I am not afriad of tomorrow, for I have seen yesterday and I love today~William Allen White

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Wha is in a “Race”

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. 

 

Public Transportation Etiquette

I would like to share a little bit on the etiquette on public transportation and my pet peeves!

When you get onto a mini bus, which is a van type of bus with 16 seats and zero standing capacity, it’s really annoying when single passengers select the aisle and leave the window seat empty. The bus will not start moving until 16 passengers get onto the bus, so why don’t you shove your bum to the inner seat so passenger coming on after you don’t have to slide past you and squeeze into inner seat when there is restricted leg room! It just gets to be such a hassle if you’re carrying heavy groceries and still the person refuses to move in and let you take the aisle seat! Rather, they will slightly squeeze their feet in thinking their limbs do not take up space or ever so slightly move their legs to the aisle expecting you to tuck gently into the window seat without touching them at all! Then when you’ve trouble squeezing in because you’re carrying loads of stuff or they’re not as skinny as they think, they’ll make these tsk tsk sound like you’re offending them, OMG!!! The worst part is passengers that know they get off at the last stops and still decide to take up the aisle seat, then whole annoying procedure will occur again when you’ve to get off. It’s usually worst when you get off because the bus kind of lurched and braked on a skid and you could easily loose your balance. Sometimes I get so frustrated I just want to swap the other passenger with my bags, because why can’t just make an effort to stand and let me through?

Moving on to the MTR (subway), people waiting to get onto the MTR will generally stand in 2 uniform lines left and right of the doors that slide open when the train approaches. The center is left open so passengers on the train are able to get off before passengers standing on the platform get onto the train. What really irk me are the elders in this particular situation. While it is the right thing to do to yield your seat to old people on the train, it does not mean the old people could just push to the front of the line and butt the entire line of people waiting to get onto the train! I have such issues with these rude seniors who just stand smack in the center even when there are 20 people lining up, or those seniors who sidle up to the left or right of passengers standing at the front and will make a mad dash into the train once the door open, completing shoving past the passengers that are getting off the train! I know it’s petty to call them out and they probably act this way because the chance of confrontation is unlikely, but have some manners! Just because you are old doesn’t give you the right to butt ahead in a line or ignore the basic etiquette of waiting for passengers to get off first before you get on! The PA system specifically said “please let passengers alight first” in Cantonese, English, and Mandarin!

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