Adventures in China: Strange Expat Jobs

Adventures in China: Strange Expat Jobs
Aug 02, 2011 By

Make the Meat Kosher

It was 9 AM on a beautiful Saturday morning when I got the strangest call of my life.

"Bobby it's Yi," said my good Chinese friend.

"Hey Yi, lets meet up for lunch today," I said.

"You're Jewish right?" Yi asked.

"Yes…why?" I responded.

"I have a job for you…only Jewish man can do…good pay too," Yi said with excitement.

An hour later we were in Yi's rickety van driving through the outskirts of a major city in Inner Mongolia. Soon we arrived at a slaughterhouse. There was blood everywhere and hundreds of sheep carcasses hung from dirty hooks. It was huge.

Look Kosher to you?
Look Kosher to you? Photo: traveladventures

We walked into an office, the only place without blood. A hefty Chinese man took a long drag on a cigarette and rose to greet me.

"Hello, Jew friend," he said in broken English.

He then started into rapid and heavily accented Chinese. For ten minutes he went back and forth with Yi. Finally Yi turned to me and said, "He wants you to make his slaughter house kosher."

"Kosher! I'm not a Rabbi, how can I do that?" I responded.

They conferred for a moment then Yi turned and asked, "What is this word ‘Rabbi'?"

It was the strangest job I have ever been offered.

In recent years, more and more foreigners have made their way to China to find a job.
According to China's national census, which was conducted last year, there are more than 600,000 foreigners living here. With China's economic rise these numbers are sure to increase in the future. Some get legitimate jobs, some work on student and tourist visas and others find themselves doing jobs that can only be described as ‘strange'. 

I'm just glad that I'm not alone in my experience. For the uninitiated, here is a summary of some of the strangest jobs foreigners can get in China.

The ‘Face Job': Rent a Foreigner

The ‘face job' refers to Chinese companies hiring foreigners just because they're foreigners. The most common ‘face job' is when a Chinese company hires a foreigner to pose as a fake businessman or employee. Many Chinese companies use these fake employees to give their business more clout, as well as the impression they have extensive foreign contacts or the quality and money to hire a foreign employee.

Foreign media outlets from the BBC to The Atlantic have run stories on the practice and it is more widespread than you might think. In fact, there are dedicated agencies that run around finding foreign actors and models to fill these roles. Most of the time it is limited to Caucasian males, which has led to the term, "white guy window dressing", but white males aren't the only ones that can get in on the experience.

So professional…
So professional… Photo: thedrum

The Fake CEO

Two years ago an African-American friend of mine had to pretend to be an oil tycoon from Africa. They told him to dress nice and picked him up in a car. Ten minutes from the destination they gave him the lowdown. The Chinese company that hired him had computer technology they wanted to sell to another Chinese company that made machinery for oil companies. The deal was if the machinery company bought their technology, my friend's oil "company" would buy the machinery for use in Africa.

My friend only had to play the part for one day, but some fake businessman jobs end up lasting for months.

The Fake Girlfriend

Another type of odd ‘face job' is the fake foreign girlfriend. For some Chinese men having a foreign girlfriend is a status symbol not only of their openness and modernity, but also of their bank account (after all, why would a foreign girl come all the way to China to date a poor guy?). However, many of these Chinese men are anxious about actually forming a real relationship due to cultural and language barriers, and therefore find it easier to just rent foreign girls. It is an odd situation to say the least, but what better way is there to show yourself off to family, friends and business contacts than with a platinum blonde Russian model.

The Foreign Face
Sometimes however, face jobs can just be as simple as turning up and showing that lovely face of yours. A few months ago all a friend of mine had to do to earn 1,000 RMB was to show up at a party at a posh hotel in Beijing and mingle with the Chinese crowd. His employer told him he got hired because he looked "cool", and he even got free drinks.

He’s tall, make him a bodyguard.
He's tall, make him a bodyguard. Photo: gochengdoo

The Foreign Muscle: Taking Advantage of Stereotyping

There is a stereotype among some Chinese that foreigners are bigger and stronger than them because they eat more meat. So if you happen to be large and strong looking, chances are you could have access to a booming job in China, the bodyguard. Chinese bodyguard providers are already taking advantage of this stereotype by offering foreign bodyguards over twice the hourly rate of their Chinese counterparts. Just make sure you get a little training, and practice your mainly grunt.

English Expert Extraordinaire

If you can pass off that you are from an English speaking country, a whole slew of interesting jobs open themselves up to you. Some of my favorites are dressing up like Santa Claus (yes the real Santa speaks English), high school dropouts teaching Chinese professors how to teach English and doing voice acting for Chinese commercials. But one of the strangest English related jobs in China is interviewing airline attendant candidates.

A guy I know does this almost every weekend. Group after group of young, attractive and slim Chinese girls pour into the room. He, along with the other judges, check them for scars and height, while judging them on their beauty, composure, English level and fluency of their Mandarin (in China there are many dialects and many of the candidates are from far flung provinces). If they pass they get to study to become flight attendants. Not a bad job for 200 RMB an hour.

