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Not an "expat" in East Asia anymore (at least for the near future)

Popularity 6Viewed 5502 times 2015-4-29 10:50 |System category:Life| expats

I’ve been writing about China and have been criticizing things that bother me, not to insult or humiliate anyone but just to point out some facts. (That’s my personality, you can check “ENTP type” and go here to find about yours)

Now, before I tell about my nationality as I promised to, I want to criticize the “expat” community in East Asia and explain my reasons. 

Yes, not only the expats in China. I only spent 3 months in Korea but lived longer in Japan, and studied Japanese longer&more effectively than I did Chinese, and saw similar patterns in other Asian countries I travelled to, so I’d like to tell you how the broader picture looks to me.

(And by the way, if you studied Chinese in China and your teachers didn’t turn your classes to fat shaming, gay shaming, patriarchy promoting, tradition praising sessions you’re luckier than me)

My first blog here was about the word “expat”, and how expats assume it as a title. Some others warned me in the comments section that I was confusing the words “expat” and “expert”. I wasn’t, and I hadn’t even noticed the similarity to be honest. Years later, I'm writing something similar to it.


Everyone is unique, and everyone wants to feel special. Being in China makes you feel so, that’s right. But if that’s the only thing you think you’ve got; 1. You’re wrong and in delusion, 2. You’re just lazy and unaware, 3. You're really hopeless.

Guys, your accent makes you cool, your skin colour and nose shape makes people notice you and suddenly you feel your opinions count. You can even get jobs you’re not qualified back home.

Gals, your skin colour and nose makes you exotic and beautiful, and you suddenly feel you’re precious and your opinions count. People made you believe that getting a marriage proposal is the highest achievement in your life and in China it comes out of nowhere and leaves you shocked. You can even get jobs you’re not qualified back home.

These are flattering, but why don’t you try to develop yourself and add some *real* skills to your portfolio, other than, ahem, your nationality?


Expats are well aware of these, especially those who stayed in this part of the world long enough. That’s what makes some them VIOLENT against others. I had a Russian friend who felt upset when she saw other Slavic women around. A Danish friend of mine told me another laowai gave him a “You’re not welcome here” look as he was parking his bike. As some of you know, on this forum people told me I shouldn't be qualified to teach English, and that I should be “shamed” on my pay day. I was also bullied by an American guy at the school I worked. In my country I am qualified to teach English, work as a translator, do business and manage multilingual correspondence and earn a living, and remember the days I was bullied in China. I interviewed with a multinational publishing company a month ago, and both interviewers were surprised at my level of English. WHO IS THE LOSER?

I don’t want to shame anyone, you can teach English and buy a house in Korea, and you only need an American passport and some patience. Go ahead, I’m not judging you.

But I judge you when you attempt to bully me. Why does my existence disturb you so much? Why do you want to avoid the fact that you don't represent the rest of the world?

(By the way, I wouldn’t teach as a fulltime job, that’s not the career I want. I worked part time in China, and usually was substituting for other teachers when are sick or have things to do. They were grateful, and I was happy, and so were the students. Yeah I act silly when I teach, and children love it)


I’ve noticed that especially Americans categorize people so easily. A young woman/man with… white privilege in Asia? An entitled misfit who can’t hold a job in their home country? (I wrote about it before, a Chinese teacher said “I don’t think foreigners have enough patience to read Chinese fiction” during a class about contemporary Chinese fiction).

Our mutual experience is that to Chinese people our one and only identity is “laowai”, which means we are illiterate and whatever they saw on music videos. Why do you project the same prejudice on me (or on other foreigners), knowing that it’s so biased? Do you want to be the only one taking advantage of it? Why?


What motivated me for writing this blog is actually a Tumblr account. I’m not in China anymore, so no more expat talk. The Tumblr account I came across is run by several American/Canadian Chinese, and they answer questions mainly about Asian cultural appropriation. Someone posted, a friend of theirs went to China with their family, lived there for a year, and returned to join an event, and they showed up in Chinese dresses (qipao). The person who posted the question was upset about it, and so was the answerer: “If the event is not related to Asian culture, it’s definitely inappropriate”. I thought of my shirts and dresses, I have plain ones I can even wear when doing grocery shopping (OK, maybe not the dresses, but the shirts). Why should it offend any Asian person? Why would it mean that I “own” their culture?

My grandparents didn’t wear Western clothing in their youth. Now am I offending any Westerners with my clothes?

I know the glasses offend everyone though, that's why had to use this photo.

One thing I learnt in Japan was that people there focus on the differences. There are two glasses on the table, “but one is full!” There are two kinds of fruit on the table, “but one is red!”

Focusing on differences makes you discriminate. Makes you isolate yourself. Makes it harder to connect. Think about it!

Appropriating Japanese culture here.

I made friends from various countries during my time in Asia, and I cherish them. I said “hi” to strangers on the street or smiled back at them, just because we are both foreigners. We have something in common, even though we are “foreigners” to each other. I connected with people from very different walks of life, even though they were “foreign” to me. Maybe that’s why there are Chinese people who think all foreigners can speak English and are always friendly.

If we met… in your country, how would you see me? In Japan I’ve seen some Americans avoid me. A French girl would turn her head away when I talked. When I was in Europe, I was so nervous to do everything right that I acted just weirdly.

