Yáng Guǐzi

This afternoon as I walked home from the subway station I was called yáng guǐzi (洋鬼子 “Foreign devil”) for the first time, at least for the first time since I learnt the meaning of the term. My verbal assailant was a middle aged man riding a very old bicycle while balancing a cage containing small yellow birds on the handlebars. As he rode away and glared backwards at me from his wobbling bicycle I repeated the term to myself several times, trying to find the expletive frisson that it must contain. Slurs in foreign languages always sound so innocent, which makes them too easy to wield ineffectively.

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