May Day, Mililani Waena Elementary

What does it mean to be Asian American?

Sometimes I feel like an anomaly. I’m a 45 year old American Thai-Chinese woman who was born in Hawaii, who has lived on three continents, and who was raised by a Thai immigrant mother and a working class white male. I can’t squeeze into an “ism”. My dress size is small in America, but extra-large in Asia. I’m too American in Asia and not Asian enough in America.

At this point in my life being Asian American means having to live up to expectations from family and society. I’m required to be something else (super Asian), something more (super Asian), and something that I’m not (super Asian). I have to be what others want and expect of me, and when I fail to speak Thai fluently in Thailand or do what my mother wants in America, I’m a confusing disappointing mess.

My experiences don’t pigeonhole me neatly into a category either. I’m an Asian American who has been living in SE Asia for roughly eight years. I’ve been an archaeologist and a Waldorf teacher. I learned to cook from a cookbook. And I say this because Americans usually want to know, “Can you cook Thai food?” Asians in Asia, on the other hand, speak directly to me regardless if a non-Asian person is there speaking better Thai or Chinese. Often they will tolerate hear the white person, but reply to me.

But that’s okay. I don’t belong here or there. I’d rather be a “glitch in the matrix” than part of the regularly scheduled programming. I’m the red pill in a blue pill world. What I’ve learned is being different is part of the Asian American journey. I’m the participant and the outsider. I’m forever an anthropologist. I hold the perfect passport for global studies. I’m not black & white. I’m in between. And like a chameleon, I can usually blend in wherever I am.

I know what it’s like to be in the minority and among the majority. I have been on all three sides of the fence. When I lived in the US, I lived in Asian American majority places like Hawaii and certain parts of California. I also lived in AA minority places like Alabama and other parts of California.

I know what it’s like to have no friends because I was different (Barstow, California in the 6th and 9th grade). I know what it’s like to be part of a quirky outsiders group (aka theatre) in Mililani, Hawaii (11th and 12th grade). I’ve been teased in Hawaii, Oregon, and California. And I know what it’s like to be hit and to hit back. I can remember those shocking moments of racist behavior towards me, and thankfully the reason why I remember them is because they were not part of my normal everyday life.

We have a tendency to focus and remember the bad stuff like if we have a crappy day. We forget the free coffee a coworker brought us or the smile that the kid gave us when we were in traffic. But we remember the wrongdoings, transgressions, and hold on to criticism like lifejackets. We get paranoid about what we think others say about us. Often, we assume the worst. Sometimes we live out lifetimes of misunderstandings.

In high school, I used to be super jealous of my best friend who’s half-Japanese and half-British. All the guys liked her. I compared my looks to her and felt ugly. But one day, years after those insecure times, we had an important conversation.

“You know, I used to be jealous of you.”

“What? Why?” She asked.

“Because you’re so pretty!” and then I proceeded to list off all the guys that liked her.

She laughed. “I certainly didn’t feel pretty. I felt fat.”

“Fat!?”

Then she said, “Well, I used to be jealous of you too.”

“Why on earth would you be jealous of me?”

“Because you’re funny. You make everyone laugh. Everyone wants to be your friend.”

That was a big thing for me to hear from her so I didn’t speak for a few moments. I also knew she wasn’t BS-ing me either because she was shy.

I get it though. We like to throw pity-parties for ourselves and stuff our “woe is me” hole with Death By Chocolate ice cream cake. I’m very good at feeling sorry for myself. Actually, I think most Americans are and it’s because, for the majority of us, we grew up lucky.

If you’re a first-generation American, chances are good you’ve heard the story from grandma or mom about the struggles they endured to reach American soil or the hardship they lived through back in their home country, or both. And as an American Asian expat in Asia, I can say with confidence that there is a world of difference in human rights, equal rights, and heck, even animal rights over here. Grandma was not exaggerating.

For example, you can’t speak out against the government in most Asian countries. You simply don’t do it. If you do, you end up exiled, in jail, or conveniently disappear. And if you don’t believe me or if you think I’m embellishing the truth, I invite you to read Asian history, current news or start a conversation with expats in Asia. Most of the Chinese side of my family fled during the Cultural Revolution, which basically makes the bloodshed of Game of Thrones small-scale in comparison.

