Wo Shi – What?
Q. What’s this ‘Shanghai’ place you live in?
A. Shanghai used to be a muddy little fishing village on the banks of the Huangpu River. Then the British came and set up civilization, which immediately led to huge numbers of illegal immigrants arriving to take advantage of the business climate. Some very decent Americans, Japanese and Russians also showed up. Oh yes, and some French. By the 1920’s Shanghai was a booming centre of trade and had become known worldwide as ‘The Whore of the Orient’. Never had the world seen such a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Nowadays, of course, everything is very different: more people have televisions and some of the buildings are a little taller. There’s an ambitious social program (due to be completed by 2008 2012), in which people are being trained to walk across the street only when the little green light is on. An even more ambitious and longer-term program aims to have all citizens able to both walk and chew gum simultaneously without any foreign assistance whatsoever by 2057. It’s all happening in this fast-changing mega-fishing village.
Q. What’s a ‘Laowai’?
A. Laowai is Mandarin for a no-good, uncultured and stupid barbarian who basically just comes to glorious China to steal jobs and women. Laowai’s come from uncivilized and awful places that have no culture, no history, and nothing whatsoever to like. A laowai, in fact, is the lowest conceivable grade of pond-scum. A less accurate, but more literal, translation is ‘foreigner’.
Q. I don’t live in Shanghai, am I a laowai?
A. If you can read, write and know who your parents actually are, rest assured that you are, indeed, a laowai.
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