Don’t Look My Way


I landed in Chengdu a little over two weeks ago. The first KTV I worked at was a bust and management proved to be no help. I asked one of the girls if she knew of a better one. Turned out, it was only a little bit further away than the first. My tip is 800 RMB, even better than before, and I could secure work pretty much every night. Then, on Tuesday, a Ukranian girl appeared. By Thursday, two more had come.

My Brazilian friend who works in a KTV in Shanghai shares a similar disdain for Ukranian/Russian girls. Every time they show up, business goes to shit. They’re like a bad omen.

For starters, they tend to be super unfriendly. I’ve tried conversing with them only to have them snub me multiple times. So I gave up. Two, because they’re white, even if they aren’t that attractive, they’ll be picked first if we stand in a line together. My racially ambiguous appearance is unhelpful in this situation. I may be American, but a lot of uneducated, older Chinese hold onto this perception that only white people live in the states, despite the fact that we have a black president.

Racism in China may be far milder than in the U.S., but it still exists, and goes back to ancient times. Though it’s more about colorism than institutional racism, since China has largely remained closed off from that world for millennia. Historically, dark skin symbolized a day spent out in the fields, which served as an indicator of poverty, while white skin represented status and wealth.

Modern China has evolved quickly. Many young Chinese men are openly attracted to black women. Yet, colorism still pervades a great deal of the culture. Additionally, many Chinese men, especially in big cities, are completely uninterested in foreign women. On a good night, I’ll need to enter at least four rooms before I can get work. Think about it: on a good night, my ability to get work is 4:1. Now that there are three white women, my odds drop down to about 10 percent.

On Friday, I entered 20 different rooms. About half of the men, as usual, opened their mouths just to say “不要外国人/不要老外“ which means “I don’t want a foreigner”. Five of them asked me some questions just for the hell of it but didn’t invite me to stay. Another five rooms didn’t have anyone who would even take a single glance at me. Some days are like this. It’s a job. I understand bad days are gonna happen.

But the sudden appearance of those Ukranian girls worries me. They stand next to me and talk shit in their language. Most of my Chinese coworkers ask too many questions. Some days, I just wanna rip my hair out. I feel so alone at my work. There’s no one here I can talk to. I hope my Brazilian friend or my Xinjiang friend can visit and work with me.

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