My unmistakable East Asianness often helps me escape detection as a laowai. Still, there are a myriad small ways that I give the game away.
- Wear unattractive hiking sandals in the dead of subtropical “winter”
- Read books in English
- Write in a journal in English (this one is a shocker. A guy on the subway almost broke his neck he did a double take so hard at seeing me scrawling in English.)
- Be seen in the proximity of white people
- Converse with white people
- Speak flawless English
- Foolishly attempt to sprint up the nearly vertical hill on the running trail, while all the ayis leisurely stroll up
- Work out in T-shirts that say ILLINOIS MARATHON
- Say miantiao (noodles) with the wrong tones
Basically, as long as I don’t open my mouth or speak any word in any language ever, I’m good, or so I tell myself.
As always, my kiddos at work are still the most perplexed at the American accented Asian person. Every new class comes with a chorus of “Ni shi zhonguoren ma?”s, and more recently, “Ni shi inguoren ma?” Which…really? BRITISH?