I want to write about hanging out with foreigners, which might seem a strange topic to you. The fact of the matter is that for the past 3 years I haven’t spent much time with the other laowai (foreigners). At school there are so few, and aside from one or two I don’t spend much time with them outside of an occasional meal.
When I go somewhere, like Shanghai or another big city, I tend to mock or avoid the foreigners. When I overhear them in restaurants or out on the street I think they just sound so annoying. (I know, I’m too judgmental, but that’s how I feel.)
Even before I came to China I decided that I wasn’t going all the way across the world just to hang out with foreigners. I was going to meet Chinese people. And for the most part, I’ve stuck to that. My biggest group of friends has either been the foreign students (from Asian countries) or Chinese people (including students).
But I know that in going to study Chinese in Kunming I would be meeting a lot of other foreigners, and spending time with my fellow laowai. And instead of being annoyed I decided to embrace it. And you know what? I loved it.
I know I lucked out and managed to be with some people I could really get along with.
I was especially close with two guys Nick and Tyler (both Americans). Despite being totally different people, (and honestly Tyler was the stereotype of the kind of American I don’t like at all. Frat boy, ROTC, army brat, I judged him right off the bat. And every time he said something that didn’t fit the stereotype I had of him I would be surprised. Then he would say, “don’t put me in a box, Becky!” Lesson learned.) we clicked almost immediately. Even now, after being home a few weeks, I miss them more than I ever expected. We climbed mountains together, went clothes shopping together, danced our asses of (kind of) together, and even weixin’d together. They were also the two funniest people I have ever met and my biggest single memory from Kunming is laughing. Just laughing all the time.
But aside from them there was a whole cast of international characters. There was:
- a Canadian (who ironically was louder and more offensive then any of the Americans),
- an Indian
- a couple of Australians
- A girl from Czech republic
- A South African
- An American/British/Austrian hybrid
- Some Brits
- And a small amount of Americans (many of whom taught English in China).
That was the good thing about my classmates in Kunming (the ones I spent time with.) They could all speak Chinese. A lot of westerners living in China don’t speak Chinese. so when I hang out with them I am the defacto “chinese” person, telling the taxi driver where to go, ordering lunch, etc. And when we go out, we tend to stick together, unable to make local friends.
But not in Kunming. I always found it funny when I overheard chinese students speaking English to each other. I figure they all speak Chinese, why bother with english? But me and my classmates did the same thing. We didn’t climb a mountain, rather we “pa’d some shan.” And when one of us tripped on the street the others would say, “xiao xin, bro” (be careful).
When we walked into a place, we walked in like rock stars, immediately taking it over, fanning out, and meeting different people. We would reconnect a few times in a night, walk over to each others tables, but for the most part we would make our own way back at night after making our own friends. We didn’t have to take care of each other because we could all speak enough Chinese to get by.
One night we hung out with, and got to know the owner of a western bar, and the next night we hung out with, and got to know, the owner of a Chinese bar. All of us were equally comfortable speaking Chinese or English with people and it totally changed the experience for me (in a good way.)
I also learned a lot about other countries and cultures, such as the different languages of India, and bad words in England. I even learned a lot about my own culture. (Let’s face it, I’ve been a little out of the loop.) I now know about Fixies and Icing. And it was nice to speak normally, using as much slang and pop culture references as I wanted.
So I’d like to publicly apologize to all the foreigners who I have mocked in my head either silently or aloud to someone else. Y’all ain’t so bad. (well, not all of you anyway.)
At first I was envious, remembering that feeling of being so far removed. Then I was amazed at how long it has actually been. It seems like you left NH a lifetime ago, and every time I look at the letter I haven’t yet mailed that is sitting in the drawer I wonder if it seems 10 times as long for you.
I am so glad to hear that you are feeling truly at home.
When I get around to mailing my letter.. the one that’s a year and a half overdue, you will see that we are too. Although we hope to take our 9 month old traveling soon!
I appreciate your honesty in this post and understand where you’re coming from. Before I lived in Taipei, there were foreigners who warned me about other foreigners in Taipei that I didn’t quite understand till I got there. A woman who lives in Taichung with her Taiwanese husband and has a couple of kids (who speaks fluent Mandarin, by the way) tells me, “You will bump into foreigners who are quite snobbish; the whole ‘I am more local than thou.’ It became a child-like obnoxious contest. Some of them deeply feel they are some kind of unique snowflake. ‘The whole ‘Look at me, I actually have a Taiwanese friend and I ordered my coffee in Mandarin. Look how local I am!'” Which is absurd. One foreigner even tells me, “Give other foreigners dirty looks! You will feel more local! I feel so weird when I see a foreign person.” No, I wont. The last time I checked, you’re also a foreigner. Stop fooling yourself. Moreover, no Taiwanese local gave me a dirty look so I don’t get it.
I am glad I didn’t have that narrow-minded and poor assumption of what makes you more of a local or not because I would miss some great friendships with other foreigners. We all travel for our own personal reasons. Nobody is better than the other; we’re simply just trying to make our own mark in the world who happens to have different goals to reach.
I haven’t met any friends yet but I have only been living in Shanghai for a month. 🙂