Dad and Mom [somewhere in Thailand, circa 1973]
Southeast Asians endured a similar exodus to America during the Vietnam War and the reign of the Khmer Rouge. So for a fair number of Asian Americans, there’s a background story of escaping ideologies and governments that were doing despicable things to their own people (i.e. starvation, execution according to class and education, labor and torture camps). It is no wonder our grandparents and parents endured discrimination in America.

Now, this isn’t to say AAs aren’t subjected to some horrible race crimes. They are. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be reliable statistics on this. Plus, I’m willing to wager Asian Americans are less likely to report crime, which doesn’t help bring awareness to the problem either. So I’m not saying it’s a Sunday afternoon picnic for Asian Americans. Hardly. I’m just saying step back, widen the telescope, there’s a timeline to consider.

Some Chinese and Korean adoptees are here because they were not wanted. Being born a girl was not desirable in China, as can now be seen by the extreme shortage of women due to female infanticide. It is estimated that 30 to 60 MILLION females have gone “missing” since 1982.

In Korea, there was a question of “purity” – half-white babies as the result of the Korean War were considered unclean due to race. There was also the issue of poverty and the cultural stigma of being a single mother.

Typically, adopting a child in Asian countries is not considered normal unless it is within your own family: there are too many taboos and religious ideas surrounding the idea of taking in another kid. But in the West, adoption is considered noble and big-hearted.

Adorable girl at the Kachin Festival [Thailand, 2013]
For some Asian Americans they understand that living in America provides a better way of life. While for other AAs it’s the only way of life: they know no other, having exclusively lived in America. But I feel it’s insulting not only to America, but also to the Asians who came before us to simply remember the kids who pulled the corners of their eyes at you or me.

I think this is because I have lived in Asia for so long. I’ve seen another side to the world, literally and figuratively, and I’m a changed person as a result.

It has been particularly rewarding to be an Asian American teaching English abroad. The face of American English is seen as a white, black or Latino, but not an Asian one. I am never what my students think I am. Never. I’m Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Malay, Korean, but not ever American until I tell them otherwise.

Yes, I look like an absolute nut, but hey they gave me a cake and crown. I was high on power. [Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2017]
I’ve never felt an “identity crisis” despite never quite living up to what others expect of me based on my appearance. If I did it was brief or accumulated over time to where I was able to assimilate and digest what was happening, and eventually realize that “whoever you think I am” does not equate to “I am whoever you think I am”.

Life has strangely enough prepared me for “identity flexibility training”. I’m Hawaiian because of my first name. I’m married because of my last. I’m Japanese because of the way that I dress. I’m Native American with my deep tan in Southwest Colorado. In other words, I’m used to being perceived as someone else. I should have been cast as an assassin in the latest Hollywood spy blockbuster. John Rain’s got nothing on me, baby.

My mom finds it crazy that I live in her birth country. She calls Thailand dangerous. She doesn’t understand why I’d rather live here than in America. I’m a college graduate and possibly the first in her family. She cried when I graduated high school, and she cried again when I graduated college. Nevertheless, she does not say, “I’m proud of you”. My father’s mother would say it, and hand those words out like candy as a doting grandmother should. But those words are not in my mother’s vocabulary. And why should they be? She isn’t proud.

Our values don’t align. I’m too American and she’s too Thai. I should be living near her. I should have been an airline stewardess or a bank teller – an air hostess because it’s considered glamorous to Thais, and a bank teller because I would be counting money all day in air-conditioning. I should have had at least one child by now. I should have married a wealthy and successful Asian American man from a good family. I should have an expensive car and a big house.

I used to watch Oprah interview families; you know the ones, where the child did something brilliant, but different, and the parents were always supportive. Maybe the child took to acting, and the parents would say, “We told her she could do it.” You would see the pride shining in their eyes. And I knew that if I ever was in their place, my mom would pretend she knew what was happening, and act like she had always been my biggest cheerleader.

In our old kitchen in Lamphun, Thailand, 2007

She would put on such a good face, you’d never suspect anything contrary from a 4’10 sweet old lady. You’d never know that she used to beat us because that’s what her father did to her. You’d never realize that she could hurl such hurtful words like “you’re good for nothing”. But she is also a generous person. She’s quite funny and loves to laugh. She’s a gifted cook and gardener, and an easy-going travel companion.

