SHANGHAI – Having experienced intense drama and roadblock myself in Shanghai for two years back in the 2000s, your author should know about 1/5 of where Randy Flagg, the writer and producer of the Youtube biopic ‘Loser Laowai in China’, is coming from. But in terms of positively surreal “crazy shit” that this man witnessed during his last ten years in China, I, sir, concede defeat.
Is it because I am white and Mr Flagg is black? Not so much. This is China, and it’s more complicated than that. There is Anglo-Saxon white, there is German white, there is Jewish white, there is Italian white (why folks consider the romance cultures full-fledged white is a mystery to some); and there’s African-American black ( being “American” is advantageous to all colors, so I am told), there is Algerian black, Congo black, and there’s even (his own words, not mine) “Brazilian caramel.” There are so many colors here. But in China we are all ‘laowais’ -outsiders. Other than that: We triumph or fail as individuals. All newcomers should know this: Shanghai gives all of us a run for our money. If you (and with “you” I mean you and me and everyone) fail to contribute to this beast of a city (with a population greater than that of Australia), Shanghai will beat you down and leave you there thrashed in the gutters. Since we all know somebody who got crushed or temporarily knocked-out, most of us will root with ‘Loser Laowai’ easily.
Randy Flagg (a pen name) says he lived in New York and moved to China in 2002. Multi-talented, street-wise, steeled with an American literature degree, and spirited with entrepreneurial zest, he moved to the Pearl River megalopolis in 2005. According to his video channel he quickly found employment as an English teacher. Disillusioned, he quit that profession: “The teacher [in China] is considered a dancing bear, and to pile even more on top I am black. I don’t need to explain, right?”.
In January 2015 he turned to Youtube. A somewhat bold choice in China where the US video platform is blocked for everybody-knows-why. Access requires VPN software that can penetrate China’s internet firewall. Nevertheless, Mr Flagg saw a niche. And his viewers are rewarding him with clicks and subscriptions. He covers both, the bad and the not-so-bad in China (Watch: 10 Reasons why he chooses NOT to live in the USA), and gradually draws attention from all strata of the (expat -if you’re white, otherwise:) immigrant community, such as blog.Friday-nite.com or thefreedomreport.us.
Drinking, smoking, and philosophizing (and quite articulated at philosophizing), he commentates on threesomes, spirituality, corruption and modern colonialism, to race relations, blasians (black Asians), white privilege, job hunting, and family (he is married to a Chinese woman, and they have a beautiful 4-years old daughter [she sometimes feat. in his videos]). His output is interspersed with a few quite remarkable motivational speeches for everyone who has occasionally felt let down by mighty China and requires the proverbial hug or ego-boost.
Just recently celebrating his 411th subscriber on his channel with what looks like rum putaojiu (grapefruit liquor) and Zhongnanhai cigarettes, ‘The Microgiant’ blog picked up the story and echoed Mr Flagg’s future ambitions: “Every black person coming to Asia should see it”. I’ll top that and say, indeed, every foreign person coming to Asia should check him out. He is entertaining, charismatic, offers great advise (he’s a walking China survival guide, really), and, as his moniker ‘Loser’ suggests, does all that with a hefty dose of self-deprecation and humor – a winning formula in Youtube’s growing vlogger scene.
The show isn’t without ‘beginner’s controversy’, though. In his show’s prologue, Randy’s character ‘Loser Laowai’ confesses that he “probably is an alcoholic -24/7.” Sometimes he uses slang (“the b’ and the n’ words), or occasional rants. In one vlog he accidentally threatened to kill somebody (in ‘War with IODA Orchad Music Group’); obviously highly unmanageable given the demographic distance but still irritating to listen to (given that he is otherwise such a good sport). While long-established Youtube channels can get away with verbally anything, special scrutiny is –often unfairly so- always given to the up-and-comers who still have to explore the rules of the game and test their boundaries.
That said, ‘Lost Laowai’ is quite a piece of art. He films congested airport urinals. Ugh. He posts exploitative angles on commuters in the metro (girls, preferably). That entertains. He claims that if you’re a Western guy and come to China, you will have ten times more sex. That entertains some more. In other videos he recycles headlines from the gutter press: Some students had sex in public? Some mistress busted her sugar-daddy? Loser Laowai will give it some serious thoughts. With 140+ videos already (last checked: April 2015), the show certainly has the potential to enrich the diverse local culture of Shanghai, and hopefully beyond that (word has already reached Beijing, the capital). And, one day, who knows it may even become recognized as something historically and aesthetically significant.
I personally would love to see ‘Loser Laowai’ cooperating with other China channels such as Serpentza (China, How it is) or ChinaUncensored, etc. Or having guest laowais on the show. In any case, if all goes well, it should be only a matter of time until Loser Laowai is picked up by some journalists and the media.
Most importantly, Mr Flagg comes across as an honest and pleasant person to be with. Despite many obstacles, addictions, and struggles in his life, he celebrates every small victory with his loyal followers and chooses a positive attitude toward the challenges of life in China. It’s very inspirational stuff. Enough said about it, because he can say it better: Embrace yourself for Loser Laowai in China. (Or follow him on his blog here.)