There are things I don’t approve, and there are many things I criticize about my country (because it’s normal to be critical here! Surprise, surprise). I feel the political situation in my country is pathetic, and I am pessimistic about it. But none of these mean I am ashamed. I just don’t want Chinese people, who know very little about my country, to make ill informed assumptions. (“A little learning is a dangerous thing”, says Alexander Pope)

And I don’t want you expats, to judge any of my ideas by bringing in your assumptions about my nationality.

We live in a complicated world, things are not as easy as they are in China. People, like those “cultural appropriation” people, are so ready attack you for small things. I understand if you dye your skin black for Halloween, it’s wrong because skin colour is not a costume, but we don’t even have Halloween here for God’s sake. It’s not a “foreigner’s festival”, as far as I know it’s only celebrated in the US (and ahem, Japan!).


I hope I could explain my reasons for not disclosing my nationality, and why I stopped enjoying to be among expats after some time… Here’s a bonus, it’s unfortunately a youtube video and it’s not on youku. I’m all for diversity and individualism, and the title of the video is “Slavoj Zizek (Big Think) why political correctness is a form of totalitarianism”. I hope you enjoy.

And see people as individuals, not as an extension of their passports.

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




Shake hands


Friends who just made a statement (4 Person)

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Comment Comment (2 comments)

Reply Report claudeckenni 2016-2-21 17:27
Nice post, Maierwei (hey im back, do you remember me?)
I can relate to what you write and yes I agree that in Asia, people really do discriminate us by skin colors.
I'm an Asian and due to my background, I look freakin' similar to a Chinese. But I'm not. So while other laowai stand out in the crowds, I was almost invisible to Chinese's eyes. But strange things do happen. Whenever I walk out with my Ukrainian best friend, Chinese strangely only want to talk to me, not him. My Ukrainian friend's Chinese is WAY BETTER than me (he passed HSK 6 with flying colors) and he doesn't have accent at all, but whenever he speaks, Chinese don't understand him and ask me to translate. It took me a while to realize that it's not because his Chinese are not good, but because the Chinese is not paying attention to what he said.

Now being an Asian in China has its ups and downs. One of the upside is, the street merchant will give me a slighty cheaper price rather than when he was selling to other foreigners. The scammers that we could usually found in bus or train stations didn't really approach me when Im alone (but will aggressively talk to me whenever I walk with my foreigner friends, thinking that I was their translator)

Now about the downside. I have applied to teach English part time at so many places, but none will accept me because I didn't look like a foreigner (golden hair, blue eyes, white skin). I know my English is not perfect, but I can use English to communicate with no problem. In my former university, whenever they have a sport day parade, my foreigner friends will be in the front of the line, waving flags, carrying the faculty banner, taking pictures with the Dean and other big shots. Meanwhile us, Asian foreigners, will stand in the end of the line together with the Chinese students. The only time they will notice us is when we are performing in the stage using our countries' traditional clothes. With my traditional clothes on, I'm a foreigner. Take off the traditional clothes and I'm invisible.

Luckily I never get this unfair treatment from the other foreign students. They might not looks so friendly at first, but after hanging out together a few times, we are good friends. I don't know where you are from, and I honestly don't care. If one day you ever visit Indonesia or China again, contact me, we can meet up and have fun together. I planned to be in China for a long time and I hope we can be good friend outside of this CD forum. Good luck, wherever you are, and Im always waiting for your next article =)
Reply Report Maierwei 2016-4-12 01:41
Thank you for your comment! I do remember you and your post with the photo of a llama mixed in sheep: "day xy they still think im one of them" :D that was hilarious.

I already disclosed the information that I am from Turkey in one of my latest articles.

"It took me a while to realize that it's not because his Chinese are not good, but because the Chinese is not paying attention to what he said."
This happens way to often and is very disturbing. In Japan I was with a Chinese friend of mine, I speak Japanese without any accent while my Chinese friend had an audible Chinese accent. Everyone replied to him.

I moved to Belgium, here people don't understand I'm a foreigner either, and they don't discriminate at all. I sometimes get sneaky racist comments like "oh you dont look Turkish", but it's alright. They even listen to my horrible French and don't make assupmtions (ok at least not as much as Chinese people do)

The most disturbing thing is that, in Asia you are your looks. That is your one and only identity, while in other parts of the world you are allowed to have a personality with many layers and dimensions. Life is not as superficial as it is over there. I don't know if Indonesia would be included in Asia in terms of that statement.

I log in on this website extremely rarely. Appreciated your comment nevertheless. All the best!

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Whenever I get lost I look super-confident. Whenever I feel so scary, boring and ordinary people tell me I\'m so nice, interesting and friendly.


Recent comments

  • My Study Abroad in the UK 2017-1-6 22:17

    Hi, Maierwai. Admittedly, it is fun to read your blogs, as some of your stories about your life on exotic lands are intriguing and hilarious. However, I would also like to read about things you have experienced that would be billed as positive. Is there anything that your really appreciated when living abroad, e.g. in China, Japan, the UK and etc. I don't think that you are an overly cynical person, and you simply can't be critical of everything, right?

  • 有趣的人 needs to hold her tongue? 2016-12-22 09:30

    Maierwei: That question is common worldwide. They want to see if you have vision, if you plan to stay long in the company and take more responsibilities. They w ...
    Sorry for the late reply. Interesting. I will remember it in my next interview. Im working as a foreign teacher in China now, teaching my mother language in university. At the interview, they asked me a question like this
    "How long do you plan to teach in our university?"

    And I answered
    "At least for two years"

    And they accepted me. I don't know if my answer have nothing to do with it or not, but Im just trying to be honest with them hahaha.

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