So if you are tired of your desk job or just want a part-time taste of all the strangeness that certain jobs in China have to offer, start putting yourself out there and making some contacts. As more and more foreigners head to China, it will be increasingly harder to land some of these truly exotic, if not strange, jobs

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Keywords: Strange expat jobs China strange jobs China renting a foreigner face job China bodyguard in China


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Interesting article. I have heard of these "strange jobs" often, especially the rent a foreigner phenomena. Although I have lived in China for almost a year, I have yet to be approached for any of these type of jobs. But, I always wanted to try! Do they come to you or do you come to them? I'm wondering why nobody approaches me for these fun ways to earn some extra money. I'm a regular American guy. Where can you find these jobs?

Sep 04, 2016 15:30 Report Abuse



Please drop the "African-American"-type jargon. Some of us are here to escape that PC nonsense. Other than that, you're probably a swell guy. :-)

Feb 24, 2016 08:27 Report Abuse



Some time adventure, but some time not. Like you can not do BBQ outside like in some European countries.

Jun 16, 2015 12:48 Report Abuse



This adds to the charm of coming to China for me! I am looking forward to unique adventures, and these certainly qualify!

Jun 15, 2015 05:44 Report Abuse



A school I never worked at, in a city I left two years ago, uses my picture in their advertisements. It says I am their best teacher.

Nov 04, 2014 13:36 Report Abuse


Charles Brown

While eating at a new restaurant very near my job, they took my picture and used it for advertising flyers. Didn't even say thank you.

Nov 30, 2012 21:18 Report Abuse


Sylvie Allen

Very interesting story that should be run every month because new group of people pull into china every month and need to know about the strangest jobs. Like me,because i am an African, i was hire to play an African drum where as i have never done this in my whole life, but i was paid for it.Another time,i was called to play a female Santa. All my life i have never seen a female Santa.strange job though,but i was paid for it.Sometimes you feel so low with these kinds of offer, but its difficult to get the professional ones,so you just lock your pride, and go for it, remember you have to do your

Apr 09, 2012 19:16 Report Abuse



i can't believe i spent half hour watching what you guys wrote here, so funny that i couldn't stop laughing. I never find out so much about expats life here in China in one time before (i am chinese). some of these did shock me, though. thanks for sharing.

Oct 12, 2011 07:50 Report Abuse


Winnie the Pooh

I got many a free business lunch pretending to be a businessman in China whilst I was actually a student on a year abroad, that was ten years ago... they wanted me to round up more honkies for them to show off and to set up an english language school... they didn't care which part of Europe the "english" teachers came from... mental.

Oct 06, 2011 12:40 Report Abuse



Just home from 1.5 years in China. During that time I had my face on a bus stop, was on the Dalian tv station acting as the queen in sleeping beauty, I appeared in high quality magazines given as gifts to the parents of our students, tutored a 10 year old who owned 2 ipads (one was for his movies, the other his games) and I even got to go to a recording studio set up in some guys apartment and sing Lilly Allens 'Chinese' (the school thought the song was about China). You won't get bored over there!

Sep 15, 2011 08:14 Report Abuse



My leave will be had in china

Sep 15, 2011 05:13 Report Abuse



It's pretty horrible how they judge the potential airline stewardesses. Checking them for scars? That's messed up.

Sep 14, 2011 08:41 Report Abuse



the foreigner is good at this job for chinese audience. we sometimes know when fake but it for just fun. we like to look at foreigner face, we laugh a lot.

Sep 10, 2011 04:09 Report Abuse



This is a really quite funny stories about China. Chinese in Mainland they are cute but they are not fool at all, Sirs! I enjoyed so much on what you reported in here. What a lovely term of all those "face jobs". It was very funny to find out all the Fake CEO & girlfriend in China somehow. What a Strange Expat job in the world. But I hope we won't find some Fake husband or wife. It's sad to have some Fake marriage like that I guess already. Well, good luck guys! China is a big job market for some people!

Sep 09, 2011 09:20 Report Abuse



Why was this article entitled ''strange jobs'' ??
What you listed here is quite normal compared to the jobs I've been doing for years.

1) Public Italian Chef : Cooking Italian dishes in front of a live audience and tv cameras and actually having to tell/convince the ppl that I am a 'professional visiting ITALIAN chef' (there's nothing Italian about me). Complete with chef apparel and nice super-tall hat. Before actually cooking live, I went through a 2 week training course that prepared me for cooking flawlessly while mostly having my eyes on the audience. Much like you see on those TV cooking shows where the chef is cooking by heart and speaking simple instructions over his clip-on mic.

2) 6 Hour Fake Shopper : A furniture store had its grand opening, they hired me to pretend to 'shop' in their shop for 6 hours. Their reasoning for this is because when a foreigner is checking out a product, like magic any Chinese who witness this will gather because they assume this product must certainly be of good value and high quality if even a 'laowai' is interested. Was a pretty simple 6 hours! Just walk around, sit in the chairs (to test them...) and lay in the beds (for testing purpose hehe) and talk on your cell phone as well as filling out some fake order form with whatever you wanna write to make it look like you are genuinely making a purchase.

