exception. I can't understand why some people don't love China like I do. I know people who have lived in Hong Kong for 10, 15, 20 years and have never visited the mainland. What can possibly be their reason? I don't necessarily want to kill these people but I certainly don't understand them. How can they have the world's best holiday destination right on their doorstep but never go there?

  Shenzhen is a mere 45 minutes and HK$33 away by train and yet people spend thousands of dollars flying to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia for their holidays or just for the weekend. There's no accounting for some people's taste eh? And talking about money - my friends spend 20 and 30 thousand dollars on short holidays around the globe. During my three-week holiday in Xinjiang province I spent RMB 2500 - including this blasted flight from Lanzhou. If it hadn't been for that flight my holiday would have been perfect, just perfect, I thought as I sat shaking with turbulence, looking at the 74 little red round and square stamps. 74 trips of fun and happiness.

  Then I started thinking: Why do I need the stamps at all? I look at my Hong Kong ID card, and it says clearly: Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card. That means I'm a Hong Kong person with a Hong Kong person's rights and responsibilities. I have the right to vote in our farcical "elections", I pay tax and give money to the various charities milling around town with their collection boxes on Saturday. So far, so Hong Kong person.

  Now, Hong Kong is a city in China, right? That means Hong Kong people are Chinese people. And as a Hong Kong person I should therefore be considered as living in China.

  But no, once on the other side of the border in the abovementioned glorious Shenzhen, I suddenly become a "foreigner." Hong Kong Chinese people zoom through immigration with their "Return To The Village" pass which is now a card they just slip through a machine, while we second-class Hong Kong people have to fill in a form, queue up and have our passport stamped.

  I need a visa to travel in the country of which I'm a permanent resident. Isn't that weird? And also, exceedingly irritating? The only benefit of having a permanent Hong Kong ID card so far seems to be that I get a three year visa whereas before I only got a double entry each time. I went through passports like other people go through packets of tissues. Now, as I said, I've had the same passport since 2001 but it's getting full - 74 stamps times two, one for entry and one for exit, take up a lot of space. The visa is $600, a new passport is going to set me back another $600…it all adds up.

  Thank God for China, so reasonably priced it's cheaper to travel around for three weeks, staying in hotels, than sitting at home in Hong Kong, eating instant noodles….

  Yes, I love China. China is the temple I have to go to worship at least twice a month to feel sane. As soon as I cross the border I start getting That China Feeling and I start grinning That China Grin. Although I'm not happy to see the massive increase of cars on the mainland to the point where you can't breathe (apparently eight of the world's 10 most polluted cities are in China, a dubious record to say the least) and am sad and disappointed about the wanton and systematic destruction of her cities, there are also many things that have improved since I first set foot on Chinese soil 17 years ago.

  One thing I was really happy to see the last of, is the FEC system. FEC - Foreign Exchange Certificate, was a kind of money that foreigners (and, I presume, Chinese with connections) could use to shop at Friendship Stores, pay for hotel rooms and buy tickets.

  When we went to the bank to change foreign hard currency or traveller's cheques, FEC was the currency we got in return. It didn't take me long to find out that 1 FEC was worth 2 RMB on the black market. And in 1988's Beijing, there were not many people who weren't involved in the money-changing system in one way or another. I therefore had twice as much money as I had previously thought. Good.

  But then I realised that I had to pay twice as much as a Chinese person when I wanted to buy for example a train ticket. What kind of wild system was that? Of course there was a black market for train tickets too, and only idiots bought them at the counter paying with FEC. But the system wasn't very practical. Changing money, finding people to buy tickets for you, all this took a lot of time. It was fortunate that I had a lot of time in those days. Of course living under this system I accepted it. It's only now that the system is no more, there is no FEC and we foreigners have to queue up and fight to get our tickets just like ordinary Chinese, that I see how strange it was. But no matter how I obtain the ticket, travelling by train will always be one of the things I love most about China.

  Another thing I love about China is her fantastic parks. No matter how shitty the city, it will always have a least one park where you can feel you can be both far removed from the noise and dirt of the city and also feel transported to another, more gentle time of willowy maidens with long, billowing sleeves wafting through the trees and lakes like elves, whispering softly to smooth-faced scholars in silken robes. Every time I'm in China and I get to a new place, I head straight for the nearest park to spend some pleasant hours among the trees.

  In the past, the pleasure of visiting the park used to be marred by the irritation of having to pay ten times as much as Chinese to enter it. It could be 10fen for Chinese and 1yuan for foreigners or 1yuan for Chinese and 10 for foreigners, but it was always ten times more at least.

