3:30pm, January 17, 2010, Songbai Bus Station, Xiamen
I am waiting at the outskirts of Songbai bus station. My boss has gone to a ticketing window with a written request to get seats on the top level of the bus that will take us back to Fuzhou...His success is unlikely.
I stand with all of our baggage like a fortress surrounding me. It is winter for this part of China, and all of the Chinese are in coats and sweatshirts. Even the merchants of cheap food around the edge of the bus station are bundled. I, however, am in a 3/4 sleeve fashion jacket. Winter for this part of China is still about 30 degrees warmer than the weather back in Cincinnati. I barely feel chilled.
Suddenly, one of these merchants is at my side. It is a man above 40. He is speaking to me, but I do not understand. He beams with a gleaming eye, and I recognize that he is amusing himself. Uncertainly I smile back, and the smile encourages him. Lo and behold, he reaches out and strokes the top of my forearm!
I am accustomed to attention of various degrees while traveling because of my youth and gender, but actual physical contact is very rare. Sensing my discomfort, the merchant speaks quickly to me and again strokes my forearm. He then proceeds to lift his own sleeve and stroke his forearm. As he meets my eyes again, hoping for some comprehension, he laughs and gives me a big thumbs up.
Two possibilities occur to me. This merchant might be complimenting me on my skin tone and quality. More likely, however, he is impressed, if not shocked, with the amount of hair on my female forearm.
It's true the difference between our hair quantities is dramatic. My dark winter hair is visible from 10 feet away, but in terms of hair, this man's arm more closely resembles my forehead. The Chinese are notoriously hairless, and likely, this Chinese man is admiring my body hair in terms of strength and masculinity.
In China, I am wolf girl.