The Nanfang / Blog

UK Expat Visits China, Marries Girl, Then Skips Town Without Her

Posted: 10/24/2014 9:30 am

backpack laowaiMiss Tan had a very simple dream: she wanted to leave China. When she married Mark, a UK national, she thought her dreams had come true. However, Mark had other plans.

Two years after getting married to Mark, Tan was forced to get a divorce after she spent the majority of their marriage by herself.

Tan met Mark online in July 2011, and the two met a year later when Mark came to visit her in China in November 2012. It must have been a good visit, because the two got married that same month.. Neither could communicate with each other well, and Tan later said she carelessly married Mark in order to leave China.

However, Mark left in December 2012 because his visa expired, leaving Tan, who lived in Liuzhou, on her own. Then the pair began fighting and holding grudges against each other, and grew distant

When seeking a divorce from Mark in June of this year, Tan ran into problems because her husband was not present. To process the divorce, the courts required Mark’s visa and marriage certificate.

However, Mark finally showed up and agreed to the divorce.

Tan was never able to fulfill her dream of leaving China. It is not known if she is now looking for foreigners for other opportunities.



Nanfang Week in Review: June 15-June 21

Posted: 06/22/2014 5:00 pm

yulin dog eating festival controversy animal activistsLast week looked just like this here at the Nanfang:


Monday:g-string condom

Tuesday:massage unconscious paralysis shenzhen


Thursday:jiangmen student stabbing teacher

Friday:yulin dog eating festival controversy animal activists

Saturday:marilyn monroe statue giant guigang guangxi

Be sure to check out our Twitter feed @thenanfang as well as our Facebook page!

Photos: the Nanfang


Nigerian Businessman On Mission To Get Consulate in Guangzhou

Posted: 06/20/2014 11:35 am

Protestors outside a Nigerian consulate


China has courted controversy with its growing relations with many African countries by being accused of exploiting its many resources and people. While this may result in conflicting feelings among the sizable African expat community in Guangzhou, Festus Uzoma Mbisiogu is more determined than ever to get a new Nigerian consulate built in the city to serve the country’s growing diaspora.

Mbisiogu is the Coordinator of the Good Governance Initiative and CEO of Blue Diamond Logistics (China), and he believes having a local consulate in Guangzhou is necessary to take away the need to travel to Beijing for consular services. Furthermore, it is simply good for business.

Mbisiogu asserts that “Nigerian businessmen in China are the backbone of the nation’s foreign policy with China,” reports All Africa.

To emphasize this importance, Mbisiogu makes the following claim:

Nigerian businessmen in China contribute over 70% of China’s growing economy.

Now, that’s a backbone; but we think Mbigiogu just got his numbers backwards. According to China Daily, trade between Nigeria and China nearly topped US$13 billion in 2013, with 70% of Nigeria’s development headed by investment from China.

And yet, Mbisiogu hasn’t forgotten about the Nigerian expat community that lives in Guangzhou:

While noting that Nigerians in China almost lost touch (with) inherent gains of the growing Sino-Nigeria relations, the business mogul, who also owns one of the largest manufacturing companies in Nigeria, implored all to leverage on the high volume of business transactions between China and Africa, particularly Nigeria, and ensure continuous business prospects.

There is no firm number of Africans in Guangzhou, but at least 50,000 of them call the city home.


Photo: NY Post


Foreigner Stabbed to Death Outside a Nightclub in Fujian

Posted: 06/17/2014 6:27 pm

foreigner stabbed to death fuzhouA male foreigner was stabbed to death outside a nightclub in Fuzhou, Fujian in the early morning of June 16, reports Xinhua.

The foreigner, a black man, was beaten and stabbed by a number of attackers following a short chase around 4am near Yuefeng Tower on the north side of Fuxin Road.

An eyewitness said he was making a phone call nearby when he heard a commotion behind him. After turning around, he saw a man with dark skin run out from the entertainment club chased by a crowd of people, some of whom were armed with knives.

According to a source, the deceased is a foreigner around 30 years old. The exact circumstances of what transpired remain sketchy, but some witnesses say the foreigner was involved in intimate contact with a 20 year-old woman inside the club when he was told to leave. A group then began to chase him.

Though the man’s nationality is currently unknown, some media outlets like have labeled the man as “Fuzhou’s black laowai”.

