Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Chinese in Cairo

It’s been a busy and fun time in Hotel BellyLorna, with 6 Chinese Bellydancers staying with us!

I guess part of what I love about renting out my spare rooms in this manner to visiting dancers is meeting women from all over the world and seeing this culture, country and dance through their eyes. I learn so much about my assumptions and expectations from seeing how they differ from others.

The Chinese have a great respect for both age and for teachers, so it is interesting to see how they react to each other within their own group and to others they meet in Cairo. I, for instance, have been renamed ‘mummy’ for instance (due to my looking after them, and being the teacher - not due to my age I hasten to add!!) and often get a little bow from them if we pass each other in the house. It is very sweet and very strange!

I have been super impressed by how much care they take over their skin in particular. Face masks nearly every night.  Foot baths in ‘Chinese medicine’. No wonder they are all as beautiful as they are! As for clothes washing... they insist on doing it all by hand, in detergent they brought with them from china. Despite me having a washing machine which does work (a rare thing often in flats in Cairo!). I wonder if this is to protect their clothes or their skin from ‘strange’ detergents? I wish the language barrier was less so I could understand more. I am trying, but my 3 words of Chinese doesn’t get me very far!

What has been really lovely is seeing how fairly they split up all the jobs they do and watching them work to prepare their lunch every day.
The girls brought possibly a couple of suitcases worth of food stuffs with them. From sauces and sweets to freeze packed duck! I presume because they prefer the food that is familiar to them and also i guess price wise it is probably a lot cheaper to buy there than here! Every day they buy fresh vegetables from the market stall round the corner.

Food is usually a feast of many colours and they eat together as one family, even though some of them hadn’t even met each other before this trip. It’s lovely and very different from my usual guests who are usually from more independent, individuality based cultures. In so many ways they really fit with the Egyptian culture. If one is sick they all rally round and take care of her, although unlike Egyptian culture, they don’t feel compelled to sit with her the whole time or crowd by her bedside!

In other ways they are very different. For instance, if they don’t understand something someone says (since some of the girls don't speak English) they just giggle wildly and run away! It is very endearing... but I can only imagine how that reaction would be viewed by Egyptian men where laughing is seen often as a ‘yes I am interested’!

It has been fun also trying to educate them about what is ok to wear when walking in the street and what isn’t. They understand the covering up... but often it has been with brightly coloured, off the shoulder dresses that cling to their body and expose their shoulder and bra strap. When I point it out, they don’t understand why it should be a problem. They have a point. It shouldn’t be. Unfortunately in Cairo the men in the street often haven’t learned to control their base instincts yet which is why we women need to protect ourselves by trying to second guess what will switch them on. This is not a Chinese in Cairo issue, but a women in Cairo issue.

Another interesting thing I have noticed is that, perhaps due to limited English or perhaps due to a cultural difference, there seems to be in their minds a Right and a Wrong way to do everything, seldom with grey areas in between. Whether in dance, or in cooking, or in anything the phrase ‘you MUST do this, Not this’ is used. With those words strongly stressed and appropriate facial expressions used. I don’t know if it’s my nature, or just having lived here so long now, I am a much more 'well you have all these options... and you CAN do any of them, but these are the consequences of each and you can chose which you prefer' type of person.

Even with dance, my attitude is these are the steps, these are examples of how to put them together, now play with it. This unsettles them since they are used to choreography and being told this is the right way to do the move and this wrong. Unfortunately in Egyptian dance even between two Egyptian dancers they will both disagree as to what is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to do a move therefore the Chinese girls get confused when they have so many teachers (who all must be ‘right’- after all, they are ‘teachers’) but who contradict one another. I can almost see these girl’s brains getting tied in knots trying to work out what they should do!

This black or white attitude does seem to fit with Egyptian culture too where people are always telling other you Mustn’t wear this/that, Do this/that, Say this/that. It’s something that drives me nuts to tell the truth! I prefer to be responsible for my own actions than to be controlled in this way.  On this note I wonder if the strength of belief in telling people they ‘must’ comes from the way the countries are governed? In dictatorships, it is never encouraged that people should think for themselves, that they should veer from the path allocated to them. It’s just a thought. I am by no means an expert in world politics or on Chinese philosophy! It is all good to open the mind though!

Anyway... I’m off to the studio now to investigate the clattering of sticks. Ahmed Refaat is here teaching the girls some fancy saaidi stick twirling moves.... they like the martial arts style of stick swinging (another cultural link?)

1 comment:

Sandra said...

Not sure whether you would know this but I am curious what brings Chinese women to live in Cairo ... I see a lot of them selling phones, etc. in the coffee shops. I would think Egypt would be a difficult country to immigrate to (language barriers, etc.) and I wonder what it has to offer that China doesn't. According to one article I found they come for marriage, but is there something else? Are they brought here for domestic jobs and then mistreated maybe?