Monkey Abroad

Videos and stories of the life abroad – food, culture, travel & work


Bromance in China


I’ve adjusted to the culture shock of being a white guy in China well enough, but one aspect of living here will never sink in: Chinese bromance with foreigners. Sometimes living in the PRC makes me feel like a smoking hot girl because Chinese dudes ask for my phone number way too often.

It’s not because they’re attracted to me, but because they want to practice their verbal English and/or be friends with a laowai (white guy). I’m a friendly guy when I need to be, but this rampant bromance is starting to piss me off.

In case you aren’t in the loop, “bromance” describes non-sexual affection between two straight men. It can be awkward as hell, especially when the feeling isn’t reciprocated between both guys, which is almost always the case with me.

My face is a beacon for every Chinese guy with a minimal grasp of English to whip out his phone and ask for my digits. The guy will then just point to his phone and say, “Telephone number?”

What Chinese guys don’t seem to grasp is that bromance isn’t cool. When I’m walking by myself, I don’t particularly like being approached by a friendly guy and questioned on my origin, occupation and telephone number. Once or twice is okay, but it has happened far too many times.

I’ve given my phone number to maybe twenty Chinese guys—all strangers—and not one of them has called me (thankfully). Collecting friends is for Facebook, not real life. Stop asking for my number just so you can tell everybody you have a laowai “buddy.”


And dudes whom I’ve never met have no qualms taking selfies with me. This sparks my curiosity. What exactly do they say to their friends when they show off their new photo? I imagine something like, “Look! Here’s a photo of guy I don’t know! Cool!” Sure, I photograph strangers all the time for this blog, but that’s for journalistic purposes. Maybe every guy in China is an aspiring photojournalist.

To be fair, all the guys I’m talking about have been very friendly. It’s clear that they’re genuinely interested in me for my foreignness and perhaps would like to get to know me better. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that they’re bros and I don’t want to be bromantic with them.

A message to all Chinese bros out there: just because I’m American and I come across as friendly doesn’t mean I have the time or desire to cultivate a friendship with you.


Thank you.

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!


  1. Haha, the situation pisses you off but this article is really funny! I’m not even white and this has happened to me very often in Asia (both girls and guys asking for my number), I usually just smile and say something like “I don’t think so” or “Sorry” and move on when asked for my number. I think its just best to politely refuse, with a smile of course!

    • You definitely have the right idea. I’ll use your strategy, but with a strategic twist. From now on, when Chinese dudes ask for my number, I’m just gonna freeze up and pretend I’m a goat. They’ll be so confused that they’ll regret having asked such a weird foreigner to be their friend and subsequently walk away. That way I won’t offend anybody by denying them.

  2. Could not agree with this more!! People always asking for phone number, WeChat or a picture as a “status symbol” or to practice English. Objectifying -____- I went along with it when I first got here but now I usually politely refuse.

    • Sasha,
      You’re right about WeChat. I have way too many WeChat requests on my phone from strangers. And we should start charging a commission for photos. We’d be rich!

  3. Love the picture btw hahahaha

  4. Poor Mills…

  5. I know exactly what you mean! I’m a pasty, freckly redhead and everyone wants to take my picture! I’m like “Whyyyy?”

  6. I found this article extremely funny. I am a Chinese guy who lives in the US and actually I am frustrated about same stuff on daily basis.

    I am generally friendly towards people. When walking on the streets in the US, I MAY make eye contact with strangers and MAY smile professionally, just to be friendly. And shorter than 1 second eye contact does not have any meanings. But a lot of young people will take it in a wrong way… Some girls or even guys will take it that I want to sleep with them. I can never understand how would they think that way. And majority of times, they are not even attractive! It does take quite high self-esteem to think so highly of themselves I believe. Not all of them, but significant amount that irritates me.

