Lao wai!
April 6, 2006 10:33 AM   Subscribe

American businessman "stranded" in China. Now safe back in Seattle, Eugene Nelson could barely restrain his tears as he told his harrowing tale of accidently being put on a flight to "remote" Western China ("literally 200 miles south of the Mongolian border"!), "damn near fight[ing his] way out" of a brothel, and barely making his way back to civilization. While Eugene seems a bit unresourceful, his story does illustrate how difficult travel in China can be without Mandarin skills, despite the supposed prevalence of English speakers. Maybe someday his employer can hire one of the legions of students (and toddlers) now studying Mandarin. Or maybe they won't need to.
posted by banishedimmortal (72 comments total)
 
In between, Nelson said he faced danger and indignity, injuring his legs and back leaping out of the way of a reckless car and enduring the spit that some Chinese hurled his way.
I suspect this guy might have trouble travelling in any non-English speaking country.
posted by Staggering Jack at 10:41 AM on April 6, 2006


There are several strange things about the story, e.g. why did China let him into the country? (Americans need to apply for a visa before going there, and Hong Kong doesn't count. Altough if he often travels in that area on business he might have a visa already.) Why didn't the airline help him? And how could he end up on the wrong flight?
posted by rpn at 10:43 AM on April 6, 2006


Going by the story, this guy sounds completely unresourceful, bordering on incompetent. I am also not sure how this becomes news. I bet half the mefites here have more harrowing stories to tell.
posted by vacapinta at 10:45 AM on April 6, 2006


By the way, look where Taiyuan is on this map. I mean, Beijing is closer to Mongolia than Taiyuan is, for Christ's sake.
posted by banishedimmortal at 10:52 AM on April 6, 2006


Yes. This seems to boil down to: FOOL EXPERIENCES CHALLENGES DUE TO PERSONAL LIMITATIONS more than FREEDOM LOVING REGULAR PERSON STYMIED BY COMMUNIST BASTIGES.
posted by CheeseburgerBrown at 10:53 AM on April 6, 2006


Good lord, I don't want to belittle his experience (it can be pretty nerve-wracking travelling in a country where you neither speak the language nor phonetically sound out the written word), but the article makes him sound a bit more than "unresourceful". This is the kind of guy who calls AAA when he has a flat tire. Why the hell would you travel to Taiwan (even on business) without at least a Mandarin phrasebook?

I should note that Taiyuan is a large city only a few hours away from the US Consulate in Beijing.
posted by xthlc at 10:54 AM on April 6, 2006


It also seems very odd that the airline would not accept a credit or debit card. I'm surprised Intel allows him to represent them overseas, or frankly, that he was issued a passport. If one cannot distinguish between a country (Taiwan) and a city (Taiyuan), one should not travel.

I agree that this story is ridiculous. Imagine a Mandarin-speaking person coming to the US without speaking any English. They'd have a really tough time. Such stories do not become news.

However, the other articles were interesting. The sob-story of the moron who got on the wrong plane only detracts.
posted by Azaadistani at 10:57 AM on April 6, 2006


Taiyuan is 250 miles from Beijing. How does it qualify as "remote Western China"?
posted by sellout at 10:57 AM on April 6, 2006


"She probably saved my fricking life," he said, nearly breaking into sobs

making Americans look great!
posted by rxrfrx at 11:06 AM on April 6, 2006


I can't tell if this guy's just the stereotypical American abroad ("They were different! And different from me equals ignorant or stupid!") or if the real story is that Intel hires retarded people to represent the company.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:07 AM on April 6, 2006


His mother made a statement about 40 years being too soon to let him go out of her house alone.
posted by qvantamon at 11:07 AM on April 6, 2006


And I don't get how someone can get to the point of "fighting his way out of a brothel" while looking for a hotel.

"Hey, funny hotel with all these purple and pink lights". "Hey, how weird, all the maids wear leather and have whips". "Wow, hotels around here have spinning beds and porn on the TV for free". "OMG! IT'S A BROTHEL! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!"
posted by qvantamon at 11:11 AM on April 6, 2006


Every time I travel I HOPE something like this happens to me.
What he calls a "harrowing tale" I'd call a "grand adventure."

