“Laowai” is a word that you can still hear on the streets of Shanghai — if you’re a foreigner and you venture into the more remote parts of the city.
Originally it denoted someone nonprofessional, or a layman, literally meaning an “outsider”, someone who doesn’t understand the trade. Today it is mostly used to label a foreigner, and in more remote parts of China (or even very rarely in Shanghai) you can still encounter children scream it, the moment you pass them on the street. This is usually meant in a jocular way and accompanied by wide-eyed staring and friendly curiosity, especially if your appearance is sufficiently outlandish (blonde or curly hair, a long beard, “funny clothes”, glasses like Harry Potter etc.)
Of course this gets less and less over the years, as more and more Chinese get used to see people from foreign countries, even more so in cities like Shanghai and Beijing, which are practically overrun with foreigners like me.
Still I feel it is a commendable way to react to the unknown, with genuine suprise but also genuine curiosity and interest.
Many of the foreigners who come to China could learn from this, most of them preferring to stay in their safe compounds and shopping malls instead and thus missing out on the chance of beeing called a “laowai”.
After about one year, they finally started to remove my photos from the walls of the Asian-Afrika-Institut, where they were exhibited since May 2014. Because my latest efforts are not ready to be shown yet, I figured I might as well present the “Shanghai Civilized Park”-series here (again).