Police are currently conducting an investigation.

Photo: Xinhua


Opinion: Laowai is a Four Letter Word

Posted: 06/3/2014 12:00 pm

laowai foreigner t-shirt[The following is a blog originally published at Sinopathic on December 23, 2013 as written by terroir, and is reprinted here with permission.]

It’s thrown around by our colleagues, the jianbing seller, taxi driver, your students, and maybe even your friends. Even though it’s such a ubiquitous term, nobody seems to be quite sure what “laowai” really means. Should you feel good to be referred to that way, as a member of a prestigious club? Or should you be taken aback at being singled out as something different?

Some may say that “laowai” is a neutral term that doesn’t contain any inherent meaning other than “foreigner”. If there are any negative connotations in the word, they stem from the context in which the word is used. But this ignores the latent meaning of the word, shrouding it behind the banality of daily repetition that grinds its significance into unfeeling, bureaucratic indifference.

Taken literally, “laowai” written in Chinese is 老外 (lǎowài). Individually, its components are 老 (lǎo) meaning “old”, and 外 (wài), meaining “outside”. “Laowai” most definitely does not mean “foreigner” in Chinese; instead, that term is written as “外国人” (wàiguórén) which is made up of “外国” for “foreign” and “人” for “person”.

There is no English equivalent of “laowai” in English; this mostly stems from the fact that most English-speaking cultures don’t inherently view the world as being divided between themselves and everyone else (most, I said).

There may be some confusion to what “laowai” actually means due to its individual components. “Old” is universally regarded in Chinese culture as a sign of respect. If someone is called “Old Wang”, then the Wangster is a person of a dignified position, regardless of his age. With this same thinking, a “laowai” should be a position that is equally respected—something absolutely true if it wasn’t for the second half of the term, “outside”.

Family is the most important component of Chinese society. As a way to endear themselves to others, many Chinese will address strangers with family roles; for example, to call a fellow man a “哥们儿” (gēmenr) is to afford him the respect of not just a fellow brother, but an elder one. After family, the respect commanded by any one person starts to thin out the further away they are located from the family home: friends, business associates, co-workers, neighbors… until it becomes a question of geography.

Being an outsider is pretty much the lowest scale to occupy on the Chinese social hierarchy. You are not trusted; your customs and habits are strange and unfamiliar; you are the unknown that stands in contrast to the family circle; your existence is a contradiction to all that which is Chinese.

So when when taken together, “laowai” means “respectable outsider” and not the “Hey, old whitey!” that Lonely Planet tried to convince me of at a more naive stage of my stay here. One could take it as as a backhanded compliment if one enjoys masochism in their majesty, but the word “laowai” is basically a system of control to always alienate a foreigner. No matter how well you speak Chinese, no matter how much you pander, no matter how much you love China – you don’t belong.

Respectfully speaking, of course.


Editor’s note: If you’re still not convinced, we’ve found a very simple process to both confirm the opinions expressed here as well as to give yourself the social advantage anywhere in China. Please use responsibly.

  1. The very instant you are personally referred to as a “laowai” during a conversation, stop everything. Interrupt the other party if you have to. Doesn’t matter if it is pouring rain and you are negotiating a fare for a taxi—grind the conversation to a standstill.
  2. Without raising your tone or showing any anger, pointedly demand answers to these questions: “Who are you calling a laowai?” (你叫谁是个老外?Nǐ jiào shuí shìgè lǎowài?) “Who’s a laowai? Am I a laowai?” (谁是个老外?我是个老外吗?Shuí shìgè lǎowài? Wǒ shìgè lǎowài ma?) “Where’s this laowai?” (老外在哪里?Lǎowài zài nǎlǐ?) Be firm, but not emotional.
  3. Do not waiver. Do not stray from your objective. Repeat yourself dozens of times if necessary. Do not change the subject, or allow the subject to be changed. Do not say anything other than the script in step #2. Again, do not escalate the situation by getting angry.
  4. Results will vary, but what we’ve seen is a slow grinding of cogs in the brain, after which the offending Chinese person will slap the brakes on and put it in reverse like a pizza delivery guy in the wrong driveway at the 29th minute. You may get an apology, get called the revised label of “foreign friend” (外国朋友, Wàiguó péngyǒu) and a conciliatory “好了好了好了” (Hǎole hǎole hǎole). This person will now try to quickly resume your original conversation to forget this unpleasantness, albeit at a disadvantage.
  5. Enjoy your new respect.

