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Don’t be a “Wai guo gui zi”!


"Wai guo gui zi! Wai guo gui zi!" (Foreign ghost! Foreign ghost!) I heard this term again recently while I was visiting a small town in the countryside of China. The nickname didn't bother me. My English name is certainly not an easy one to pronounce so I wasn't surprised that people found other ways to 'identify' me. In fact, it reminded me of being called "gringo" in Mexico which I had never found offensive. It was just simply humorous. I had always assumed that the term 'foreign ghost' had something to do with the color of my skin and my hair but eventually I discovered that the word could be traced back to a darker time in China's history. According to my friends, the term was used to describe the invasion of the Japanese in the 1930′s and their steal "chickens, goats, lambs, food" and other items of value. 

"外国鬼子外国鬼子"!当我漫步在一个中国乡下不知名的小村庄时,我再一次的听到了这个称呼。这个外号并没有困扰我。因为我的英文名字很饶舌,不好发音,所以我并不介意人们用这种方式来鉴别我。事实上"外国鬼子"这个词让我想起了我在墨西哥被人叫 "gringo"的时光 (译注: "gringo"是老外称呼外国人的名词,好比我们说的"外国佬",但此词略含贬义)我也不认为那有什么冒犯,在我看来,那不过是带点冷幽默而已。我以前认为之所以中国人叫我"外国鬼子",是因为我的头发和皮肤的颜色。但是最终这个词可以追溯到抗战时期。我的中国朋友告诉我,在上个世纪三四十年代这个词被用来称呼那些入侵中国的日本鬼子,这些日本鬼子偷鸡摸狗,看见什么抢什么,无恶不作。

Of course, that war ended many long years ago but the memories and the stories of those invaders still live on and there is understandably still some mistrust by the older generation of any foreigners.Unfortunately, the irresponsible actions of many foreigners in China do not help to alleviate the misgivings that some in China have of the "wai guo ren." Some of these actions seem very trivial but in fact lead Chinese people to believe that foreigners do not have respect for their culture. Throughout China, for example, I have never failed to spot foreigners walking the wrong way around a temple or touching an item that is clearly marked as sacred. It annoys me to see this type of behavior, especially in the case of walking in the wrong direction, when everyone else is clearly walking in one direction. I simply want to disappear or transform into a Chinese person because I know that people in China will judge me based on the actions of these foolish foreigners.

不错,战争在很多年前就结束了,但是有关这场战争的记忆和这些入侵者所犯的罪行却不会随着时间的流逝而消失。(如此)我们也就不难理解 为什么老一代的人们大多缺乏对外国人的信任。不幸的是,一些在华的外国人某些不负责任的行为 ,非但没有减轻之前国人对某些老外的误解和担忧,(反而加重了这种负面印象),某些行为看起来微不足道,但是事实上,这些行为往往容易使的国人认为,这些外国佬不尊重自己国家的文化。举个例子在国内,我常常发现,外国人在庙宇附近乱逛又或者,经常去触碰那些圣物,而对附于其上的标识视而不见。他们的这些行为让我很头疼。尤其是绝大多数游人听从指令,跟着队伍朝着一个方向走时,某些外国佬却另辟蹊径。在这时候我真想找个地缝钻进去,或者假装我是中国人。因为我知道(每当这些老外做出这种行为时)在场的中国人会把我也自动归类于(和这些老外)同一种人。

I have also heard stories about foreigners who have cut in line at train stations and restaurants. Granted, the Chinese people are not particularly known for their "keeping in line" skills but there is no question that some foreigners think of themselves as stars anddemand special treatment. Recently, one of my friends got a foreigner fired from her position at a training center because she cussed at him while waiting in line at a KFC. He happened to know her boss and let him know what had happened. She was asked not to come back.


Public drunkeness is probably what irritates me the most about the way that foreigners sometimes behave in China. I enjoy a good beer now and then but I can't tell you how many times I have been mortified to be sitting in a restaurant/bar somewhere and witnessing a foreigner acting like a complete fool. I have seen foreigners yelling at each other, fighting, and treating their servers like garbage. These kind of actions severely damage China's perception of all foreigners. 


Finally, I have often been ashamed of how my "fellow" foreigners treat the Chinese people in general. It especially bothers me when foreigners try to impose their culture or their opinion on a Chinese person. I have seen many a foreigner lecture a full grown Chinese adult as if they were children about how "we do things" in other countries. These foreigners talk as if their country is morally and ethically superior to China. There is always a place for exchanging ideas and learning from each other but this process needs to take place from the perspective that we guests in China. And if you spend enough time in China, you will discover that there is alot that you can learn from their culture as well.


I could probably write a book about my observations of how foreigners have treated Chinese people but that isn't necessary. I simply want to urge my fellow teachers in China to remember that we are being watched wherever we go. Your behavior, positive or negative, and the way that you treat other people, will have an effect on how Chinese people view and treat foreigners in the future. Much progress has been made in the relationship between foreigners and Chinese people and you can help foster that relationship by being respectful of the culture and living by the Golden Rule.



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