And, what, he couldn't just sleep in the brothel?
posted by Floydd at 11:15 AM on April 6, 2006


My favorite line:

"he stood clutching his wife and children, mopping his own tears with the bright pink hood of his 16-month-old daughter Josie's cartoon-character sweat shirt"
posted by banishedimmortal at 11:16 AM on April 6, 2006


Photo and parody (already?)
posted by banishedimmortal at 11:21 AM on April 6, 2006


What a dipshit. Do companies really send employees overseas that don't know that Taiwan is an island and not a city? This is a little more than booking a flight for Springfield, IL and finding yourself in Springfield, MO, this is more like wanting to go to Seattle, Washington and ending up at Dulles.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:23 AM on April 6, 2006


This is a little more than booking a flight for Springfield, IL and finding yourself in Springfield, MO.

How'd you know how I ended up living here?
posted by sourwookie at 11:28 AM on April 6, 2006


This is a little more than booking a flight for Springfield, IL and finding yourself in Springfield, MO.

I work in KC and one of our more legendary Sys Admins managed this exact calamity. He didn't fly, though. He drove.
posted by daveleck at 11:33 AM on April 6, 2006


The Post article states: "Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world."

I would have thought English is the most widely spoken even though Mandarin has the most native speakers.

And yes, this man should not be allowed outside without adult supervision.
posted by MasonDixon at 11:46 AM on April 6, 2006


Here's what I would do.

1. Curse.
2. Do I have a valid ticket for the place I'm going to?
3a. If I've got a valid ticket: do nothing. Check out as usual.
3b. If my ticket is not valid for the place I'm going to: call the stewardess, apologize for the mistake, explain.
4. After checking out, call whoever is waiting for me and find someplace to stay, unless there is an immediate flight back.

And you?
posted by Termite at 11:54 AM on April 6, 2006


Does "lao wai" mean in Mandarin what it means in Tagalog? (Ptoo)
posted by brownpau at 11:57 AM on April 6, 2006


"Lao wai" is foreigner.
posted by borkingchikapa at 12:28 PM on April 6, 2006


Pollomacho writes "Do companies really send employees overseas that don't know that Taiwan is an island and not a city?"

I really don't think that was the problem. It's pretty clear he knows what and where Taiwan is. He claims that there was a "booking error", and that he wound up with tickets on the flight to Taiyuan.

Now, as to how he missed this error when boarding the plane.... I might understand it if he was in another Chinese city, and he had only the pronunciations of the two places to go on (assuming he can't be bothered to look up the Chinese spelling for the island's name), but in Hong Kong? Isn't there English everywhere in Hong Kong? Wouldn't the destination of the flight be displayed in English? Does anyone know the answers to these questions?
posted by mr_roboto at 12:32 PM on April 6, 2006


The (interesting) part missing from this whole story is how he ended up at a brothel with no money. The rest just seems concocted to explain away the situation.

"Honey, you're not going to believe what happened to me, but..."
posted by Gamblor at 12:35 PM on April 6, 2006


While "lao wai" means "foreigner," it has many other implications.
It means "that person over there who can't understand what we are saying."
It also means "Look, there's a foreigner!"
It also means "Moooooooo!" in the way that people say it to cows.
It also sometimes means "I ought to rob your neo-imperialist ass and leave you in a ditch somewhere, but it's too risky at this point, so I'm going to let you keep walking through my neighborhood."

I'm fairly certain that Eugene heard this word over a hundred times during his stay in Taiyuan.
posted by banishedimmortal at 12:36 PM on April 6, 2006


Brownpau, "lao wai" is a mild perjorative term for foreigner in Mandarin.

This man is an idiot. First of all, describing Taiyuan as remote is absurd. From the FPP, I assumed he ended up in Urumqi or something like that. Secondly, Beijing is closer to Mongolia. Finally, what excuse does he have for getting on the wrong flight in Hong Kong? Language wouldn't have been a problem; everyone speaks English. Certainly everyone working at the airport would have been able to help him. Taiyuan and Taiwan are not only spelled differently, but pronounced distinctly and written with totally different Chinese characters. Also, wouldn't his itinerary say Taipei, not Taiwan?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:43 PM on April 6, 2006


Gamblor, your theory intrigues. Methinks you may have solved the mystery.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:44 PM on April 6, 2006


English is not everywhere in Hong Kong. Even during British governance only aorun 1% or 2% of the population were English-speaking (I was one of them).

Today, you'd be lucky if you could find any local not working at one of the major hotels or airlines who could speak English. Cantonese is what you want.

And for the record, I think the guy does come across as a total pussy, but I'm sure it's because he felt helpless because he couldn't speak the language. Myself, I love adventures like those, and you can always mime you way and point at things to explain. In most Asian countries I've been to, the locals are more than happy to help if they can.