Photo: iQiLu


Top 10 Things To Buy Now that FamilyMart has Opened in Shenzhen

Posted: 05/22/2014 4:33 pm

familymartFor being a hushed secret whispered between expats, Shenzhen kicks ass. It’s rated as one of the best places to live in China as well as being one of the cities in China with the cleanest air. It’s right next to Hong Kong, the weather is nice (if humid and wet), and best of all, it isn’t Beijing or Shanghai.

As more proof of Shenzhen’s ascension to a metropolis of kickassery, the city has now become that much more convenient. Last week, eight FamilyMart stores opened in Shenzhen with further locations to come in Dongguan by the end of this year.

To celebrate this great news, we’re going to provide a run-down of the ten most essential items you’ll be purchasing from FamilyMart—because let’s face it, the one time you really need a FamilyMart is at 3am when you’ve had too much to drink and badly need food.

1. Western Junk Food Knock-Offs

oreas junk food familymartWhen looking for a little sugar fix, you’ll be attracted to the brands that you know and trust (or, at least their logos if you can’t read Chinese). However, there’s something different about it; something’s a little off. It’s not the junk food you’ve become so familiar with…

2. Fruit Sandwichfruit sandwich

If you’re still not over your culture shock, you’re probably going to stick with food you’re familiar with, like the sandwich. How hard can that be to screw up? It’s two slices of bread and some cut fruit, just like your mom used to make.

3. Tea Eggstea egg familymart

And we don’t mean the “virgin boy” type. Tea eggs are always a good purchase because no matter your feelings on how they taste, and no matter the time of day, there are always tea eggs for sale at a convenience store. It’s like as though it’s used as a type of currency a la “take an egg, leave an egg”.

4. Instant Noodlesinstant noodles familymart

There’s a reason why there is usually an entire aisle dedicated to instant noodles, and it isn’t because there is a fundamental difference between any of them. No, the instant noodle is the one reliable food that you can’t screw up, but it does need one thing…

5. Pre-Packaged Chicken Feetchicken feet familymart

No, you don’t make a wish on them like you do on a monkey’s paw. You may not be partial to the delicacy of chicken feet, but you will learn to be more culturally sensitive at three in the morning when you’re ravenously hungry and lack your usual ethnocentric tendencies. You can’t just eat instant noodles on their own, you know.

6. Over-the-Counter Baijiubaijiu familymart

Sure, there’s usually beer available at a convenience store in China, but you want to continue the party, not have a refreshing beverage to cool down. Browse the baijiu section and pick the bottle that looks like it can strip paint off a wall, and you’re set to go.

7. Aspirinaspirin familymart

For tomorrow morning. Buy it now, or wait until you’re dizzy and nauseous.  But, you’ll also be needing…

8. Bottled Waterbottled water familymart

In this day and age, a bottle of drinking water is as necessary as a smartphone. Thirty years ago, who’d have thought that we’d be paying for water and be using portable phones to do everything but make calls?

9. Pepto Bismolpepto bismol family mart

If FamilyMart doesn’t sell this, then what good is it?

10. Condomscondoms familymart

You may need these, perhaps. One day in the future.

With the arrival of FamilyMart, Shenzhen will join Guangzhou as places where you can buy whatever you need at every hour of the day in full disregard of the daily sleep cycles our sad, non-partying forefathers were burdened with.

Thank you, FamilyMart. You’re Japan’s greatest present to China.

Photos: the Beijinger, Daxue Consulting, ChinaDaily, GiantBomb, traveling around the world,, pzr services, mousetourtravels,, xinhua, Bloomberg  


Is There An Expat Exodus in China? Not Quite…

Posted: 05/20/2014 1:19 pm

While it has died down a bit of late, there has been a lot of talk over the last few years of expatriate workers finally packing it in and heading home. Rampant pollution, questionable food quality, problematic education systems, crowded transportation, unbearable bureaucracy and more have been blamed for making China increasingly unlivable.

We wrote extensively about two relatively high-profile expats who penned “Why I’m Leaving China” articles that drew substantial attention, even among mainstream media outlets. But does perception match reality? Are expats really leaving China in droves?

