Asian American

We’re Asian, we don’t do like that

postcards
@Chiang Mai’s Saturday walking street.

Asians can be very harsh towards one another. They judge each other by a different set of standards. I’d say ‘we,’ but I don’t think I fall into this category.

I think my Caucasian friends think they are being looked at critically through the eyes of the Thais, but they’re lucky. Because they are white, they are automatically forgiven. They are different and sometimes being different helps you. They expect them to fumble through the language. They expect them to not understand Thai ways and culture. They expect foreigners to be – foreign.

They don’t expect foreigners to look like them. I know I’m not the first Asian American or American Asian to walk these rais of land, but you wouldn’t know it by the way they react towards me.

chinese-theatre
Catching a Chinese play in Chiang Rai…

You must understand that I am simply explaining a phenomenon. I am not asking for pity or anything along those sad-looking-eyes. Asians are raised to believe that the dignity of the entire country rests on their souls, and if that is too much to say, then definitely the honor of your family.

I think it comes from being part of a collective culture that formulates quick opinions on your appearance and behavior. Then discusses said behavior with other family and friends. Sounds horribly shallow, but Asians expect more out of one other. What can I say, the West is a guilt-based society and for the East it’s all about that deliciously damning shame.

I grew up listening to my mother talk about her friends and her friends’ friends and all of their children. I grew up being compared to and I knew I was being judged when I entered a household full of Thai women. My mom told me things like so and so can cook – real Thai food. Whereas I had no desire, I watched her cook (when she made me) with an objective eye. I was more interested in reading books and when I did start to cook I reached for Betty Crocker. I reached for what was different.

My mom also informed me of who was pregnant. And I grew up terrified of teenage pregnancy because I knew that I would bring great shame to my family and that she’d essentially kill me. Judge her if you will, but she talked to me about it. She let me know what she thought. There was no grey area and I think teenagers need that.

Whenever she’d hear about the unsavory activities of a white person, she’s say, “We not like that. We don’t do that.” And I’d roll my eyes at her blatant dig at other races and what I perceived to be ‘not politically correct’ commentary. Asians are the superior race and that’s all I needed to know.

But the funny thing is I never believed her. Even when she made some very compelling arguments about how white people don’t stick together and take care of one another like Asians do. I’m going to go out on a bamboo raft here and guess that there are not many Asians in old folk’s homes. I remember a white comedian commenting on how there were no Asian homeless in America. He joked how if there was, another Asian would adopt him anyway (probably give him work).

old-men-of-lamphun
Before Gin Salat in Lamphun…

I remember when I was thirty I made the painful decision to return home at the insistence and encouragement of my mom. I ran into an old high school friend’s mother who said to me, “I would never allow my daughters to move back home.” Besides feeling insulted, I was surprised because she had lived in Hawaii for many years and this is a very common practice among the Asian communities. But I guess she wanted to let me know that I was doing was the unthinkable.

It’s all chop suey. Sometimes when there are not many other Asians around I’m treated like a long lost cousin and other times with contempt. Especially when I don’t know the language. I’ve had people refuse to do business with me because I don’t speak Thai or Chinese.

In fact, tonight I was treated to a dinner consisting mostly of bones instead of meat from a restaurant I frequent. There is a woman that doesn’t like me but I always went back because the food is so good. I could be wrong but when you have to rely heavily on body language, you do. Maybe she didn’t have much meat left to work with, maybe she’d thought she’d spruce it up with a lot more chili peppers all of a sudden and maybe it had nothing to do with me. Or maybe it’s just her way of giving me the finger.

There’s a very nice old lady who does like me. She’s just down the road too, in the other direction. So I’ll just go there. I’m used to people not liking me for whatever reason. And I don’t lose any sleep over it. I’m different and to a lot of Asians being different is not good.

p.s. To my fellow ABCs (American or Australian Born Chinese), Kiwis and Canadians, take heart, the world is changing, old ideas will eventually die and I love looking the way I do – I hope you do, too.

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4 thoughts on “We’re Asian, we don’t do like that

  1. Wow, I had no idea! A really interesting perspective that I'm sure most people don't even think about. You ought to try to publish this one in a magazine … it's really good!

    Like

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