The Wrong Laowai

I was told going in not to expect to be included in any advertising for my company. They’re just going to use the white people, that’s the draw.

And indeed, my white British friends are continually being snapped up for photoshoots. (My favorite involved a beach background and an umbrella) There is a particular premium placed on white guys, and white guys with a British accent are treated like unicorns, which I have some beef with, but that’s for another post.

Parents sometimes complain when they see me in their kids’ classes because they think I’m local and they want an international teacher. (Classes have two teachers who switch off on lessons, so an international teacher will teach one lesson and the local teacher will teach the other. The kids are promised at least one international teacher, since that’s what the parents want, as a result to local teachers are paid significantly less, which, again, endless beef, but I digress) They aren’t always appeased when it is explained that yes, I’m foreign and a native speaker, they want that white face.

This doesn’t bother me much. I knew it coming in, I’ve made my peace, I think.

It bothers me more when I go to a Western bar with some international people, and whenever I try to flag down a server I get waved away and bu yonged, while when a more obviously international person lifts a little finger they leap to attention.

It bothers me more when my friend (who was born in Honduras but is like me, always mistaken for Chinese here) is on the hunt for a new job, and is partway through the paperwork process when she gets a message that they have decided to stop considering her, as she “was not born in the United States so is not native American’. Never mind that she is an American citizen, with an American passport, and a native speaker -which is precisely what they were looking for- and never mind that being born somewhere else but making America your home is the whole point of America, and never mind that “Native American” means something along the lines of being a card carrying member of the Sioux tribe.

And whatever peace I’ve made, it sometimes does grate on the nerves when we sit through numerous corporate meetings of corporate bullshit, where all the teachers in every slide show or promotional picture are white as the driven snow.  I do understand that it’s just how in goes down in this market, but now that I’ve been in the trenches for five months now it reeks of disrespect not to acknowledge that half of their workforce is Chinese, and that American/British/Australian/Canadian can also mean Asian.

But it’s not all bad. Although my broken Chinese outs me as a foreigner, I can still get better deals in bargaining situations. And as my local teacher friend tells me, “Maybe we understand each other better [than the other international teachers] because you’re already Asian.”







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