A couple of months ago I got beaten up, bad. Like a true optimist, I like to think that something good comes out of every bad situation. In this case, two good things happened. First, a friend gave me a cool pair of sunglasses to hide the black eyes. Second, in some weird way I now have a little more respect for Shanghai.
My friend and I were having a Sunday evening drink when his girlfriend called inviting us to join her and a couple of friends at a club. We arrived at a local club that neither of us had even heard of. We were the only two foreigners there. The place was semi full. The music was drowned out by the sound of rattling dice. We made our way to their table and ordered a bottle of Chivas.
After a few drinks, my friend went home leaving me there with the three Dong Bei ladies, two of whom were taller than me. It’s funny what you remember from a particular night. For example, I remember taking a drink, looking around and thinking “good thing I put on a nice shirt and my imitation snake skin shoes" - I was looking like Al Pacino in Scarface; well I like to think so.
From there the night got better. I was drinking. I was laughing. I was dancing. I was becoming friends with the staff. I was hugging the male manager. I was, I’ll be honest, probably pissing people off. I like to keep a low profile whenever I go out. However, it seems difficult for a 170cm Latino foreigner to go unnoticed while dancing salsa to techno music with three Chinese women. I think I even had one of them dip me. I was having so much fun that I didn’t think twice about the fact that these girls knew half the club.
My mobile phone read 1:30. The bottle was pretty much gone. I said my goodbyes and made my way to the door. I’d only taken a couple of steps out when someone asked me where I was from. Before I could answer I felt a blow to the face, then another to the back of the head. I went down and four randoms took out their aggression on me, but only for a minute. Bless those girls I was with. They were right behind me and came to my rescue.
The days of the “untouchable" foreigner are coming to an end. Once a novelty, we have become a big part of the city’s make up. So much so, that we sometimes get beaten up, as do the locals. You know someone is your friend when they tell you that you’re being an idiot. Likewise, the city has embraced us to the point that it will show us if we’re acting up. So many times I’ve seen arrogant “westerners" taking advantage of their lao wai status, making rude comments under their breaths or simply looking down on people because they can’t speak English well. Those days are over now. We’re part of the city. We’re not Chinese, however, some of us are settling down here and in a sense becoming locals. Fewer foreigners live in “the western bubble" and are part of their communities. I am not condoning beating people up, but it is good to see that the city has a little bite to go with its bark no matter who you are. Shanghai is truly an international city. I love it.
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