Tom Fearon

Professional communicator in Canberra

Foreigners Face Game of Russian Roulette

Oct. 15, 2012

By Tom Fearon

Illustration: Peter Espina/GT

Illustration: Peter Espina/GT

Forget the Year of the Dragon or overhyped fears about the world meeting its apocalyptic doom, because 2012 will go down in Chinese history as the year of foreigners behaving badly. Not since the height of the Opium Wars over a century ago have laowai gone out of their way to make a bad name for themselves in the Middle Kingdom.

From a British sex attacker to a foul-mouthed Russian cellist traveling on the train, a series of ugly incidents has resulted in synchronized face palms among seasoned expats in the country who must deal with the suspicious stares of some Chinese that seem to scold: "Bad foreigner! Bad!"

Foreign folks have had cause to breathe a collective sigh of relief since Beijing's 100-day crackdown on illegal aliens came to an uneventful end in August. Aside from a few casualties, namely departing expats writing bitter "farewell China" letters, most of us managed to weather the storm and can happily walk the streets outside with our heads held high.

But on Friday the game of Russian roulette involving foreigners' reputation took an explosive turn when a drunken man decided it would be a hoot to knife an employee at a downtown hotel, steal a minibus for a joyride and then crash it into four other vehicles and an innocent pedestrian.

The man, coincidentally enough a Russian, then tried to make a run for it before succumbing to a pair of good Samaritans, a police officer and a photographer who snapped a picture of the handcuffed perpetrator sprawled on the pavement. 

It's a miracle this incident, which erupted at the Kyoto Garden Hotel in Chaoyang district, didn't have a tragic ending when you consider it involved reckless driving in the congested hub of Jianguomen. But it's also worth recognizing the "misbehaving foreigner" angle boosts its newsworthiness in the Chinese media.

If the drunk driver had been a migrant worker from Henan Province, would it have made news? Probably. Would it have ignited debate about the legitimacy of migrant workers in Beijing or the character of Henan people? Unlikely.

Wherever you go in the world, you'll find foreigners and locals alike acting out of line and bringing disgrace upon themselves. You'll also find plenty of people from both groups contributing to the community with selfless acts that would make Lei Feng himself feel proud.

Maybe it's a sign of maturity among Chinese microbloggers, but the latest story has been met on Weibo with stark indifference. There have been no angry tirades, no calls for mass deportation and hardly any angry emoticons. The public thankfully seems to realize the intoxicated Russian doesn't fly the flag for all foreigners.

Thank heavens Kenny G, Richard Clayderman and Michael Bolton, who have more hits between them than a naughty Chinese infant with a tiger mother, all arrive in Beijing next month on scheduled tours set to help smooth out Chinese-foreigner relations. Nothing helps you forget misbehaving ingrates from abroad better than the soothing melodies of easy listening music's rat pack.  

See the original article here.