August 1st, 2008
In May of last year I was given a book, Hitching Rides With Buddha. I brought it to China with me –
and this summer I noticed it in my bookcase.
During my last two weeks there, I moved the book to my computer bag – and when I was down to my last 36 hours, I began to read. Couldn’t put the book down.
It’s a book about an American, living in Japan as a school teacher, who decides to hitch hike from
southern to northern Japan – following the Cherry Blossom trails.
What makes the book so appealing is the raw and uncensored stories the author, Will Ferguson, is
telling. I, myself, encounter many of the same prejudices while in China – and to hear another
person telling similar stories makes me connect with the writer.
For example, in Japan, foreigners are called the “gaijin.” In China, we’re called “lao wai.”
Back in 1997, the first time I overheard others referring to me as “lao wai” – I had an instant
recoil. It was very obvious by the tone of voice that it was NOT a respectful or endearing term.
So one night over dinner I got into an argument with my brother-in-law, who insisted “lao wai” meant nothing but “old foreign friend.”
To this I said, “And I suppose Chinaman means nothing but Chinese person then, right.”
He stopped arguing with me on this one.
This summer, ten years later, when going through the sacred mountains of Wu Tai Shan, the driver and guide made reference to me as “wai bing.” As soon as I heard this I was curious. I asked for a translation. To my surprise I was told, “Wai bing is a much more polite way to say lao wai.”
“Waaaaah,” I said, using a Chinese sound similar to the Japanese ‘oi.’
“So there IS a difference.” I turned to my brother-in-law and reconstructed our ten-year old argument. Then, speaking out loud, I explained to the driver and guide as follows, “In America, we say that 55% of communication is nonverbal; 38% is done through voice tone alone and only
7% is the actual words. So believe me when I tell you this: When I hear ‘lao wai’ said to me or around me as I pass by, it is NOT an endearing term.”
Ferguson found the same true in Japan. At times, some would refer to him as “Gaijin san,” – Mr. Foreigner – and this was considered much more polite.
So I began to tell people in China, when I overheard them referring to me as “lao wai” – that I was NOT a foreigner – I was “Lao Wai Xiansheng.” Mr. Foreigner.
Like Ferguson, I also found myself coming up with words and phrases and rituals designed to eliminate conversations as soon as they begin. For example, in China, most of the people who speak to you will begin with the following:
“Where are you from.”
There is no hello or how are you. Identifying what species you are is most important.
So here is the typical flow of conversations I eliminate.
“Ni shi nali de.” Where are you from.
“Yue liang.” From the moon.
“Aaaah. Shenme.” Aaaah. What.
“Yue liang.” The moon.
“Aaaah. Ni hen you mo.” Aaah. you’ve very humorous.
“Ni shi nei ge guojia de ren.” What country are you from.
“Wo meiyou guojia. Wo bu shi ren.” I have no country. I am not a person.
“Waaa. Ruguo ni bu shi ren, ni shi shenme.” Waa, if you’re not a person, what are you.
“Wo bu zhidao.” I don’t know.
“Ni shi cong nali lai de.” Another way to ask me where I come from.
“Wo jijing gaosu ni. Wo meiyou guojia.” I already told you. I have no country.
“Ni chu sheng zai nali.” Then where were you born.
“Zai tai cong.” In the sky.
“Waaah, zai tai cong ah.” Oh, from the sky.
“Shi de.” Yes.
“Ni gongzuo shenme.” What do you do for work.
“Wo meiyou gongzuo. Wo zhi yao haowen.” I never work. I only play.
“Ni you hen duo de qian.” You have a lot of money.
“Meiyou. Wo hen qiong.” Nothing. I am very poor.
The above is a conversation that takes place with a persistent Chinese person. Most are finished immediately.
Now, if you’ve never traveled to China, don’t know the language, the culture, the thinking, and so on – you might classify all of this as “defensive” conversation. And you’d be right. At the same time, it’s easy to sit back in your high chair – or on your high horse, if you’ve never been anywhere for any
length of time.
I often tell my brother-in-law that Americans are like apes to many Chinese. We’re like animals that escaped the zoo. So when you’re in a restaurant eating – and by this I don’t mean McDonalds or KFC – don’t be surprised if two to four workers stand close to your table to watch you eat. And then
the comments begin.
“Waah, that foreigner can speak Chinese.”
“Waah, that foreigner can use chopsticks.”
“He eats a lot.”
“Where’s he from.”
“How’d he learn to speak Chinese.”
Then there are the meaningless compliments. “Your Chinese is very good. You eat with chopsticks very nice.” And so on.
One thing you must understand about travel in Asia, is that almost ALL compliments are meaningless. Yet, most Americans fall for them. They lap the praise as if it is reality. It’s not.
I’m currently making lists of all my stories about travel in China. Ferguson’s book has been inspiring to say the least. I’m sure I have plenty of stories that are unique to me – but I don’t know if I have one that tops his “raw horse meat” story.
Imagine that you’re at a party in Japan, and you’re eating and having a good time. You turn to your guide and ask what the tasty dish is that you’re eating. He tells you, “Raw horse.”
What would you do then. Would you toss your cookies. Would your stomach get a little (or a lot) queasy.
Well, similar reactions happen every day in America, too. On the most amazing of subjects.
For example, one man wrote to voice his objection to my use of the word ‘money’ in the title of my new book – 101 Ways to Magnetize Money.
I’m sure he’s not alone in his objection.
The ‘M’ word causes him to react in a similar way to being told you just ate raw horse meat.
And yet, gagging on the ‘M’ word is utterly absurd and strange to me. So strange that I immediately form a judgment about the financial condition of the objector. It’s not positive, either.
Objecting to being called “lao wai” or “gaijin” in a derisive manner, that I understand. Tis why I’ve found humorous ways of dealing with it. Much better than getting ticked off.
Objecting to being fed raw horse meat – that I understand.
But gagging on the ‘M’ word – which we use each and every day – strange. Very, very strange.
Having the desire to magnetize m-oney does NOT mean that you do anything and everything to get rich – even if it goes against basic morals and values. It does NOT mean you work in jobs you hate – just for the dough.
On the contrary, it DOES mean that you follow your passion – that you live life with gusto and enthusiasm.
Some people cannot make this connection. Whenever they hear the ‘M’ word – the connections they make in their brain are as follows:
“Greed. Bad. Evil. Wrong.”
Yet, all we’re referring to are pieces of paper with ink on them.
Strange. Very, very strange.
But what do I know. I’m just another ape from the zoo.
P.S. Don’t fear greed. There’s plenty of ‘M’ for all. Go here and discover all the bonuses you can get for agreeing with me.
P.P.S. Oh, and about my 4-Hour Workday Seminar – the fee is going up tomorrow. Enroll NOW and bring a guest “on the house.”