The Chinese word “guilao” can be literally translated as “ghost man” and it dates back several thousand years to a time when European barbarians invaded China and made a really bad first impression. The term has been carried down through generations as a candid description of unwelcome outsiders. It is certainly still in circulation today but China is changing rapidly and with the changes comes a shifted view of foreigners. We have rarely heard (or felt) the term “foreign devil”. However, there is a newer term that better describes the opinion of the outsiders like us.
“Laowai Houzi” or “Foreign Monkey”
The general idea is that the foreigner goes on display and draws a crowd. You don’t have to live in China for long before you get to play the monkey. It’s generally well intentioned, much appreciated and often an opportunity to show that you’re a good sport and build a relationship. Westerners, however, often let their arrogance cloud their vision. “Wow, these people really like me, I must be a superstar!” They haven’t yet learned that these people also really like monkeys.
We haven’t seen a lot of real monkeys in China but when we do we are sure to snap a picture.
Originally posted in our now retired family blog: Keeping Up With the Joneses