Upon returning from Bangkok, I was pretty cranky. Perhaps the worst culture shock I've experienced in my three years outside the States. It might have to do with the fact that the week I spent in Bangkok with my pregnant friend (who has given birth to a healthy boy) was probably the most luxurious week I've had in ... a while. We spent the entire time walking from air-conditioned soda shop to air-conditioned gelato shop, drinking cold beverages, eating lots of delicious Thai and western food, and, of course, ice cream.
So perhaps it's not surprising that when I got back to the dirty 'du, it was quite the contrast. Central AC doesn't seem to exist outside of the highest-end shopping malls (which I've never set foot in), there is certainly no gelato shop that I know of here, and I tend to walk a lot faster when I'm walking alone. But I was mostly re-bothered by the staring. And then, because I was allowing it to bother me, I was getting annoyed at myself. I'd have to say the vast majority of people don't even notice me, especially if I'm walking with my head down, or, if they do, don't respond to it. So it's not even that many people who take an obvious good look, but some of those who do make it so obvious (body swiveling 180 degrees, neck craning) that I couldn't help but cringe.
But it's been a few weeks, and I'm over it again. Chengdu's been my home for the past two years, and I have recently decided that it will continue to be for at least another year. Because while people here might stare, I've worked at learning how to speak Chinese and can now communicate reasonably well, and a lot of people are just out and out friendly once that barrier is broken through--which is something that was really pointed out to me during my stay in Bangkok, when I really couldn't communicate beyond getting food.
Next, I just have to figure out how to get a visa...