Stand-out Memories of Shanghai: Inter-racial Horror

I’ve lived in Shanghai for a long time. It doesn’t matter exactly how long. But long.

In that time, there have been some memories that stand out among the rest.

Here’s one:

Inter-racial Horror

It was truly horrific in its social discomfort.

I’d been in Shanghai for around a year.

As with many of these stand-out memories, this occurred in a restaurant.

It was in Xintiandi – the ultimate tourist-y location of average Western eating, at inflated costs.

I was with two Chinese friends.

The waitress was an attractive black lady. I’m white.

Let’s be frank about it – at times, there exists a racial frisson between different races. It might be ‘white guilt’, a feeling of the unknown and so on. White people, I mean English people, sometimes feel self-conscious around different races.

A naturally overly-apologetic people, we want to emphasise that we are not racist. The actual conclusion of this is an overly-analytical consideration of the matter, which is in turn racist, as we make something of nothing, socially tripping over our own need to please in the process.

Anyway, that delightfully complex undertone drifted into the restaurant’s ambience.

Back to me and my friends, we were discussing language.

I told them that I like to learn odd language and sayings, just for something different.

So, the first phrase I made myself learn how to say “my monkey is on fire”, in Chinese. Wo de hou zi jiao huo le. I realise that this is not funny. But here we are.

As they logically asked why I did that, I explained to them that I liked to say it and see the confusion on people’s face, about this insane foreigner who was telling them a somewhat incomprehensible piece of information.

And in telling them that, I performed the words, charades like.

Why I did it, I’ll never know, but on performing the ‘monkey’ action, my hands under my armpits, squeezing air and mouthing “monkey”, I inadvertantly made eye-contact with the waitress, across the room.

The already existant racial undertone was made bizarre.

What were my subsequent options as an overly self-aware Englishman?

I couldn’t exactly tell the waitress, on her next visit to our table, “You know the monkey act I just did? That wasn’t anything related to racism or anything.”

So I obviously said nothing, wondering if she henceforth suspected that I was making some form of racist slur. It remained forever unspoken.




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Categories: Community, Expat Life


Foreigner in Shanghai


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