Sunday, June 14, 2009

Partying with Expats

Most Chinese have stereotypical views of foreigners, partly because they don't have much exposure to them.

While some may work directly with laowai on a daily basis, they don't necessarily know what expats do after work or on the weekends.

On Friday night, a small group of us went to Sanlitun for drinks to celebrate as one of them, a 24-year-old, will marry her boyfriend of nine years next week.

Besides myself there was a very attractive blond New Zealander who was born in Russia. And she stood out immediately, with her model looks and flirty cocktail dress.

Some young men chatted her up and she later suggested that we join them to another place for drinks before going dancing.

So we followed them to the Blue Frog, where on the third floor of The Village mall, there's a giant area for alfresco drinking and dining.

Towards the back the young men already had a big group of people hanging out, all having some kind of drink in hand.

A Chinese friend who has decent English but hardly goes out with foreigners was surprised to see so many expats around.

"I feel like I'm the foreigner!" she exclaimed, hearing so much English and seeing the plaza almost full of non-Chinese faces.

After two rounds of shooters, a bottle of vodka and several cocktails, she turned to me again and observed that laowai drink a lot.

"We Chinese like to eat and drink together, but foreigners just like to drink," she said. "Do they do this all the time?"

While it's widely understood foreigners make more money than locals, she was also probably surprised to see them spend their money so freely; that night they probably spent almost half her monthly wage.

I had to explain that unlike most locals like herself who have to go home every night to have dinner with their parents, expats here, especially ones that aren't married, don't have familial obligations and so they hang out with their friends... and inevitably end up at a bar drinking.

I also added some people do this everyday, others on the weekends. She couldn't fathom people drinking everyday, but there are some who can hold their alcohol and go to work sober the next day. However, later we saw a man we had chatted with earlier, passed out on the couch while the party continued around him.

The bride-to-be was also confused by the cultural shift.

She had assumed she would be paying for our drinks and such, only to find we chipped in to pay for her, and also bought her presents (lingerie of course).

"But I'm Chinese! And if I invite you out, I should be paying!" she exclaimed. "But you are paying for my drinks and you got me gifts!"

I explained that we were celebrating her bachelorette or hen party in a western way, which meant no worries about costs, and focusing instead on having fun.

For both women, it was quite an eye-opener, seeing laowai in their own manufactured expat environment and celebrating the last of her single days western style.

1 comment:

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