ObDisclaimer: I speak Cantonese and Mandarin in addition to my native English. I don't fear being stuck in many parts of China.
posted by illiad at 12:45 PM on April 6, 2006


I'd like to see this guy on The Amazing Race.
posted by dobbs at 12:53 PM on April 6, 2006


So, let me get this straight. He had no frickin' money. No American or Hong Kong Dollars? No one at the airline could speak english or call someone who could? Why is this man's ineptness even in the news? Did the man learn anything worthwhile about himself or the world other than it's a dangerous crazy random place and American's are not liked in some places and he's never going to leave the security of his cubicle again? Man, that's just stupid and depressing.
posted by Skygazer at 12:54 PM on April 6, 2006


“I would argue that if they can say bonjour in French, they can say ‘thank you’ in Chinese.”

And I would argue that this bloke should have had a mandarin nanny and some ping-pong skillz. Right.

It can be challenging to communicate abroad, especially given that understanding the "english" spoken in certain far-away lands sometimes takes as much effort on the part of the native ear as it does from the guy who's struggling to remember what he learned in high school from a teacher who may also have been less than fluent. But I'm imagining the way his conversation with the agent who booked his ticket went; one has to be a complete idiot who's entirely insensitive to context to let something like that happen - like the tourists who speak in a slang-laden southern drawl that's grammatically opaque to anyone who's English is less than perfect, and repeat everything louder until they've convinced themselves that they'll get what they want.

And really, where was his sense of adventure? If my boss sent me to run international errands, I'd try to get into messes like that on purpose. At least he's home safe with a couple stamps in his brand-new passport (if he hasn't already put it through the paper shredder).
posted by xanthippe at 1:03 PM on April 6, 2006


I've heard stories like this from my wife who is an international student travel agent. Student travelers find themselves in a "strange" country with no money because of a string of irresponsible or foolish mistakes on their part. They call the travel agent that sold them the ticket and demand the agent do something, anything, to fix their problem. Most times, the stranded traveler blames anyone they can think of. From everyone else's perspective it's nobodies fault but the traveler who made crucial mistakes that could have been avoided by paying attention to what was going on around them. Another common thread in these stories is that the mother is involved in the communications somehow and is very worried.
posted by chowder at 1:06 PM on April 6, 2006


Illiad, I admit I exaggerated the prevalence of English in Hong Kong, but not speaking Cantonese or Mandarin, I didn't have any difficulty getting around or communicating.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:07 PM on April 6, 2006


from 'supposed' link: "It is in our nature as British, and part of the British entrepreneurial spirit, always to explore, to seek out new markets, to boldly search out new opportunities where others have hesitated to go."

sounds like Chancellor Brown watched too much Star Trek: Next Generation to me.
posted by pelican at 1:11 PM on April 6, 2006


expletive: no biggie, and you support your original point well that it simply takes a bit of patience and one can get around pretty much anywhere, language barriers be damned.
posted by illiad at 1:12 PM on April 6, 2006


American Express officials contacted Wednesday by The Associated Press either declined immediate comment or did not return calls seeking comment on Nelson's journey.

This is besides the point, but it seems like a copy editor really screwed this up.
posted by Pacheco at 1:20 PM on April 6, 2006


After 3 months living in Beijing, it sure as hell felt like everyone in Hong Kong spoke perfect English.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:24 PM on April 6, 2006


What a fucking pussy.
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:02 PM on April 6, 2006


I once wound up dumped in the middle of nowhere in northern Syria; I spoke about six words of Arabic and managed to get back to Aleppo in one piece and without crying about my near-death experience. (On the other hand, I didn't get to hang out in any brothels, either.)

Also, like [expletive deleted] I assumed from the initial post that he'd found himself in deepest Sinkiang, not a few hundred miles from Peking.
posted by languagehat at 2:08 PM on April 6, 2006


This story would make a hilarious comic book.
posted by interrobang at 2:11 PM on April 6, 2006


Good lord, I don't want to belittle his experience I do. What a twat.
posted by rhymer at 2:22 PM on April 6, 2006


Image hosting by Photobucket

The terrifying Yellow Peril!
posted by interrobang at 2:23 PM on April 6, 2006


This is my favorite picture of the guy so far, probably showing him "mopping his own tears with the bright pink hood of his 16-month-old daughter Josie's cartoon-character sweat shirt."

