Welcome to LivingLaowai! I’m Emma and this is my travel blog for my summer 2k16 trip in China. I left for China on May 17th and will be returning to Canada on August 17th. I will update the blog occasionally (depending on how reliable the internet is) with pictures, stories and observations from Beijing, Shanghai, Zhengzhou, Hong Kong and any other places that I might find myself in.
The word ‘laowai’ is Pinyin for ‘foreigner.’ It is a word that is often thrown my way as I wander down the streets or into shops. Technically it is a neutral term but it always seems to come loaded with meaning, usually it is a tossup between an excited and happy ‘look! a foreigner! how wild and exotic!’ or an annoyed ‘silly, slow, bumbling tourist who still doesn’t seem to know how to cross the street.’
I have developed a love-hate relationship with the word, sometimes enjoying the perks that being a laowai in China has (the other day I got a free plate of food at a restaurant) but also being uncomfortable with what it means to be a laowai in China (getting free food at restaurants because I am a foreigner). My time here in China is largely defined and shaped by me being so clearly identifiable as a foreigner, much of what I have experienced so far has been because of my physical appearance (and also my lack of Chinese language skills). As I begin to write this blog it is a good reminder for myself to acknowledge that what I see and experience are filtered through this word ‘laowai,’ in writing this blog I am by no means making objective statements of the people or places that I see and interact with nor am I passing any judgement.
So how did I end up in China for the summer?
Last summer I was doing research on Jodo Shinshu Buddhism in San Francisco and my adviser approached me with an amazing opportunity to do similar research in Shanghai- how could I say no?! So here I am exactly one year later continuing to do mostly independently led research on contemporary Buddhist practice here in Shanghai. I am balancing this work out with a lot of fun though- lots of exploring, getting lost, attempting to learn some Chinese, discovering new foods and just enjoying this totally new, yet oddly comfortable city.
Lǎowài / 老外 — Foreigner
Lǎo- 3rd tone (3rd tone is the most difficult for me, I have been told that dropping my chin down and then bringing it back up creates the right sound for 3rd tone.)
wài- 4th tone (4th tone is very assertive, stomping your foot or bringing your head down helps create the right sound.)