Not local person

I’ve been using the Chinese Lyft (aka. DiDi) a lot these days.

The drivers have been really impressive, if not their rides.

Here is the pattern: They are almost always men. They are between 25 and 35 years old. And they are usually not from Shanghai.

How do I tell? Well, only Shanghaiese speak Shanghai dialect, which I assure you, sounds like a foreign language against mandarin.

Like Parisians, Shanghaiese have a special term for folks from elsewhere: Wai-di Ren, which can be literally translated as: Not Local Person.

In China, Han is the most common race. So racism within the nation is almost a foreign term. What do we have instead? Regionalism. It is rather common for people from Shanghai and Beijing to look down upon “Wai-di Ren.”

So what’s the reaction of Shanghai folks when they bump into Beijingers in Shanghai? We Shanghaiese look down upon them just the same. And vice versa.

During the few rides I’ve had for the past few days from my Shanghai apartment to the nearest hospital, I’ve seen and learned something else.

I pointed out to a driver this morning that he had some litter in the back of his car. He said, “Oh, it may have been the aftermath of the previous rider.”

Then I asked him to describe to me what that rider was like. And so he began:

“Oh, he’s from Shanghai. He seems rich and wants people to know that he’s rich. I waited for him for ten long minutes before he appeared. He even asked me to break the traffic law for him to his own convenience. He may have given me a lower rate just because I refused.”

Before I could learn more, I was already at my destination. I thanked him and gave him a Five-Star rating. I would throw in some tip but there is no tipping button on DiDi.

Not local person…

Some fortnight ago, I was one too.

I once used the term “Wai-Di Ren” rather often whenever I saw some not-local people behaving poorly. Now it sounds different after being one myself for three years in LA. Hell, I was not only Wai-Di (Elsewhere), I was Wai-Guo (Another country). All I wanted was to find my footing and grow, like those diligent and kind DiDi drivers. Full disclosure: Before my dad retired, he had been a driver throughout his 40-year career.

And apart from the birthplace, those snobbish Shanghai folks have no right to be here if they don’t even feel like picking up their dogs’ craps.

If only justice is that easy.


Yours truly,

PS. Check out the latest #RBYZ episode where I talked about shame and vulnerability with psychologist Barbara Kiao.