My Antidiuretic Presence

It was early evening, shortly after dinner. I was on the outskirts of Shanghai trying to find a cab to get home. As I walked the streets I was vaguely aware of a guy standing facing a wall, having a conversation with another nearby guy in a car. I’ve learned that (especially in China) it’s best not to pay attention to guys facing walls on the side of the street, so I never gave him more than a glance. As I passed by, though, I couldn’t help but overhear a part of the two men’s conversation.

> Guy in car: [something annoyed and impatient-sounding]

> Guy at wall: Hold on! I just saw a foreigner so I can’t pee!

I couldn’t help but laugh. Up until that point I hadn’t realized that one of my laowai superpowers was my antidiuretic presence.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Haha classic!
    The lesson for today is that during certain times in a man’s day, it can be a little stressful if everything isn’t just right.

  2. Hmm . . . I wonder if it was civic/national pride or bashful kidneys?

  3. So did you walk between the guy and the car? Or were you on the other side of the street.

    I usually wait around til after they’re done, and then offer them hand sanitizer.

  4. At least he didn’t p!ss himself (laughing) in your presence…

  5. Walking down the main street of some hick town in Sichuan I passed a young girl grimacing as she was about to have a vaccination needle in her backside at one of the street doctors. Her dad shook her shoulder and pointed at me:
    “Dad – I saw a laowai!” she said gleefully, now completely oblivious to the pain of the injection. What amazing powers we have.

  6. I think your superpower only works on adult males. Infants, moms and nannys are immune, as are taxi drivers.

  7. I’m curious which other laowai superpowers you allready identified. Has every laowai the same powers, or do they differ from country to country?

  8. lee,

    He was on a corner, and I was crossing the street approaching the corner. He was sort of to the left, and I turned right. About when I turned was when I was closest and when I heard the comment.

  9. shulan,

    They definitely differ from country to country. I doubt foreigners get any superpowers in the U.S., except maybe “the power to involuntary compel airport security to detain and thoroughly search you” if you’re from the Middle East.

    In China some laowai powers include:

    1. The power to increase prices in one’s immediate vicinity
    2. The power to hypnotize the local populace (works best when not dilluted by numbers, i.e. in smaler towns)
    3. The power to (inexplicably) get dates
    4. The power to induce spontaneous multiple hello’s

    There are more, but I think that’s about enough…

  10. amazing power!
    China is not religion free country anymore. “laowainity” will be the dominace.
    Let’s go on the street to worship!lol….

  11. Does #1 disappear when the seller realizes that you speak Mandarin?
    Does the intensite of power #2 vary proportionally to height?
    Does #3 disappear when wearing magic rings on the fourth finger?
    Should I ignore #4 when I’m in China?

  12. aorijia Says: March 7, 2007 at 5:42 am

    Funny as can be!! I don’t know if I prefer your entry, or the comment you left to Shulan.

    Regarding Steve’s questions, I’d really like to hear your point of view. As for #2, I don’t know how it works for guys, but I’m a quite short girl, with reddish hair and freckles, and the moment I step on a Chinese street, I feel as if I turned into a Hollywood movie star :-@. Oh, wait, surely if I were taller, I would get many more requests for photos. :-(.

  13. Hey! Why don’t I have that power?!?

  14. Ms. Plum Says: March 7, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    Steve, as to #3, Chinese people don’t traditionally wear wedding rings, so the “magic” fourth-finger ring is usually meaningless here.

  15. Greg Pasden Says: March 8, 2007 at 4:38 am

    So what will be your new super hero name?

    Will you wear a cape, a mask or a costume?

    What other powers can you employ?

  16. My favorite was when the baby was crying on the train the mother telling him, “Don’t cry, don’t cry! Look at the Laowai. Don’t cry.”

  17. aorijia: Uh oh. My wife is a red-head (well, a blondish-redhead, really) and she’s pretty tall (5′ 10”). Me, I’m 6′ 6” (which I think is around John’s height, too). I’m sure we’ll get a lot of looks when we visit China in a few months 😉

    Ms. Plum: Thanks for letting me know. I was kind of curious about that. What about the tradition of taking the other persons míng?

  18. Oops. I guess I should convert for non-American units.
    me: 198 cm
    wife: 177 cm
    I can’t wait for America to catch up to the rest of the world and go metric.

  19. This cracked me up! Its so true!! I am a 5’7 (around 172cm) female…the heighth does add to the dramatic quality of being a laowai in China – i’m definitely noticeable and pointed out expecially in small towns.

    I have to say my favorite Laowai experienc was when i was waiting in line to buy a delicious jianbing and a lady walking her tiny dog started nudging the small critter and pointing at me, telling him to look at the laowai.

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