An organization called SmartIntern has put together a handy infographic that says things are not as they seem. While the number of foreigners coming to China has declined, it is only very slightly. Plus, the country remains insanely popular, with Shanghai leading the way.

And if you ever question your decision to come to China (or, more likely, stay this long), you must always remind yourself that things aren’t so bad.



HSBC: China the best place in the world to be an expat

Posted: 11/4/2013 7:00 am

HSBC has introduced a feature on its website that compares expat life in various countries, and it has determined that China is the number 1 place in which to be an expat.

The website ranks conditions for expats based on three categories: economics, experience, and raising children.

China Law Blog has more:

If you take out the raising children portion, however, China comes in at number 2, behind Thailand. Interestingly, HSBC did not have enough information to rank Thailand on the raising children portion and so it was not in the rankings at all with that metric. It therefore is not possible to know whether Thailand or China would have been first overall.

Here’s the top 10:

1. China

2. Germany

3. Singapore

4. Cayman Islands

5. Australia

6. Canada

7. Russia

8. Belgium

9. United Arab Emirates

10. Hong Kong

Around 7,000 expats were interviewed by HSBC this year to analyse and compile the feature known as Expat Explorer, which you can check out here.

Do you agree with the findings?


Expat pens novel set in PRD, calls it “South China Morning Blues”

Posted: 08/28/2013 1:20 pm

An Israeli-American living in Shenzhen is seeking publication for his fictional novel set in the Pearl River Delta region of Guangdong, which he likens to the British cult-favourite Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. He has titled “South China Morning Blues” in a clever play on the Hong Kong newspaper.

“It’s an epic about the booming southern province of Guangdong and the diverse individuals who end up there. The short elevator pitch on this novel might be ‘Trainspotting’ set in China, due to the interlocking short stories and multiple narrators,” Ray Hecht, 31, who teaches English while writing in his spare time, told Shenzhen Daily in an interview back June. (Hecht has also contributed articles to The Nanfang.)

“It’s very difficult for a debut author to get published. People can self-publish on the Internet nowadays, and I may consider that option, too. But certainly it’s different when people get published by big-name publishing houses in New York City or Los Angeles.

“Teaching English for an institution does not offer a bright career prospective. One way is to have your own teaching facility. I have friends who marry Chinese wives and start their own English teaching centers. They live comfortably off them. But that’s not my dream,” Hecht said.

Although the majority of the novel’s scenes take place in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, cities such as Dongguan, Zhuhai and Macao also make appearances. Readers who are familiar with life in the the PRD will certainly be able to relate to Hecht’s fascinating cast of characters, which include “crooked businessmen, culture-shocked English teachers, jaded journalists, artists, criminals and more…”

Hecht has been living in Shenzhen since 2008, and lists Mo Yan as a favourite Chinese author. As of the time of his interview with Shenzhen Daily in mid-June, there was still no confirmed publishing deal or expected release date for his debut novel.

In any case, Hecht is certainly one expat in the PRD region to keep an eye on, and we wish him every success for the future.

In related news, earlier this month The Nanfang reported on the 2nd South China International Literary Festival which took place in Foshan and drew together a large number of high-profile attendees from across China’s literary world.

Photo credit: Trainspotting


“Unsavory Elements” and the changing nature of being an expat in China

Posted: 07/22/2013 3:19 pm

There’s no doubt that living in China is like living life in overdrive; everything is faster, crazier, more unpredictable, and thus a whole lot more fun (if you can minimize the number of Bad China Days).  We all have stories of crazy things we’ve seen, odd things our colleagues have done at work, or strange things our students have said.  The sheer randomness of China is what lies at the heart of its attraction.

Tom Carter, an author now based in Shanghai, has decided to collect a number of these expat China adventures in a volume titled Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China.  One of the contributors is Shenzhen’s very own Bruce Humes, who we profiled here on The Nanfang a few months ago.

Nobody on The Nanfang staff has read Unsavory Elements yet, but we plan to do it soon. In lieu of a review, we recently chatted with Carter by email regarding his anthology and the changing nature of expatdom in China.

You have an eclectic mix of writers: everyone from Simon Winchester (The River At The Center Of The World) and Peter Hessler (Country Driving) to Matthew Polly (American Shaolin) and Alan Paul (Big in China). How were you able to get so many notable people sign on for the project?

