Ah, it’s Laowai Crackdown season again. Time to cringe as we watch the latest laowai misbehavior on viral video and self-righteously point out that we would never ever think of acting like that. Time to feel a bit indignant about getting stopped and asked for our passports outside the bar because he didn’t stop anybody who looked Chinese even though there were some ABC’s in the group and that’s basically racial profiling, isn’t it? And you heard what Yang Rui said, that we are all just “unemployed Americans and Europeans who come to China to make money.” He should definitely get fired for that.
Saying that we’re here because we can’t hack it back home is one of the more stinging accusations a China expat can hear. Of course, for the vast majority of us, that simply isn’t true, but perhaps one of the reasons it makes us so uncomfortable to hear is that, like many of the most insidious lies, there is a tiny grain of truth hidden inside. There are lots of other reasons we are here of course. Good, legitimate reasons. We are here to learn the language. To do business. To make some money. To learn something about the world. So our kids will be bilingual. For love. But the hard truth is, sometimes there are things we’d rather leave behind us.
Personally, I’d like to leave Christmas back home in the good ‘ole US of A. Here it is May and you can still see half a dozen rotting Christmas displays in various storefronts around town. Luckily the screechy Jingle Bells soundtrack has stopped playing at the supermarket and I don’t have to put on a fake grin and teach the kids how to say “Santa Claus” instead of “The old man of Christmas” this time of year. That’s good because Christmas is about family and to be perfectly honest… family is something I’m happy to have pretty far away as well.
On “Everybody Loves Raymond” they tried to get a house that was outside the “hot lasagna zone.” In other words far enough away that Raymond’s parents couldn’t randomly show up at the front door with a hot lasagna as an excuse for dropping by. Of course they failed miserably, ending up with a house right next door, and boy was that ever a mistake! China is way, way outside the “hot lasagna zone.” So not only can your dreaded in-laws not stop by and find your house a mess, you have a pretty good excuse for not showing up at family gatherings. “Gosh, I’d love to be there, but as it turns out… I’m in China!” Best excuse ever. Way better than saying “Wow, I’d love to come but as I recall at holiday dinners I often ended up scrubbing those dinners off the wall and out of the carpet because you flew into a rage over…yes, that’s right, over nothing. Oh yeah, and making myself invisible because if you noticed me for any reason I’d be the next thing that had to be scrubbed out of the carpet. Sounds delightful, I’ll book myself onto the next plane there!”
Turns out to even work as an excuse when your Dad has a sudden heart attack and is in the hospital on the other side of the world for major heart surgery. Not quite as comfortably, though.
For so many of my Chinese friends, family is everything. The notion that there could be any valid excuse for a daughter not rushing to be by her father’s side at a time like this is, as Vizzini so eloquently put it, absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable. I don’t want to be judged. Especially since for most of my Chinese friends and acquantances, I’m the only laowai they know. Therefore, whatever I do and say, as far as they know, that’s how all us laowai are. We are all blue-eyed cheese loving Firefly fans who can’t eat peppers, in case you run into one of mine, just FYI. So in an effort not to add “unfilial” to the image of the laowai, (or at least not to reinforce the notion) I haven’t really been mentioning the whole Dad/heart attack/surgery thingy to most of my Chinese friends.
And then there’s the problem of telling other expats. You’d think that would be a bit easier. After all, we may have only known each other for six weeks but we’ve bonded on such a deep level over our mutual love of chuanr and that little laduzi issue we all had the next day. And while you guys may call soccer “football” or drink an alarming amount of vodka every night, here we are, in China, together. We have that unbreakable laowai bond! We’ve all cringed at the falsetto hello’s and been told we are too fat to even think about trying on anything in the whole shop. We’re close! I just know we will keep in touch even though you are thinking about maybe going to India for a little while next month, and possibly spending some time with the Peace Corps in Cambodia. You’ll be back, I just have a good feeling about you. We’re best buds, right?
But I’ve heard you talking about those other laowai. Those jerks who are just here to pick up Chinese chicks half their age and those other ones with no social skills. And that guy who’s been here five years and still can’t manage to say much more than “shay shay?” Losers. All of ‘em. Yeah they couldn’t get a job back home and I doubt if they can hack it in China much longer, either.
What’s that? You want to hear about how my week’s going? Um, yeah. About that. It’s been a little bit… I mean I’m having kind of a rough…
No, no, I mean everything’s going pretty good, you? Let’s go get some chuanr and a beer, eh? Did you hear that what’s his name blind lawyer guy finally got out of China? Fantastic, I know, right?