There are a hell of a lot of westerners in Shanghai – many come to study, many come backpacking, some to shag as many Chinese girls as they possibly can… but I’d estimate that the vast majority are here for work. A lot of them are contracted to be here for a while, so they inevitably take Chinese lessons to help them get through daily life here – ordering in restaurants, telling cab drivers where to go, etc.
Apparently quite a common thing for Chinese teachers to say to their younger male students is that if they want to improve their Chinese quickly, they should get a “hēi tóufǎ de zìdiǎn” (黑头发的字典), which literally means “a black-haired dictionary”. This, in a rather less than roundabout way, means that they should find themselves a Chinese girlfriend to keep them company – preferably one who doesn’t speak much English, so they are forced to use the Chinese they’ve learned just in order to communicate basic things.
This is what I like to call “immersive language learning with benefits”, but I think I like the Chinese turn of phrase better.
This isn’t often as much of a challenge as it might sound. Given that most Chinese girls see western men – even the fatter, uglier, Frencher representatives – as exotic and rich beyond their wildest dreams, it’s an extremely common sight on the streets and in the bars of Shanghai to see an older western man with a beautiful young Chinese girl on their arm. For some men, hitting on Asian girls is the primary reason they live in Shanghai. I often feel bad for Asian guys: often spurned by Asian girls in favour of western men, and largely ignored by western women.