I know I already quoted it above, but, I'm sorry, I just can't stop laughing at that sentence...was the author trying to evoke sympathy for the dude?
....
That being said, I have had my fair share of experiences in China where I just wanted to scream and throttle everyone around me. It can be an extraordinarily difficult country to travel in.
But this is the most intense schadenfreude I've experienced in a long long time...
posted by banishedimmortal at 2:24 PM on April 6, 2006


If I was intel I'd probably sack him for damaging the corporate brand by being such a cry eye. I want to buy chips from a business that only employs individuals with a certain level of manliness or above. Unless of course they are women.
posted by rhymer at 2:30 PM on April 6, 2006


Taiyuan is 250 miles from Beijing. How does it qualify as "remote Western China"?

Especially since it's obviously in the eastern side of the country.

To me it sounds like he just panicked. I mean really. I know enough manderan to get around but mostly he was just scared for no reason.

He should have just stayed on the plane.
posted by delmoi at 2:40 PM on April 6, 2006


With the snakes?
posted by kirkaracha at 2:57 PM on April 6, 2006


Who contact the press about this? Nelson himself? Did he not realize how much of a fool it made him appear?

I mean, at least he could act tough in front of the reporters.

Maybe he's planning a lawsuit.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:57 PM on April 6, 2006


We can only hope that Intel will outsource his job to China.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:05 PM on April 6, 2006


This guy needs to learn from Chung of CHUNG IS KING.
posted by mullacc at 3:23 PM on April 6, 2006


I backpacked around China with just a phrasebook before I knew a word of Mandarin. It is a strange place. But not that strange. The backpackers in Dali and Yangshuo must be getting a kick out of this story.
posted by Loudmax at 3:30 PM on April 6, 2006


Mongolia is one of the most beautiful (and friendly) countries on earth. He says he was "literally" 200 miles away like he was standing on the doorstep of Hell itself, choking on the sulfur.

This man needs to travel either a lot more or a lot less.
posted by zanni at 4:04 PM on April 6, 2006


"literally 200 miles south of the Mongolian border"!

Looks at least twice that far.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:11 PM on April 6, 2006


Flying around the world does not make one a traveler.
posted by iamck at 4:31 PM on April 6, 2006


She probably saved my fricking life," he said, nearly breaking into sobs.
God, what a fucking pussy. His wife must be one proud girl.
posted by c13 at 4:37 PM on April 6, 2006


The article makes this guy seem like a complete buffoon. It smacks a little bit of an AP writer taking liberties writing an otherwise boring travel story. My guess is that the author was either on the same flight as this guy or his editors sent him to Seatac to trawl for people coing back with travel nightmares. It is not clear from the man's own quotes in the article whether he is crying because of his misadventure or because he is glad to see his family. Things could have gone smoothly in China and he might have had the same teary reaction. It could just be a bit of journalistic license to dress up an otherwise dull travel nightmare story.
posted by nyterrant at 4:54 PM on April 6, 2006


Mongolia is one of the most beautiful (and friendly) countries on earth. He says he was "literally" 200 miles away like he was standing on the doorstep of Hell itself, choking on the sulfur.

This man needs to travel either a lot more or a lot less.


That's what makes this so funny. I mean, man! I'm literally LESS than 200 miles from the American border right now! Helps me!

He sounds like the kind of guy who would probably have the same problems in, say, France. Only the bordello would be cooler.
posted by generichuman at 5:00 PM on April 6, 2006


I am well-pleased to see the scorn heaped on this guy's head in this thread. I used to love fucking with (invariably) American tourist types years ago when I was on the backpacking trail, telling them Terrifying (and mostly untrue) Tales of The Native Threat just to wind them up.

I am a bad man.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:22 PM on April 6, 2006


I like Gamblor's explanation. I really did laugh out loud.

The fact is that a lot of Americans these days are desperately afraid of foreigners and foreign countries and have this strange impression of the rest of the world as being incredibly primitive and dangerous. It's more than a little frightening that these are the people who apparently rule the globe.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:08 PM on April 6, 2006


i can totally understand this gentleman's confusion and consternation. every time i've had to fight my way out of a brothel, i've been a little dazed afterwards.
posted by RTQP at 7:07 PM on April 6, 2006


The impression that he escaped from a "brothel" was probably just a product of the standard call every lone male traveller gets when staying at a middle-of-the-road hotel in China, offering companionship/a massage for the night. Maybe they were a little more pushy than he was used to.