  Look, I don't have a problem with paying more for a better service. Of course it should cost more to enjoy the luxury of a bunk in soft sleeper than sitting up all night in hard seat, sleeping with your head on the table. I would gladly paid more to be carried through a park by four handsome men than walking through it barefoot. But I strongly object to having to pay more than everybody else FOR THE SAME THING because I have a different skin colour. It's nothing to do with the fact that I can afford to pay more. It should be: Same product, same price. End of story.

  I'd love to see what would happen in…well, any other country, if they tried to pull the same stunt! You'd be hauled in front of the magistrate post-haste.

  Thankfully the Chinese government has seen how absurd this policy was, and now foreigners and Chinese pay the same to get into parks, museums, monuments and fairgrounds.

  Too right!

  So for years I've really been thinking that the price segregation and discrimination, apart from the HK Person/Foreigner kind of thing, has disappeared from Chinese soil and from Chinese thinking. (Of course a lot of people try to cheat me but they are private entrepreneurs, it's not official cheating instigated by the government. Also it's up to me whether I want to be cheated or not.)

  That was until I spent my summer holiday in Xinjiang.

  It had been a particularly strenuous trip, from Xinhe (新和) to Koerle. (庫爾勒) I didn't have a ticket so I had to spend the whole trip in the restaurant car. I love the restaurant car on Chinese trains - the food is great, the beer is cheap and there are always people who want to talk. This time the person who wanted to talk was a Khazakstani who came up to me and shook my hand as soon as I entered the restaurant car. He was already quite drunk, and said that we were the same because he had grey eyes and I have blue-grey eyes.

  That boy loved his beer. I'm not a slow drinker, but every time I drank one glass of beer, he drank a bottle. During the five and a half hour journey he must have drunk at least ten bottles of beer. He didn't get hammered (ming ding da zui) exactly, but very very sentimental - well, maudlin. He talked about his horses, his yurt and his country, in a Putonghua that was quickly deteriorating so I had to struggle to understand what he said. When he started saying the same thing ten, twenty and thirty times I'd already had enough, and signalled wildly with my eyes to the train staff: Rescue me! But as I had no seat to run away to and the train staff didn't really care, I was stuck with him.

  He kept those beer bottles coming relentlessly though, I'll give him that. When I finally staggered off the train around 1.30 in the morning, I had only one thought in my head: Sleep! Dragging my over-heavy bag to the nearest hotel, I looked forward to throwing myself on the bed as soon as I'd signed my name. Sorry, no rooms. Aiaaa, bad. Bad. The hotel across the street was also full. Would I have to sleep outside?

  I got in a taxi and asked the driver to take me somewhere, anywhere. He took me to a 公寓. Excellent! Cheaper too. But there the receptionist told me the words I thought I never had to hear again: This place is only for Chinese.

  A hostel, almost 2 o'clock in the morning, a woman so exhausted she can hardly walk and they tell her she can't sleep because of racial discrimination? It was unbelievable. Muttering angrily I trundled back to the taxi, whose driver was a smart man. We had already talked about my status as a Hong Kong permanent resident, and driving me to another gong yu a few minutes away he suggested I should exploit my status as a 香港同胞.

  Oh miracle: It worked! The receptionist in the next hostel was all smiles, registering me under my Chinese name and Hong Kong ID card number.

  For a reasonable price I got a very simple room without any luxuries but it had a clean bed and that was all I wanted. After that I used my Xianggang Tongbao status whenever I could, and why not? I'm a legitimate Hong Kong person although I have a different skin colour from most Hong Kong people. I have been turned away from hotels many times during my 17 years of travelling in China, accepting it meekly. This was the first time I thought "what a ridiculous rule."

  Perhaps the reason officials would give as to why these inexpensive hostels are off-limits to foreigners are that they are too simple and "not suitable for foreigners"? That would be a weak excuse. In Hong Kong, foreign backpackers sleep eight to a room - a dirty and stinking room with both cockroaches and rats. I've done it myself. When you are young and travelling, price matters more than comfort.

  Chinese people all over the world, both originating in Hong Kong and the mainland, are very sensitive to racial discrimination against themselves. They are absolutely justified to be so, because Chinese people have been exploited, abused and discriminated against for centuries. It's great to see China stand up and take its legitimate place among the great powers of the world.

  But as China is winning victories on the world stage of politics, economics, sports and culture, perhaps she would do well to keep an eye on what's going on in her own backyard while shouting about injustices her citizens suffer around the world?




写给内地中国人的一封信:别“歧视”我们老外
  甘茜莲(挪威)/文 朱磊/编译

  我说过我喜欢中国内地吧?上周坐在从兰州飞往广州的飞机上,我数了数护照上的中国海关图章。哇!4年时间里,我一共来过内地74次了!