Yes, we Asian Americans, we’ve got stories. That’s the mistake that Hollywood makes. We share common ground with the rest of Americans. We’re not just Kung-fu fighters, geishas, and Math geeks. Maybe we are that, too, but underneath our brown or yellow or pale skin, there’s a yarn that spins.

I remember giving a ride home to a fellow writers’ group member. We were a small group and he was the only minority other than me. He wrote dark poetry, but in a unique way. We were discussing his work when we started talking about how our mothers used to beat us.

“Oh, the belt. My mother never used the belt.”

“Oh, I know. Me, too. So overrated.”

“My mom would use a wire hanger to hit us.”

“Ohh, man.”

“Yeah, that shit hurt. It leaves a serious mark too.”

“That’s nothing compared to what my mom used.”

“What? What did she use?”

“She used her high heel shoes.”

“Oh, fuck.”

I was laughing so hard I was crying. He was laughing pretty hard too. I suppose to an outsider it looked like we were crazy, but to us, we were bonding, we were commiserating. And I was transported back to all those times I watched standup comedians like Chris Rock and Bernie Mac talk about their painful family situations. Growing up on standup comedies was my form of therapy. I laughed along feeling understood particularly over such shameful subjects, experiences I felt alone in. I started memorizing lines that I found funny. And I think I started to intuitively gain a grasp of the power of storytelling.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I ask so many questions. I’m a wannabe reporter sleuthing out a good story. I usually learn quickly how couples have met. I ask Asian American expats about their experiences abroad. I listen to people talk about their childhoods. Partly because I’m a curious person, but I genuinely want to connect with people too.

I have a Cambodian American friend that is not much older than me who escaped the Khmer Rouge. One day he told me his story. I wanted to know how he managed to get out, especially after his parents originally turned down the US Embassy’s offer to give his family a ticket to America because his father didn’t think the situation in Cambodia was going to ever get that bad.

He explained the separate camps between male and female, and how his mother and sister were not with him and his dad. He told me that they were in labor camps, and that it was his father who figured out a way to get them to the Thai border. Other families joined them. His mother’s family didn’t make it out. They walked and walked and walked to freedom, very possibly through land mines too. I don’t remember, but I remember he said this:

“I know what rotting human flesh smells like.”

We sat side by side. He didn’t look at me and I didn’t look at him. I just listened.

Even though our stories are different, they overlap as well. After all, here we were two Asian Americans talking in Cambodia. His story and mine breathe together shoulder to shoulder. We help weave a tapestry of Asian American experiences from FOB “fresh off the boat” immigrants to children adopted into white families, and everyone else in between.

To an outsider, we are the same, and maybe we are in our collective consciousness. But we are also individuals. This is one of the struggles of being Asian + American. We are the result of a complex relationship between two very different ways of life, ways of being, and ways of thinking. Although, it would be a mistake to feel our stories compete with one another, as I believe they continue a narrative that celebrates our diverse history.

I am Asian American. And while I may or may not live up to the expectations of others, I know that the ultimate one that matters is mine.

 

By the way, do these pants make me look fat?

47 thoughts on “What does it mean to be Asian American?

  1. Wow, your words are leaving me breathless, Lani. You have put so much heart and soul into this post. It really is interesting how we are trying to find our own special place in the world amidst what is expected of us (and what we expect from ourselves), and how others see and respond to us. I like that you are a ‘red pill in a blue pill world’ – much more interesting!

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    1. Thank you. Coming from such a wordsmith, it means a lot. Plus, you noticed how much I poured myself into this post. It took me forever to get this right, to strike the right tone and to say all that I wanted to say without trying to cover every inch of a cloth that doesn’t need to be covered. Thank you!

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      1. Thank you for the return compliment, Lani. A post like this one, would have taken me ages to write, and it is very clear that you put a lot of thought into it. Plus you succeeded very well to strike just the write tone. Very well done, indeed. You can be proud of yourself, and I’m sure you will agree that posts like these that bare part of our soul, are always the hardest to write.

