At the invitation of an international education consulting firm, I went to China for the first time in July. Although I was born and raised in Taiwan, I had never been to Mainland China. My trip got off to a rocky start as the flight from Raleigh-Durham to Washington DC was delayed, thus I missed my international connection. After a long negotiation with the airline’s representative in DC, and literally running through two airports, I was relieved and happy to finally be able to get on a flight to Beijing in Chicago. As I settled into my seat, I looked around and realized that I was no longer a “minority.” There was comfort in being among people who looked like me.
Because of severe thunderstorms in Beijing during my stay, I ended up spending more time waiting around for flights in airports than in my destination cities. While waiting, I also had ample time to observe how people treat one another, and manage stressful situations.
Most of the frontline customer service workers in China were young women. My travel companion reminded me that in China, job applicants included their photo and date of birth on their resumes. In addition to education, many employers also specify height and weight requirements.
As the flights between Beijing and Shenzhen were delayed multiple times, tempers flared, and I witnessed several men direct their frustration at the lone young female agent at the boarding gate. One agent was on the verge of tears. Later on, I too became a target of anger. When my companion tried to resolve a discrepancy between her travel document and the airline’s computer records, a man in the line behind us yelled: “What is your problem? Get out of the way. Don’t waste everybody’s time.” I turned around and responded in Mandarin: “What is your rush? We have been waiting in line just like you.” I couldn’t help but wonder what his reasons for focusing on us—two women traveling together—rather than the previous two men who had checked in about twenty boxes. It seemed to me that the two men had taken an even longer time to check in than we had.
My first trip to China was an eye-opening experience. I became much more aware of my gender in China than in the U.S. In spite of its rapid economic development, China maintains its patriarchal and hierarchical society. I also recognized my privilege as an American visitor. When I chose to speak up, I could leave and not have to deal with the negative social consequences. I am still considering ways to advocate for equity in an intercultural context.