    What is funny is that living in NYC, the high gay population density will make this awkwardness into a whole new level. I am straight. But I got stalked several times just because I made innocent eye contact at someone. And people will ask your number or Facebook, will ask you whether you want to “watch a movie” at their place later, ask you “hey where are you from? Oh I lived in xx for xx years and love Asians”. Once sitting next to a window of a coffee shop, I caught it several times of strangers taking pictures of me. And that is not a town in South Dakota, it is NYC.

    It is flattering, but confusing and annoying. Using your word: “just because I’m Asian and I come across as friendly doesn’t mean I have the time or desire to have sex with you.”

  7. Interesting post Kevin. Feels more like a rant in nature with not much reflection. You wrote this almost a year ago – I’m wondering how you feel about the situation now

  8. I’m having the same problem in China currently also as a black male. Whenever I’m out and about in China people assume I’m from Africa which doesn’t really offend me but the assumption is sorta rude.

    Once they find out I’m from America the neon “I will teach you English” light turns on above my head and I’m asked for my wechat, qq, telephone number, and or a picture. I also would see random Chinese (girls mostly) trying to take pictures of me while hiding. I had loads of fun photobombing their pictures but it got old and more frustrating rather quickly.

    Online males and females a like also ask me how endowed I am and if the rumors are true, as if that’s a perfectly fine question to ask a foreign stranger.

    • Ohi – as a while male who lived in China for 7 years I had a number of friends in your predicament, both African and not African. However, I know what it feels like to be treated like a zoo animal as well – I lived in Central China starting in 2006 when there were almost no foreigners there. For many Chinese, they have no real connection with the outside world and something new and interesting, and in your case a person with very dark skin, is something very foreign and sadly, not valued or appreciated in their culture. Information goes by word of mouth so yes, stereotypes persist. I’m not surprised anonymous netizens would take the opportunity to ask you ridiculous questions – I have never heard a person say those in person. I would just stay off those sites – not worth it.

      Though it might feel like you are the focus of everyone’s attention I would tell you what I would tell Kevin a year ago when he wrote this article: you are important FOR ONE MINUTE. They are interested in you for only a short time – YOU ARE NOT THAT IMPORTANT. We are not used to this treatment because we normally don’t stick out in our own cultures and have a lot of attention, which is something a celebrity goes through. It might happen often but the act of asking for your number and contact info is merely a courtesy. I would say less than 2 percent of the people who get your number will actually contact you and actually want to be a speaking partner or similar and will follow up. I might be wrong there but they really want to share their “I bumped into a foreigner” experience with their quanzi – their small circle of friends – to improve their social status. Kind of like how people tell their friends when they see a celebrity in public.

      I did not like when they just took a picture of me or tried to hide and take a picture. As you probably noticed China is a nation of lookers (Peter Hessler talks about this in River Town). If they looked like they were going to take a picture of me, or I caught them, I would always ask that person to be in the picture with me and have someone else take it. I would ask a question or two about where they were from or something like that and foster a positive vibe. I would sometimes joke that it costs 20 kuai to take a picture with me, which didn’t always go well (kind of sarcastic) but they would laugh and get the idea of what I was saying.

      Water off a ducks’ back my friend. Remember that as a foreigner you have an opportunity (and really an obligation) to make small, positive impressions about who you are and where you are from with a community that does not have steady access to it, not matter how big and global China is becoming. As along as you remain in China you will come across these situations, like an Englishman in New York (Sting song), or a Chinese in the middle of Africa. Think about the bigger picture and these little hassles will become more of an opportunity than a threat.

  9. ahhhh yep the old stealth paparazzi starts to wear a bit thin after a while! i’m glad i’m not the only one who wonders what people actually say though, but i guess its along the lines of “look i saw a chubby white girl today”? i agree with being polite if people are brave enough to ask, i want to be a good representative for my country because maybe i’m the only person they will ever meet from there, but the people who obviously take pics / sights on wechat when im at a club, eating lunch etc drive me crazy, so i have decided from now on if i catch someone in the act, my flash is going on and they are going to get a new career as a wechat model!

Let me know what you think


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: