If you are of non-Asian origins one of the first words you will hear in China is 老外lǎowài or 外国人wàiguórén, meaning “foreigner”. Although there are many foreigners living in China now, if you are not in Beijing or Shanghai most people won’t be used to seeing you all the time.What does being a Laowai mean?
Usually people will be happy to meet you. Some might be curious and ask where you are from and what you are doing in China. They will be really happy if you are able to speak in Chinese with them, even if it’s just a few words they will praise your Chinese with ‘你的中文很好.’ –“Your Chinese is really good.” even if you just said ‘你好 ‘ – “Hello“.
Many people will just bluntly stare at you, some might call out the word Laowai, or even say ‘hello’. At the beginning I tried to be friendly and greet back, but at some point it was just too much and I started to ignore it. You will feel like a star when you go to a tourist place, because many Chinese people will take the chance to get a picture not only of the scenery, but also of ‘the foreigner’. Some might ask you to take a picture together with them.
The first thing people usually will ask is if you are American. If you are from the US, that’s great! If you are not, explain to them where you come from and that there are some other countries in the world, it is always good to know your country’s name in Chinese (https://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/countrynames_chinese.htm). If you have anything your country is famous for, also point that out and they might have an idea, for Germany it’s usually cars and beer. Even if you don’t like stereotypes, they are what most people know in the end. 😉
In addition to being photographed by random strangers, you will also be asked by some people if you want to be their model or attend their event, the so-called ‘White face event’. They just need your foreign appearance to make their customers and other people think that they are very international. You could try it for a once in a lifetime experience, but most of the times it’s better to stay away.
There will also be problems, especially in tourist places, like people trying to get more money from you, because they think you are the rich foreigner. But it gives you a chance to practice your bargaining skills with them. And compared to European prices many things in China are really cheap.
There are so many clubs in China and of course they want to attract more customers. One way of doing that is to be ‘the place where the foreigners go’. So many places will give foreigners a table and free alcohol. But careful, don’t expect to be invited all the time and don’t drink too much. ;-P
I think my face looks pretty average, but in China I have heard dozens of people say, that I am so pretty. Maybe they just want to be nice, or they are fascinated by my different looks. They especially like blonde hair, curly hair, different eye colors, tall guys and our ‘big and long noses’. Well I’m not sure if I should take people saying my nose looks pretty as a compliment. It’s always nice to hear some flattery, so be careful and don’t become conceited.
Want to experience being a laowai in China? Then come for an internship and Apply Now!
Ciao i miei tesorini!
So this weekend, despite the fact that I did not go to Bangkok, I managed to have a ball in Chengdu!
Getting there was a bit rough, my flight was supposed to leave Guangzhou at 20.30 on Friday so I left work a bit early but by the time I had gone through security and waited a bit, the status of the flight was changed to delayed. Jamie had forewarned me about domestic Chinese flights being infamous for delays so I couldn’t say that I was too surprised. A delay of about 5 hours, however, was not expected. The mixture of frustration along with the propensity to complain by Chinese people was something to see – the poor airline employee was surrounded by an angry mob of flyers yelling at him. Don’t kill the messenger, guys! But never fear! McDonalds and bottled water quickly arrived and placated most of the crowd, although a few of the angrier ones went over to the Air China counter and demanded that we fly out on time, only to no avail. For me, it was a good 5 hours actually, I made the acquaintance of three Hong Kongers who were going to Tibet via Chengdu and we changed contact info and I plan to meet up with them in August when I am in HK!
I arrived in Chengdu and got to my hostel at about 5.00, much later than I was expecting! I slept for about 4 hours and then woke up and headed over to the “People’s Garden” which is a massive park in Chengdu with many tea houses where you can just sip on some longjing tea and read/chat/play mah-jong for hours. I opted for reading and thoroughly enjoyed Italo Calvino’s Eremita a Parigi.
The rest of the first day I wandered quite a bit – saw some nice temples, a science museum, the main shopping area/pedestrian street where I people-watched for quite a bit but actually found that people were often so interested in me that they’d ask for some photos and make small talk, often limited by a combination of my bad Putonghua and their limited command of English.
A note about the food: AMAZING. SPICES AND PEPPERS GALORE. I can truly only hope to hire my own personal chef from Sichuan when I am older 😉
Saturday night was a bit crazy and I met up with some people in the Couch Surfing community – thanks for the suggestion, Jamie! Went to a chill Jamaican-esque bar called “Hemp House” and played the illustrious dice-game and then went to the most ridiculous club I have ever been in my life! The only option was table service with either brandy or cognac – luckily one of my new acquaintances knew people and we didn’t have to pay! 😉 – The night went into morning and I didn’t get to sleep until 5.30, which normally isn’t a problem, but I had to wake up at 7 to go see the famous PANDAS. I managed and although I was suffering – the visit to the panda centre was well worth it. The pandas are so lively and playful – even watching them munch on bamboo is interesting!!
The rest of Sunday is a mix of eating, napping, wandering and reading.
Had to wake up at 5 this morning to catch my flight back to Guangzhou and then a bus back to Zhuhai and here I am.
I ADORED Chengdu and plan to go back there ASAP – the dichotomy of the “most relaxed city” in China along with the energy of the people leads to such a chill yet happening place.
This upcoming weekend, white water river rafting with my host mother and her colleagues is on the agenda so expect another good blog post then!!