Being a Laowai (老外) in Chengdu
I’m sure all of you who have been to China are used to sticking out like a sore thumb. If you haven’t been to China yet, be prepared for long stares and maybe a few questions about you, your life, your family, your girlfriend/boyfriend (or why you don’t have one), your studies, why you came to China, your favourite Chinese food, your future plans etc. Coming from the cosmopolitan UK, it’s easy to be surprised at how fascinated China and its population can be at the prospect of sitting next to a foreign person whilst on public transport. In my case, walking around with afro hair, dark but-not-quite-fully-African skin has made me the subject of many confused stares and interesting questions.
‘Look there’s a foreigner!’ ‘Oh my God you speak Chinese?!’ and ‘Your nose isn’t big enough to be African! Where are you really from?’ are some of the encounters that I’ve had here. Surprisingly however, all of these happened in China’s north-eastern, more cosmopolitan capital of Beijing. During my albeit short time in Chengdu, I’ve not been subject to the same level of curiosity. Yes some of the perks of being foreign are still here (i.e free drinks at Miu bar for not having a Chinese face), but I haven’t really had to deal with people stopping to have a good look or heart failure at my rather mediocre Mandarin speaking.
I sound disappointed? Yes I am slightly- everyone loves a bit of celebrity attention from time-to-time no? And for me at least, it’s been part of the China experience. But then I realised the people that I encounter in Chengdu are city-dwellers, they’re middle class and they’ve probably been abroad. Beijing, on the other hand, seemed to have a larger number of migrant workers who haven’t had those same experiences. However, once I’d ventured out of Chengdu, I got the attention I’d somewhat missed:
Have fun in China guys and make the most of all the attention while it lasts! Apply now for an internship in Chengdu, Zhuhai and Qingdao.