Last night over some easy conversations, my friends were teasing me over my detailed description about prostitutes in Amsterdam and Singapore, and they told me I should come up with an analysis paper on this topic. However, I think I want to share 3 instances in Europe that left an impression on me and how it tied to where I am in Asia.
The first instance was walking along the Amstel in Amsterdam and there was a Vietnamese tour group in front of us. There was a middle aged man who looked super excited taking in the surroundings. As he walked by a building that shows his reflection, I saw him fixing the blazer he has on to make sure it is neatly framed. Then he quickly pulled out a comb and ran it through his hair before putting a huge smile on his face as he continues walking. I find this so endearing because I understand he probably worked really hard his whole life and is excited to be on a trip to Europe. He is making sure he is properly attired and groomed because he wants to give a great image of the country he represents. However, as the tour group continues down the street, I picked up on a group of teens looking at them in annoyance and as he walked by smiling, the response he got was “Go back to your country”. Obviously, he doesn’t understand and continues smiling, but I understand that perfectly.
The second instance was walking along the tourist street in Santorini Greece. There was a glassware shop that sells more higher end products, but many tourists might not necessary understand why their glass pieces might be unique compared to factory batch souvenirs. By the cash register, there was a sign written in English that says “We do not sell fake LV and knock offs here, if you are looking for those stuff, go next door. We do not sell to Chinese”. It was a sign with quite a number of sentences, but what I quoted was pretty much the essence. I remembered there was a group of 3 people sitting at a table near the cashier with no customers in the shop. I think they realized I was reading the sign since I actually stood there frowning, and one of them hesitantly asked me if I wanted anything. I was about to form a speech to lambast them of their overt racism, but the embarrassing and dumbstruck look on their faces to my remark of “Wwow, I didn’t know you can choose who you serve when your economy is suffering so horribly” is enough to satisfy me and save them from my monologue. On a side note, I really want to say to them, if you are targeting a specific race, perhaps write in the language they can read and own up to your racism, then you don’t have to worry about any more Chinese coming to your store. You are just missing out on one fifth of the world population, that’s all, but you don’t need them, all three of you are doing just fine sitting around a table staring out the window.
The third instance was walking into Cartier in Munich Germany. Upon walking into the shop, I saw a German lady speaking Mandarin and serving a bunch of enraptured Chinese men. I was quite entertained and stood around her counter to catch the conversation between the sale and the customers. I cannot help noticing that there are 3 to 4 sales in the shop, aside from this German sales who speaks Mandarin, there is also another sales that is Asian, and I am pretty sure she speaks Mandarin. Aside from these 2 sales busy at work, the other 2 are just standing and looking, just like what I was doing. I cannot help thinking how smart the German lady is for taking up a second language and how it is completely benefiting her pockets in terms of commission. Clearly, this also indicate how many Chinese tourists with high purchasing power are touring and spending in Europe.
I am really thankful for my upbringing and I really embrace diversity and multiculturalism. As with any other human beings, I too, would place people based on ethnicity and race, but I would never form an impression or dislike based on race, it is usually based on personality or the lack of it. As a child, I grew up in Calgary Alberta, where the popular is predominantly Caucasian. I don’t think I have yet to understand my black hair is different than people with brown hair or blonde hair. My memories are building snowmen and running around playing tag during recess or all of us scooping up clean snow and eating them with maple syrup. At that age, I haven’t yet feel the sting or know what racism is. During my teen years when my family moved to Vancouver British Columbia, there are many Asians in the community and I am pretty much ignorant to racism. Of course racism exist in Vancouver, but I can safely say that it is not as overt compared to what I experienced during my two and a half weeks in Europe. Also, I think I embraced my Chinese Canadian identity quite well. I am actually very proud to be Chinese, and the fact that I let my parents put me into both Cantonese and Mandarin school every Saturday for two years confirm that fact.
Shockingly, I actually struggle with my identity the most living in Singapore, because my English and Mandarin sound different compared with Singaporeans, and they would immediately ask me where I am from. Sometimes when I order at hawker centres, I would be lazy and speak in words instead of complete sentences in Mandarin, then the owners would love asking me if I am Korean or Japanese. If I decide to speak in English, they would also ask me if I am Korean or Japanese, and when I say I am Chinese, they would ask me why I cannot speak Mandarin. I will then switch to Mandarin, and they would ask me where I am from. Usually when I say I am from Canada, they would smile and start talking to me about the weather and how cold Canada is. But I remember one time I was having dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant and the owner is Egyptian. After we placed our orders, he decided he wants to know where I am from as well. I remember this exchange very clearly because it bugs the heck out of me. I told him I am from Canada and he said, “No, where are you REALLY from”. I know what he wants to know; he doesn’t want to know WHERE I am from, he wants to know my race. I think I started annoying him by not giving him the satisfaction, so he finally said to me “Because you know, all people in Canada are white”. I finally snapped and I said to him in rapid English for him to catch up, “So if you have a son in the USA and he spends his life there and he was educated there, is he Egyptian?” Right away, he said “My son is AMERICAN”! So I said, “Thank-you, you have answered your own question”.
Moving to Hong Kong, I will face a different set of identity issue, which is HK Chinese vs Mainland Chinese. Since the 1997 handover of HK to China, there have been many identity issues for people in Hong Kong. I am aware there is a lot of ill-will towards people from Mainland China, and there have certainly been endless amount of cultural clashes and dissatisfaction where the behaviour, practices, and cultural norms annoy people in Hong Kong. Social issues such as people in China buying up all the daily commodities from baby formula to cooking oil to yakult and even toilet paper can understandably leave a sour taste in the mouths of people in HK, because they affect people’s daily lives. I understand and I am aware there are many social issues between Chinese from HK and from China, but I would not say I hate people from China or that Hong Kong should remain a colony of Britain. Unless you are super isloated you must have met or have friends from different countries, including from China. Instead of saying those friends from China are an exception to the rest of China, maybe think of the a million or so that annoy you in Hong Kong as the exception to the 1.5 billion in China. As with anyone living in Hong Kong, I will place the blame of all the social issues and dissents between Chinese from HK and Chinese from China on the government. I like people from China, I will not “hate” everyone from China just because of some that bother or annoy me. Honestly, if you travel overseas, do you think foreigners can really distinguish you are Chinese from China or Chinese from elsewhere? So I conclude that Chinese people is an extremely complex race and while l am “Chinese”, it does not necessarily mean I associate myself as part of “China”. I feel proud to be “Chinese”, but it does not mean I am happy with China. It is ok for us Chinese people to diss China, but when other nationalities start making rude remarks, you would see my patriotism surfacing.