Illustration: Lu Ting/GT
I think of myself as a cautious person, so I never expected I'd become the victim of theft and deceit, and by a foreigner no less. You see, one month ago an Australian male expat here in Shanghai asked to borrow 100 yuan ($14.99) from me; one month and several reminders later he is still avoiding me just so he doesn't have to pay me back.
I admit I do not know this person very well. I met him while conducting man-on-the-street interviews for the Global Times' new video channel. He told me he was working in Shanghai as a lawyer and agreed to be interviewed. We friended each other on WeChat to keep in contact.
It was on WeChat that he got back in touch with the opening line: "I wanted to ask you a question. I am so nervous. Today my bank card went inside the ATM machine. I have all my money in there and am really scared," he wrote. I calmed him down and explained how to get his card back.
"I didn't even eat dinner tonight. I am so embarrassed and ashamed," he continued before summoning all his courage to ask, "I know I just met you and I am sorry to ask. Can I borrow 100 yuan and return it to you tomorrow?"
My nature made me suspicious about why didn't he ask any of his rich lawyer colleagues for help. But because he'd been helpful with my video, and because I generally consider foreigners to be trustworthy, and because 100 yuan really is a small sum of money, I'd felt ashamed about not lending it to him.
But after transferring the funds via WeChat Wallet, I never heard back from him. He simply disappeared. Just a few days ago a colleague of mine in the Global Times' Beijing office also wrote about being defrauded by a foreign interviewee there. So it seems that, despite their reputation as civilized, law-abiding people, Western expats are becoming a new breed of con artist on Chinese social media.
I keep asking myself if I would have loaned money to a complete stranger had he been a native Chinese, and I am ashamed to admit that, no, I would not have. Given how many Chinese scammers lurk on China's Interwebs and telecom, it's always better to be safe than sorry by not giving money to anyone you don't know.
But when a foreigner hits us up for money or a favor, suddenly we Chinese tend to have a double-standard, bending over backward to help them out even if we don't know them. Once a foreign interviewee told me that he thought Chinese people are friendly to foreigners yet not so friendly between themselves.
The most recent example of this was the single African lady in Jiangsu Province who, after giving birth there, made the news after local officials came to her hospital room to shower her with gifts. This raised the ire of Chinese netizens who complained that a local citizen would never receive the same attentions.
Throughout China's modern history, we Chinese have automatically assumed that all foreigners are superior to us. We admire them for their beauty, wealth, education, creativity and social status, and basically worship the ground they walk on.
But when it comes down to it, all people are the same regardless of nationality or skin color. Some are good and honest, some are bad and deceitful. It should come as no surprise to us, then, that among China's 600,000 foreign immigrants, certainly some are liars, cheats and scumbags.
And now that China has become a much wealthier and mightier country than many developed Western nations, we can expect that even more foreigners from all walks of life will be attracted to us in the same way that mosquitoes are attracted to warm blood. Some will come here to start new lives, but just as many will be arriving to exploit, lie, steal and cheat us.
Thus, we can use my recent experience as a wake-up call for all Chinese to stop automatically assuming that all foreigners - even the handsome, well-dressed ones claiming to be attorneys in Shanghai - are good, honest people. We must stand guard and remain suspicious of anyone asking us for a favor or a handout.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.