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'Lao Wai' Bridge Culture Gap
Some 10,000 Beijingers will get a specially warm New Year greeting this month from a group of foreigners living or traveling here who are sending out postcards to Chinese companies. In addition, a huge poster will appear on the old CCTV Tower on the West Second Ring Road reading: "Lao Wai celebrate the Spring Festival with Beijing."

"The postcard reads: "The changes taking place in Beijing have left a deep impression on foreigners, not only for those in Beijing, but from all over the world. We all know that Beijing has linked more closely with the world. But sometimes the cultural differences have led to misunderstandings, so we want to build a 'bridge between cultures', making everyone feel they are the carrier of different cultures. The term 'lao wai' is the link between different cultures. We wish through this 'bridge' that all 'lao wai' in the world could promote peace and friendship between different cultures. We pray this 'bridge' will develop along with the development of Beijing."

The words were written by German Guido Rosler, who has been studying in Beijing for three years, and those projects is made possible by many Chinese and foreigners he spoke to. Pawel Matulewicz, calling himself "half a Chinese", has been in Beijing for seven years. Very supportive of Rosler's idea, he joined Rosler on the streets in urging foreigners to join them to send postcards, and Matulewicz wrote the Chinese address on an envelope in Chinese.

Interestingly, but understandably, some foreigners wouldn't agree they are "lao wai". No Chinese would admit the term to be in any way insulting, but they seldom use it in front of a foreigner.

Rosler said it also took him a long time to accept the description "lao wai", but now he finds it friendly, even intimate. "Lao" is word Chinese use to address their older friends before saying their surname. "Wai" means foreigner. "Everybody could be a 'lao wai' when they go to another country. He or she could have the same cultural difference problem. There should be more understanding between people," said Rosler.

The caring German sees this movement as the start of a long-term project to build a bridge of understanding. Last year, he and his friends collected 12,008 signatures from expatriates and foreign tourists in support of Beijing's Olympics bid.

(BeijingNews.com.cn March 29, 2002)

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