Tuesday, May 5, 2015

White Monkey: The View from the Other Side

One of the very first words you learn to recognize, as a non-chinese speaker in China, is the word laowai. The two characters read as old/老 & outside/外; together, 老外, they mean "foreigner." You hear the word ...well, just ALL THE TIME. Walk into a shop & it will sound out like a public service announcement for the attention of all those in the room who might not have noticed that yes, indeedy, you are not Chinese. Politely, you'd be addressed as a waiguoren 外国人 , an "outside-country person", so laowai's maybe a little rude, a little slangy, maybe kin to a Southerner calling NYer me a Yankee.

Sometimes I hear it while I'm on my bike: stopped at a light, the rider on the back of the motorcycle next to me informs the rider in the front: "laowai." It's my favorite [obnoxious] trick to turn to that keen observer of phenomena, and ask, excitedly, in Chinese, "Really? Where?! Where?!" This almost always produces a look of total consternated embarrassment on the faces of my fellow travelers. Very satisfying.

It's the Foreigner's Cabinet of Chinese Curiosities because I'm definitely an outside person looking in, making up sense for things foreign to me. Here, from the New York Times, a  slightly cynical, very funny/cringe-inducing video of the view from the other side. In low moments, in his former position, HWI'mT would bitterly decry that all he'd been hired to do was to be the "white monkey" at various functions & now, who's to argue...


We've started house hunting in the suburbs of Kunshan, a small city (only by Chinese standards: 7 million pop) an hour or so from Shanghai and exactly smack dab inside the housing bubble described in the video. Now we can swing into negotiations with the secret bargaining weapon: we can be the loss leader! The manager of one "Canadian style" (?!?) compound has already told me that he'd be so happy to have us, a better quality of tenant, professors & artists, culture people, in his compound. Extra discount if we swan about in our Royal Mountie hats?


  1. Well, I'm packing my bags. It would be wrong of me to deny the international city of the future.

  2. Oh, Marta, would be so great if you really did come!! Meanwhile, thanks for visiting in cyber space...