Another theory: maybe this guy just really hates travelling, and he thinks that by pulling a stunt like this Intel will just choose to leave him at the home office in the future.
posted by msittig at 8:30 PM on April 6, 2006


The fact is that a lot of Americans these days are desperately afraid of foreigners and foreign countries and have this strange impression of the rest of the world as being incredibly primitive and dangerous.

That could be either a cause or an effect of the fact that so many never set foot outside their own country. Canadians, on the other hand...
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:37 PM on April 6, 2006


How embarrassing.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 9:31 PM on April 6, 2006


Canadians, on the other hand...

Have only an 7% higher rate of passport holders (source).
posted by Staggering Jack at 9:31 PM on April 6, 2006


I traveled by myself in China for about two weeks, more than a decade ago. 'Course, my Mandarin is pretty good.

More importantly, I'd be really careful when going to a country where I don't speak the primary language. Making sure I was going to the right city, the right province, etc. This guy makes the stereotype of the stupid American seem all the more accurate.
posted by jiawen at 9:58 PM on April 6, 2006


every time i've had to fight my way out of a brothel, i've been a little dazed afterwards

But I bet you've never had to fight your way out when you didn't have any money.

In most brothels, your feet wouldn't touch the ground -- but perhaps the little yellow whores just couldn't control themselves in the presence of his magnificent American manflesh?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:26 PM on April 6, 2006


I'd be really careful when going to a country where I don't speak the primary language.

I don't know about that. It's not *that* difficult to get by, especially considering that a traveller's basic needs amount to little more than somewhere to sleep, somewhere to eat & working out how to get to the next destination. You only need a little imagination & patience & things fall into place easily enough. Use a little "sign language", scribbled pictures, point at a map, retain a sense of humour, and, of course, remember the fact that except in the tiniest villages, somebody somewhere speaks at least rudimentary English.

Now this guy is obviously a totally incompetent traveller - the kind who needs guides, interpreters, hotel staff etc to hold his hand constantly because he cannot work out how to do anything or find anything for himself. How can you explain not being able to find a hotel, starting at an international airport? All he has to do is hop into a taxi and make a kind of sleeping gesture. And that problem wiring money? What kind of absolute cretin travels without a combination of cash, cards & travellers' cheques? I mean, it's not as if USD$100 notes are hard to change *anywhere*.

And shame on the journalist for pandering to this guy's lame-assed panicky uselessness.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:03 AM on April 7, 2006


Presumably the poor twerp would agree with the quote by poet Philip Larkin: "I wouldn't mind seeing China if I could come back the same day."

(Cited by Paul Theroux in his classic China travelogue Riding the Iron Rooster)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 4:30 AM on April 7, 2006


He says he was "literally" 200 miles away like he was standing on the doorstep of Hell itself, choking on the sulfur.

Considering how polluted that area of China is, that is an unusually apt simile. I once got off on a train in Datong (same province as Taiyuan) and I could feel the slick, almost greasy coal dust in the wind.

Especially since it's obviously in the eastern side of the country.

Geographically Taiyuan might seem not in the west, but in terms of economic and cultural development, it's a lot closer to Lanzhou than Hangzhou.
posted by alidarbac at 8:36 AM on April 7, 2006


If he'd been more open minded, he might have had a more interesting experience.

People often get too uptight about mistakes and miss out on a little life.
posted by marklyon at 1:47 PM on April 7, 2006


Belated followup - To clarify, the Tagalog word that sounds like "lao wai" (laway) means saliva, and is sometimes occasionally used in a slur against the Chinese: "Intsik beho, tulo laway," literally translated, "Drooling chinaman."
posted by brownpau at 5:57 AM on April 8, 2006


I'd like to see this guy on The Amazing Race.
Heh. This guy definitely reminds me of those teams on The Amazing Race that never last past halfway through the race... the ones that always seem to break down crying and getting into ridiculous hissy fits because they can't figure out how to drive a manual transmission, or the traffic is heavy, or they got a little too much fish guts on them at the challenge.

His line about "OMG I had to dodge spit!!!" takes the cake for pussitry.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:43 AM on April 9, 2006


If all this talk of modern China has made you curious (and anyone is actually still reading this thread), see the film Beijing Bicycle. It's a bit of a riff on the Da Sica Classic, and it's totally fantastic. Who would think those dangerous expectorating Chinese could make such great art?*
posted by Skygazer at 1:09 PM on April 10, 2006


« Older Hmmm....   |   Forecasting financial disaster Olympics 2012 Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments