The term “guai lo” is commonly used by Cantonese speakers to refer to Westerners. It literally means “ghost man” or “devil man”. It is considered, by Chinese speakers, as an inoffensive, but convenient term to use to describe people of European origin. Personally I am not fond of the term, since the basic implication is that the Chinese are real people, and the Westerners are something different.
I am participating in the British Columbia Senior Games in ice hockey. Our team of average age 68 will be competing in the 60+ division and will probably lose, but that is another matter. I went to the registration today and there was a group of three Chinese seniors leaving the arena speaking Cantonese. I chimed in and said words to the effect of “What event are you guys in, in this old geezers tournament?” There was laughter and they told me they were in ping poing. Then they asked me if I knew what a “guai lao” was. I told them that they were “guai los”, and we all chuckled and parted.
I speak Cantonese quite fluently, at least in so far as informal banter is concerned. I can’t imagine that they would think that I do not know what a “guai lo” is. I wonder why that is the first thing that came to their minds. But somehow I am not surprised.