On Being Yellow

We were told we have yellow skin.  No one has white skin, that’s ridiculous.  Mongolians, mostly, have brown skin.  Mongolians with very dark skin are considered black (as are most people of African descent) and Mongolians with lighter skin are yellow.

We stick out in a crowd, especially in late fall and winter when there are relatively few tourists.  Most days, I go all day without seeing any other foreigners of European descent (except for those who attend the same language school as me or live with me.)

Sometimes things happen because we are yellow-skinned foreigners that wouldn’t likely happen otherwise. 

Here are two examples from last Saturday when we were wandering around the capital building:

First, LeYanna was invited into a picture with some Mongolian children who were visiting from the countryside.  By invited I mean that the adults looked at her and pointed to her and motioned that she should get into the picture.  She’s obedient, and not particularly shy so she didn’t mind jumping in.  I didn’t mind either but it’s weird thinking she’s in some random person’s pictures on Facebook or someone’s ger wall somewhere.

Why did they want her in the picture?  Because a yellow-skinned foreign kid is a novelty and they wanted a picture of their kids with one.  It makes me feel a little better about the pictures westerners tend to take on mission trips.  We’re not the only people with the “take a picture with the cute little foreign kid” impulse. Maybe we exploit it more, I don’t know.

Second, I was asked to be in a commercial.  They were doing one of those “man on the street” ads where they walk up and say, “Can I pay you $300 to throw your iPhone on the ground?” then introduce you to their new unbreakable iPhone case.  My job was to say, “No, sorry, I’m too busy.”  Which was easy, because I was.  LeYanna was hungry and we were getting ready to head to lunch. It took about 4 minutes, tops.  But I likely wouldn’t have been asked if I weren’t a yellow-skinned foreigner who spoke English.

If I ever see the ad and can post a link to it, I will.

We’re lucky that, even though we’re a minority, we’re a privileged minority.  We occasionally get more attention, but we’ve never gotten harassed because of our skin color or nationality by other people* or by the government.  For this we are grateful.


*though we do become more likely targets for people who are pick-pocketing because, statistically, foreigners are less careful and have more money, I think.

Fun Fact:  Mongolians tell me I have blond hair; in America, I’d have brown hair.  Here the most common hair colors, according to Mongolians, are black and brown.  American’s would consider Mongolian brown either to be black or dark brown, leaving room for me to be just normal brown but Mongolians are more sensitive to the variations in the dark colors and less sensitive to the variations on the light colors.  So I’m a yellow-skinned blonde foreigner 🙂

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