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Yes, I am a laowai, but from here

Popularity 9Viewed 8879 times 2014-2-27 17:33 |System category:Life| laowai, foreigner, scams, steroeotypes

Maierwai writes that "An expat/student living in China for a considerable amount of time is a lot different from a tourist" .

One problem from that, a source of anything from annoyance, through amusement to frustration. is that some Chinese locals cannot distinguish between a laowai fresh off a plane and lacking knowledge of China ways and an experience-hardened laowai, long in China.

Arrive at Beijing T3  off a business flight from Shanghai, exit domestic arrivals, find oneself soon mixed with nearby international arrivals and for sure the annoying "taxi Sir"' "hotel Sir" and whatever else kicks in. Of course these services are designed to rip off an unsuspecting newbie (and not the nicest way to give a visitor a first impression of China). The fact that I came out with a very small carry on bag from a few days away does not seem to register. If I had just come in off a long-haul flight from UK or US, I should win an award for efficient international packing for sure!


When I have a foreign visitor with me and about to walk along Shanghai's Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street, I say "By the way, people know me here, but by my nickname 'Rolex" and sure enough within a few moments a smiling face comes up and says "Hi. Rolex!" After several encounters I may have to explain that I am also known as "Omega" .

This happens despite my usually wearing Chinese brand and China purchased clothes, including a China Red colored jacket, even a PLA type watch with China crest and a useful mini compass built in. That might be a clue that I have been here before. A bit of Chinese like "bu yao" is a fair hint!  Yes, I actually bought a cheap model of the Oriental Pearl Tower back in  2003 from persistent vendors on the Bund, but I haven't come back to start a collection of them.

I find, perhaps like other long term laowai, that, sometimes, I need to take refuge in places I am familiar with and they with me, so I can enjoy a drink and a chat without being seen as a "prospect" for fake drinks, counterfeit money scams and so on. I go to say Nihao to vendors in the famous markets who know me and I say I'll take my usual casual shirts at 200 rmb for 5, rather than the vendor to whom I am new, who can swear blind these are genuine silk, normally 300 rmb but 150 rmb each to me as a "special friend"

I suspect that I have got battle hardened. There is no longer the excitement that a special deal might actually be a special deal, that one can actually get Dr Dre headphones for 50 rmb, that, with a kind heart, you are really helping someone down on their luck - begging. Once the police exposed a team of disabled beggars at T3 who were the slaves of a gang mistress who took all the donations, that damped my concern.

Yes I look like a laowai.. But from here, not from over there!

A short term laowai friend walks Nanjing Xi Lu, Shanghai

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Comment Comment (13 comments)

Reply Report Menling 2014-2-27 19:18
I think the beas way is to say Chinese
Reply Report Dr.Bill.Shen 2014-2-28 09:33
You are in shanghai. You have to speak some shanghainese. putonghua won't work. Shanghainese are very discriminating against people from other places of China.
Reply Report voice_cd 2014-2-28 17:52
Thanks for sharing your story here! We have highlighted your story to the homepage.
Reply Report LanaLiao 2014-2-28 21:18
hehe, poor guy! I have to say that a large number of Chinese  have long been used to considering that foreigners,especially westerners, are very wealthy, credulous and thus can thus be easily tricked. People think most foreigners must have enough money to burn, so they will not care whether or not they've spent much more than you should. As far as I know, this is a long-established concept in Chinese people's minds. In China, usually, only the rich can go abroad, so accordingly, the people who are abroad must be  the rich
Reply Report benji.yang 2014-2-28 22:40
I kind of feel the same way after a while - a lot of things that once surprised me, but now I find completely normal.
Reply Report wingless 2014-2-28 22:53
The concept that all foreigners are rich still applies in China and most of the vendors will try to rip you off. I have suffered enough of that.
Reply Report Dr.Bill.Shen 2014-2-28 23:17
As a matter of fact, even Chinese can get ripped off when step on some unfamiliar terrain. Occasionally I could be taken for a ride by taxi drivers. If I am pissed, I will ask a receipt, and claim I will complain to the phone number listed there. Though, I never call, but at least he has to be careful not apply the same scheme to next customer.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-3-1 02:14
So true. But here's a language difference. In UK "pissed" means "drunk" whereas in the US it means "angry" . At first I thought Bill meant if I am drunk I will ask for a receipt! Wow that shows attention in challenging circumstances:-)
Reply Report Dr.Bill.Shen 2014-3-1 03:57
ColinSpeakman: So true. But here's a language difference. In UK "pissed" means "drunk" whereas in the US it means "angry" . At first I  ...
Haha, thanks for point that out. Will bear that in mind.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-3-1 20:28
I was reminded of another of those laowai targeted scams yesterday. Walking the East Nanjing Lu, two cute little Chinese students (apparently) approached me to ask if I would take a photo of them together. I asked what they wanted behind them and they did not seem that bothered. I obliged. Then it turned to Where are you from? We are visiting Shanghai. Can you help us improve our English? Do you have time for coffee? After indulging in that bit of fun conversation, I politely declined. Many of us know these girls work for bars and hook in customers who end up paying for expensive drinks, even if you only buy coffee yourself. There are variations on this theme! I suppose the sad thing is if any of these approaches were ever genuinely to improve English, their chances are much diminished by the scams of others :-(
Reply Report remitrom 2014-3-10 03:46
I can certainly relate to your story.  I do enjoy my own "turf" where the locals know me.
compared to the places where I an new to. However I still meet friendly curious people
as well as the scammers.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-3-10 04:24
Yes, there's nice people and "scammy" people so I tried not to let the scams stereotype people who are genuine - but I feel I have to be careful about - going for coffee to practice English. There's a simple test. I say : OK let's go to that Starbucks, I'll buy you a coffee. If the other party said: No I do not like Starbucks, but I know a better place up there.. Well it is a clue!
Reply Report claudeckenni 2014-3-22 04:26
Yes, when I first arrived in China, I was a "good boy". Always stays in line, no matter how many people try to skip in front of me, giving money to beggars, etc. But now, after a year and a half, I've changed. If they push me when queueing for a bus, I will push them back. And I'm quite good at bargaining now, after being scammed a few times by street vendors, hahaha.

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International Educator, Economist, goal of helping to increase understanding of China by the West

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