Made in China: People, Language, and an Indecent Proposal

Shanghai is China’s most populous city. As of 2010, there are over 23 million people and according to sources, 60% of those aren’t local to Shanghai. According to the guide book I bought, Shanghai is a haven for expats and their families. History tells us that is has been like this for a while, with British and American nationals being the most powerful citizens (Shanghailanders) while locals occupied the lowest tiers (Shanghainese). Many locals didn’t find the idea appealing and one local journalist quipped, “After all, Hemingway wasn’t a ‘Parislander’ – he was an American in Paris. What gives foreigners some special title here?”

Surprisingly, I didn’t see that many foreigners on my first two days. In fact, I didn’t see any at all! If I did, it would only be a tiny group, like a French mother and her two daughters in the Natural Wild Insect Kingdom (I could understand bits of their conversation having studied Français for four years) and three white boys outside the Pearl Tower. I did find them on my last day, though – they were at the Apple store and Xintiandi, one of the exclusive lifestyle centers in Shanghai. There were a lot of tourists in the city, but most, if not all them were local citizens from other parts of China.

The locals were very nice, especially if they know you’re a foreigner. According to sources, they’re nicer to foreigners outside China than to foreigners outside Shanghai. They tend to bully these “outsiders” and see them as “not one of them.” Learning their language helps a lot as it shows that you’re trying to assimilate their culture unlike some expats who live reclusive lives in expat-exclusive areas. Of course, I only learned basic phrases but they seemed to love it – some of them even smiled when I said ni hao (hello) and xiexie (thank you).

Learning basic Shanghainese is a must because many of them speak little to zero English, even those who work in the service industry. Shanghainese is their own version of Mandarin. It sounds a lot like Mandarin but the differences in pronunciation are there. Armed with this idea, I studied Shanghainese only to discover that many of them are adapting to Mandarin. Whenever I would say nung hoa (hello in Shanghainese), they would look at me blankly but whenever I say ni hao, they would be all jolly that a foreigner would speak like them.

Personally, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere – Shanghainese or Shanghailander. Being Asian myself, I didn’t look foreign enough to fit in with the Caucasians with blonde hair and blue eyes. Neither did I look local enough to pass off as a Chinese. To the untrained eye, Chinese and Japanese people look the same but if you know the difference (which all Chinese do), they know you’re foreign.

On my last night, I was walking around Nanjing Lu taking photos when two girls approached me for dinner. I was to meet my mom and brother for dinner so I gave them my email address instead. Then all of a sudden, a whole bunch of guys started approaching me offering sex! I’m not sure if it was because of the two girls because I saw other guys being propositioned but I was never offered earthly delights. It was always pirate delights – fake bags, fake shoes and fake shirts, which I avoided like a plague after one of my friends said I’m allergic to faux fashion because I sneeze and get a terrible cold when I’m around masses of them.

These kinds of people abound in Nanjing Lu and other parts of Shanghai. They’d go up to you offering random wares from wheels for your shoes to statues of the Pearl Tower. I feel bad for a lot of them because they’re so desperate to make a sale that they eventually slash the prices to more than half. The trick is to just ignore them until they leave because even if you say no, they’ll continue to lower the price.

I had two bad experiences in Shanghai. I was casually walking alone in Nanjing Lu when this middle-aged dude went up to me offering sex. I made the mistake of saying no so he started offering me a blowjob (which he pronounced brojob) for Y100 (P700). I started to ignore him until he offered actual sex (six) and I sort of freaked out when he put his arm around my shoulders and started grabbing my ass. I got so freaked out that I ducked into a Shakey’s and was so flustered that I couldn’t say anything to the girl offering me a seat.

Luckily I didn’t accept the offer because when I got back to the Philippines, I did research on the state of prostitution in Shanghai. According to what I read, not only is it completely illegal but sometimes these are just ways for people to bring you to secluded places to beat you up and get your money. There is of course the added danger of STDs and HIV. But if you want a lapdance from a nine-year-old girl, send me a message. I still have a calling card from her handler, Jun.

My other proposition was less sexual but just as threatening. I was casually sitting at Costa Coffee enjoying my hot chocolate and a copy of a Chinese history book when an old dude went up to me and asked if he could shine my shoes. He knew I needed one because my sneakers were really ratty – just the way I liked them. I said no and told him I’m out of money because I was on my way to the airport for my flight (partly true but I had over Y200 or P1,400 left over). He said that it was okay and proceeded to clean my shoes. I told him to stop but he insisted, saying it was okay if I didn’t have money and that I could pay him with whatever amount. I remember having around Y5 (P35) in my pocket from change and decided to give him that. Lo and behold, after polishing my shoes, which basically meant cleaning the rubber sole because my shoes were made of canvass, he was charging me Y80 (P560)! I tried to convince him that I didn’t have any money because I was on my way home. He was so persistent but he eventually left.

Take note, all these events happened on the same night. It was frightening.

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  • I stumbled upon your site, yet again. This is one creepy post and your shanghai adventures change my impression of the place based on photos ive been seeing in magazines and other blogs. it seems interesting now.