3) Good Friend of a Dead Guy : I was hired to attend the funeral of a dead VIP/CEO so that other funeral patrons would see me and think "oh wow! This guy was sooooo VIP he even had foreign friends!". I know its 'low', but hey the salary was unbeatable! The rouse was even more complete in that I even had to go up to his shrine and bow/kneel while offering up the 3 sticks of incense and doing the motion 3 times. Naturally we arrived by limousine and enjoyed free lunch and dinner that consisted of amazingly exquisite delicacies. Some people did attempt to come up and make small-talk or inquire about exactly how it is I *knew* this dead guy, but I was under strict orders to dodge any such questions.

4) Fake Host : Because the name of the wonderful new building had the word 'international' in it, when they went to rent out some office space to huge companies, they officially put me on their staff for a few weeks. Complete with printed name-tags, and all other regular staff were asked to address me by my first name to make it seem as though I really did 'work' there. Pretty chill gig, just walk around and make small-talk with guests, greet some people who arrive, smile, and enjoy free 5-star meals and a never-ending stream of just about every imported alcohol you can think of.

5) Wine Taster : Imagine getting paid 100 RMB per minute (YES! minute!) to introduce yourself, talk about the history of some company, talk about the process of making wine, and then demonstrate how to mix a few cocktails. Oh, and you can drink as much as you want, on the house. Sound like a great job? Well of course it is, but it is also rather strange because I also have to tell the audience I am a "visiting wine connoisseur" lol. Oh, have to also tell them I'm French, and give them some background about the tiny French town I supposedly grew up in. (nothing about me is even remotely French).

6) Golf Swing Instructor : Having a 'private golf coach' means you have quite the status in Chinese society, but having a 'private foreign golf instructor' means you are the alpha male! For a few years now I've been doing part-time work as a swing coach. Quarter swing, half swing, full swing. That's just about it. Spend some time with the client, work on his form, grip, and follow-through. Of course the salary is amazing, but its pretty 'strange' considering the fact that though I may have a pretty decent swing, I suck at playing the game of golf and could never really be considered 'professional' enough to be a coach. (Though I do speak a few dialects....). For this job it reeeally helps if you can speak a bit of Chinese, because certainly not every CEO, spoiled brat, or manager speaks fluent English. One of the biggest perks to this job is that plenty of incredibly gorgeous mistresses, milfs, and young super-model GF's will be signing up to learn how to 'swing' from a foreigner.

7) Dying/Getting Killed 3 Times in the Same Film : So in of the countless war movies I've cameo'd in, there was one in particular that really stands out in my mind. The one where I was killed 3 times. I suppose in order to save the film's budget, instead of hiring another foreign actor the director instead chose to have me killed a couple more times than was originally planned.
The first time - running across a field in war garb, armed with a fake rifle and rebel yell... shot three times in the chest.
The second time - wearing a mustache and glasses (actually the mustache took 20 minutes to apply hair by hair! no joke) and having my back partially turned to the camera, 3 guys approach me and distract me while another guy comes from behind and whacks my helmet with an oaken club. The guy had a good swing, and on the 3rd take ended up fracturing my helmet. Was a good shot for the film as you can see tiny paint chips and wood splinters careening about if you look hard enough.
The third time - struggle with a few thugs, and take a knife to the chest while in the classic slow-motion guy-to-guy chest bump shocked look scene. This time I had a thin beard, and different eyebrows.

I'm actually getting tired of typing this, so I'll stop here, but in fact I have sooooo many more ''strange expat jobs'' that I've done. I could go on and on all day if I had the time. Well Bobby F, if you wanna right another article that actually *is* about ''strange'' expat jobs, send an email to ''mo(underscore)milk(underscore)pls(at)hot mail(dot) com
I could give you all the gritty details about more than 2 dozen 'strange jobs' I've done here!

Aug 31, 2011 17:24 Report Abuse




Aug 29, 2011 21:42 Report Abuse



Hah, I know that guy in the third pic.

Aug 23, 2011 14:12 Report Abuse



I second Ponchero - how on earth do you get these awesome jobs?

Aug 12, 2011 00:39 Report Abuse



Well, China is a real "Wonderland" and foreigners are like "Alice" in that!

Aug 05, 2011 03:36 Report Abuse



So anybody got details on these agencies dedicated to finding actors to play these roles?

Aug 03, 2011 09:12 Report Abuse



I can't understand why you are running this story again? Are your writers, suffering writers block??

Aug 03, 2011 03:04 Report Abuse



Very interesting stories. Thanks for sharing.

Aug 02, 2011 23:24 Report Abuse



I can underline that.
I got the chance to build-up a joint venture Company here in China for 3 years.
Then, as the Company became excellent running, because of my clear and in-line guidance, the Chinese shareholders don't want to let me go and we're extending my contract year by year.
In all, I'm very happy here in China and I will still stay some more years according to the Chinese wishes.
I'm now 4 years living in Baoji, Shaanxi province and my Chinese language abilities became quite good. So I feel a kind like "home" here in Baoji.
I can encourage all, facing to China. It is a big adventure and it might be very successeful. But do it carefully.
Good luck,
Rolf, native from Switzerland

Aug 02, 2011 15:03 Report Abuse