#1: What the Heck is a Laowai?


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Here it is, the inaugural episode of Looking for Laowai! Through interviews with a diverse range of people, your hosts Hannah and Toni ask: what is a “laowai”? We hear different opinions on the use of the term “laowai” from expatriates from Europe and the US, Chinese locals like Zhang Ximing, a street vendor at People’s Square, Professor Feng from Guangzhou University of Foreign Studies, and more.

Brought to you by the Looking for Laowai team — Hannah, Toni, Ali and Averill — we hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed making it! Special thanks to Kathy, Christine, Mike M, and all our wonderful interviewees, who took the time to tell us their stories and share their thoughts.

Episode producer: Toni Friedman
Music credits: Sergio, freesound.org users: corsica-s, setuniman, kodack
Theme song: 4barrelcarb, “Ambient Strings and Synth Mix”

These works, licensed under the Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0), were changed from their original form and used in this podcast.
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0).

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Fat Shady, August, 2017. “瓜老外” (“Stupid Foreigners”). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIzSHvpMupw.

Further reading:
de Mente, Boye. The Chinese Have a Word for It: The Complete Guide to Chinese Thought and Culture. New York: McGraw Hill Professional, 2000.
Farrer, James. “Chapter 1, Foreigner Street: Urban Citizenship in Multicultural Shanghai,” in Multicultural Challenges and Redefining Identity in East Asia, ed. Nam-Kook Kim (London and New York: Routledge, 2014), 17-44.
Fechter, Anne and Katie Walsh. The New Expatriates: Postcolonial Approaches to Mobile Professionals. Oxford and New York: Routledge, 2012.
Lee, Keekok. Warp and Weft, Chinese Language and Culture. New York: Eloquent Books, 2008.
Mair, Victor. “Laowai: the old furriner.” http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=11626. Language Log, April 9, 2014.

Are you ready for Season 1?

Get ready for the first season of Looking for Laowai! Meet the team, Toni, Hannah, Ali, and Averill, and have a listen to just a few tidbits from the podcast. From foreigners who grew up in China, students trying to escape the laowai bubble… to an elderly Chinese man who really does not want his daughter to date a foreigner, we’re sharing the stories you’ve shared with us, and a whole lot more. Listen to the trailer here.

Explore this season’s episodes

Identity and relationships are the central themes in our stories in this first season. We interviewed a whole range of people, from laowai who’d just got off the plane, to locals whose families have been in Shanghai for generations, and compiled their personal stories into each episode.

  1. What the Heck is a Laowai?
    Experiences of learning what it means to be laowai, being labeled as laowai, and more.
  2. The Perks of Being a Laowai
    What are the benefits to being a laowai in China, and who gets access to those advantages?
  3. We Found Love in a Hopeless Place
    Stories about dating in Shanghai, particularly about the race and gender dynamics of dating.
  4. Chinese Face in a Chinese Place
    What’s it like to look Chinese but not be fully Chinese and live in China? Listen to the experiences of laowai of Chinese descent, half-Asian people, TCK, and more.
  5. The Evolution of a Laowai
    We talk to laowai who have been here for different lengths of time to see how the experience of being a laowai changes the longer you stay in China.
  6. Foreign Bodies in China
    How is the experience of being foreign-looking or having a foreign-sized body in China, and how does that impact someone’s experience?
  7. The Laowai Bubble
    It’s possible to live in Shanghai and not come in contact at all with “real China” – this episode is about exploring what that means and how that is even possible.
  8. How to Escape the Laowai Bubble
    How easy is it to integrate into Chinese society? We share the experiences of foreigners who have tried to immerse themselves in the Middle Kingdom, with various levels of success.
  9. The Revolving Door of Shanghai
    How does the temporary nature of expat stays influence your social life? Is it easy to make friends here? To keep friends?

Bonus Episode: Awkward Conversations with Cab Drivers
Ever have a strange conversation with a cab driver? With a random guy as they jostle you on the metro? This bonus episode takes a light-hearted look at all the fascinating interactions people have had in Shanghai.