  我不明白为什么有些人不喜欢内地。我认识一些人,在香港住了10年、15年,甚至20年,但是从未到过内地。他们怎么能够忽视这个就在家门口的,当今世界上最热门的旅游圣地呢?

  从香港到深圳坐火车只需要33港币,整个旅程不超过45分钟。我真不明白,为什么有人愿意假期或者周末去“新马泰”,而不愿来深圳转一圈呢?说到钱――出国度一个短假就要花上两三万港币,而我到新疆玩了3个星期才花了2500元人民币,其中还包括回程机票。当我看到护照上74个有圆有方的图章时,我就想起了74次充满乐趣的旅行。

  突然我想到一个问题:为什么我需要这些出入境章呢?我有香港身份证,上面清清楚楚地写着:香港永久居民证。所以我是一个香港人,有香港人所拥有的权利和义务。我有权参与香港的选举,上税和向各式各样的慈善团体捐款。我是一个地道的香港人。

  香港难道不是中国的一个城市吗?那么香港人也是中国人了,也就是说作为一个香港人,我生活在中国。可是为什么每次去深圳的时候,我就突然变成一个“外国人”了呢?香港人用他们的“回乡证”在机器里一扫,就可以入关了。而我们这些“二等”香港人只好排队填表,等着在护照上盖章。

  是的,我喜欢内地。所以每个月我至少要来两次,就好像朝圣一样。尽管我看到了一些不好的地方:汽车数量剧增,空气质量恶化,很多城市的原始风貌遭到破坏……但与17年前我第一次来这里相比,进步很大。

  我很高兴地看到外汇券不存在了。所谓外汇券,是一种供外国人(或者华侨)使用的钱,可以在友谊商店买东西,住旅馆和买票。在银行兑换外币或旅行支票时,我得到的就是这种外汇券。很快我就发现在黑市上,1元外汇券相当于2元人民币。而在1988年的北京,几乎所有人都在黑市上买卖外汇。

  然而我发现,作为一个外国人,我需要花双倍的价钱来买火车票。当然火车票也有黑市,只有傻瓜才会用外汇券在柜台上买车票。不过这样做也很麻烦,换人民币,找人帮你买票,都要浪费很多时间。现在好了,外汇券不存在了,我们可以像普通中国人一样排队,或者挤着买车票了。

  我喜欢内地的另一个原因,是因为每个城市都至少有一个公园。每次我到一个新城市,都会寻找最近的公园,到树林中去享受几个小时的美妙时光。在过去,这种美妙的心情往往被10倍的门票价格所破坏:如果中国人付1角,那么外国人就要付1元,或者中国人付1元,外国人付10元。不管怎样,外国人的票价至少是中国人票价的10倍。如果能得到更好的服务,多付些钱我不介意。但是令我强烈不满的是:仅仅因为肤色不同就要多付钱!还好,中国政府意识到了这种政策是多么荒唐。现在外国人和中国人花一样多的钱就可以参观公园和博物馆。这种做法太对了!

  所以我以为对外国人的歧视在中国已经消失了,然而这次的新疆之行使我有了新的看法。那是一次到库尔勒的旅行。凌晨1点半,我从火车上下来,头脑中只有一个想法:睡觉!于是,我找了辆出租车,告诉司机把我带到一个能睡觉的地方。于是他把我带到一个宾馆。很好!可是接待员的嘴里却说出了我原以为早已绝迹的话:“我们只接待中国人。”

  已经快凌晨两点了,一个累得几乎动不了的女人,因为“种族歧视”而找不到睡觉的地方?这简直令人难以置信。好在司机是个聪明人,他知道我有香港永久居民身份,于把我带到了另一个宾馆,告诉我以香港同胞的身份出现。成功了!我用中文名字和香港身份证号码成功入住。房价很合理,尽管没有豪华设备,但有一张干净的床,这就足够了。从那以后,我就开始尽可能地使用 “香港同胞”的身份,尽管我的肤色和大多数香港人不同。

  为什么廉价旅馆不能接待外宾呢?官方说法也许是:因为它们太简陋了,“不适合外国人居住”。这绝对是一个站不住脚的理由。在香港,一些外国背包客8个人挤在一个又臭又脏的小房间里,里面还有蟑螂和老鼠。我自己也住过。作为一个旅行的年轻人,价格远比舒适更重要。

  全世界的中国人,对针对他们的种族歧视都非常敏感。这很应该,因为中国人几个世纪以来都被剥削、压迫和歧视。我很高兴地看到现在中国人站起来了,中国在世界强国中找到了应有的位置。不过在她为自己国民不公正待遇疾呼的同时,是不是也应该关照一下自己后院中对外国人的歧视呢?

  (本文作者系自由撰稿人,现定居于香港,目前正在创作有关其在中国生活经历的小说《金发莲》)

 

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