Probably because I conceived and approached this project as an actual fan of all the writers who appear in it, as opposed to an agent or publisher just looking to squeeze some money out of their book extracts, which unfortunately is how most anthologies come about.

I read the works of many of these authors for the first time during my 2-year backpacking sojourn across China – my pack was constantly filled to bursting with physical books. I respected them for inspiring generations of expats to follow in their footsteps and felt the moment had come to bring them all together, for the first time, on a single literary project to share all-new, never-before-told stories.

Even though I myself was also a published author, I didn’t know any of my contributors personally prior to this.  I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible they were: most immediately wrote back, expressed an enthusiasm in contributing to this long-overdue showcase, and encouraged me to try to get it published.

I eventually took my proposal to Graham Earnshaw, an old China hand whom I had mad respect for for his decade-long walk – entirely by foot – across the length of China. His book The Great Walk of China is one of my favorites. Graham is also a publisher, he saw potential in my idea, and the rest is literary history.

The ‘expat adventures in China’ theme has been done before. What makes Unsavory Elements stand out?

Anthologies like Unsavory Elements are for those readers who enjoy dipping into short stories at their leisure.  It offers a wide range of prose and a variety of perspectives that, in the spirit of our dissimilar backgrounds as expats, at times may contrast, and other times compliment each other.

I modeled the Unsavory theme after my backpacking days when I’d find myself lazing around some hostel in Dali or Dalian swapping travelers tales and debating issues with other backpackers from all over the world. Only an anthology can offer that kind of rich diversity.

The book is filled with expat adventures. Do you think as the country modernizes and becomes, in some ways, more western, that expats coming to China now and in the future will miss out on some of the crazier and more fun times?

As the editor, I was intent on making sure that all the stories in Unsavory Elements had a sort of timeless feel to them – experiences that occur just as commonly today as a decade ago – so that new and future expats could relate. And yet, modernization is a constant theme unintentionally running throughout the entire anthology; an undeniable variable that has not necessarily constrained the expat experience, but rather has taken the adventures to be had here to a new level.

A few examples from some of the more shocking essays in Unsavory: Susie Gordon’s Shanghai evening of ketamine, cocktails and KTV; Dominic Stevenson’s imprisonment for drug dealing; Bruce Humes getting knifed by a mugger in Shenzhen; Rudy Kong’s brawl with a bunch of off-duty policemen; and my own story about a boys-night-out at a brothel.

Of course the book is balanced out with an equal number of every-day accounts – a glimpse into our ordinary lives as foreigners living and working in China – but my point here is that China is as lawless today as it was last decade…just a bit more shiny is all.

China had a tremendous run up to the Olympic Games in 2008, but it seems interest in the country may be waning slightly. Do you believe there is still as much interest in China as there was a few years ago?

It’s true that many expats and entrepreneurs have been jumping ship lately – and making headlines for it – now that China’s economy has leveled off. In fact, in 2008 I myself left China for the very first time in four straight years because Beijing, where I had been based, was getting ridiculous with tourists and newcomers and journalists. I spent a year in Japan, and then another year in India. By the time I came back to China in 2010, I was admittedly happy to see the scene had calmed down.

But I can’t say I agree that interest in China has waned. Even though certain press agencies are pulling out their long-term correspondents, and even though some western businesses are retreating after realizing that there’s no more money to be gleaned, there’s more global attention on China today than ever before.

Granted, a lot of this is just a kind of cruel excitement by the western media who are waiting for the bubble to burst. And there’s also that contingent of China watchers who are predicting a new country-wide revolution if The Party doesn’t do something about the widening income gap. But the interest in China is still undeniably there.

Where / how can people in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan buy the book?

Unsavory Elements has been a true grassroots project since inception. It was published in Shanghai by Earnshaw Books, launched at the Shanghai Literary Festival, the awesome cover art was donated by Plastered T-shirts in Beijing, and we are relying primarily on coverage in local expat scene ‘zines that I personally follow, such as The Nanfang, to help generate a buzz. In other words, the antithesis of a mass-market release; no agents, no publicists, no bought-and-paid for reviews.

But this also means that our China distribution will be limited to independent foreign language bookshops. Readers in Guangdong can pick up the physical book at Bookazine in Hong Kong, or just order it directly from Earnshaw Books – they’ll kuai di it out to you. And of course there’s always Kindle on Amazon. Needless to say, we are very much obliged for everyone’s support.

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