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  2. So many nuances in this post about being Asian American and being a part of different cultures, Lani. I can so relate when you say that someone of Asian background in Asia are more likely to respond to you when you are in Asia. When I lived in Malaysia and Singapore, my Asian friends always responded to Westerners quite eagerly during chit chats (like how some in Asian reckon all Westerners are celebrities). However when it came to talking about personal affairs such as day to day life or relationships, then they are more likely to share that with someone of similar cultural background.
    Speaking up is still something to be frowned upon in many Asian countries. Do you ever censor yourself professionally? I haven’t heard much about adoption in Asian countries, and as you said, it is generally not considered normal there. Maybe it is also tied to the idea of purity like you brought up just before. Continuation of bloodlines is such a big part of many Asian cultures, and if you don’t relate to it, it seems just so wrong.
    I find it particularly interesting when you said for most part you haven’t felt an identity crisis. You’ve always come across as such a headstrong personality and seem to want to make things work, or at least the best of a situation 😛 As an Asian Australian, my experiences are certainly different from yours. While I have felt confused about my identity, I’ve never wanted to conform. When you are left out or just too different it can be hard for opportunities to come by. Over the years I’ve learnt that the right people will be the ones who will connect with you. It just takes time.

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    1. The world is rapidly changing – many Asian countries now see Westerners more frequently. And not all Westerners are seen as celebrities. There is strong nationalism in some countries and resentment of Westerners “moving in”. There is also racism towards Westerners as well. It’s not a one way street like we have a tendency to believe.

      As far as censoring myself, the answer is YES. I can’t write about what I want to say when it comes to certain things – it’s not worth the risk of being blocked or kicked out or worse. I also have to be careful of what I say in the classroom.

      Yeah, as far as an “identity crisis”, I’ve been seen as someone I’m not ever since I left Hawaii (and even in Hawaii folks guessed wrong – ppl there love to guess your ethnicity, it’s second nature). So I think I’ve had to learn to let go of my frustrations.

      For example, in college, I told my brother that everybody thinks I’m Japanese. He said that we don’t know if they are German, Swiss or of English decent either, and I thought that was a pretty good point.

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      1. Racism seems to be changing over the years. I think wherever you go, racism isn’t a two way street as you said. These days it’s also quite common to see racism among one’s own race too.
        It’s great to hear you’ve let go of your frustrations being in-between. Everyone will be curious of each other to some extent, and we probably won’t know all of each other’s deepest secrets unless we’ve known them for a long time. In other words, each to their own.

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      2. Has racism changed over the years? I think our perception of racism has changed along with many other ideas.

        For example, it used to be common to smoke cigarettes in public places. But these days, many restaurants and heck, even towns, ban smoking in public places.

        Comedians used to be able to make “racist” jokes, but now that’s not considered kosher.

        As far as my “two way street” comment, perhaps I was not clear. Whites have been discriminated against as well, and that’s what I mean. It seems almost laughable to say this, but growing up in Hawaii, we have a term for whites – “haoles” and it’s not a good one. I know people who were bullied and picked on for being white. I also know whites who were discriminated against in Asia. But it’s not fashionable these days to say these things…

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      3. I think everyone has been on the end of discrimination at some point in some place. It really depends where you are. I’ve also encountered some people (of Asian background) within my circle that don’t particularly like Westeners. On the outside, these people might know might be polite to the next white person but behind closed doors it’s another story.

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  3. Yes, yes, so much YES to everything you wrote. I don’t even know where to begin. My husband and I have been discussing our lack of belonging – we’re too Asian in Canada and too Canadian in Asia – especially after our recent trip to South Korea. We were walking through Myeongdong (to be fair, it’s one of the busiest and tourist-heavy spots in Seoul) and many of the sales people standing outside their shops promoting their business would greet me in either Japanese or Chinese (I think?) as I walked by. Eventually I had to tell one particularly pushy lady, “excuse me, I am Korean so please stop.” It’s a weird feeling being stuck between two cultures, but as I get older, I’m learning to lean into it instead of feeling like a leaf hopelessly fluttering in the wind, not really sure which direction to go. (Also, my mom’s spanking weapon of choice was a wooden shoe horn.)

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    1. Lack of belonging, I’m realizing can be a great motivator. I think it has helped me see more of the world, and try to figure out who I am.

      I’ve heard shopping in Korea is CRAZY. As in you can’t touch the merchandise? Is that true? In Thailand they follow you like you are going to steal something. I HATE it. Often I leave because I can’t stand someone shadowing me.

      Oh, a wooden shoe horn. Damn. How creative they get. Thank you for saying something. I was nervous about sharing that part of my life. Hugs.

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      1. To be honest, I didn’t do any shopping in Korea. I found all the shopping areas overwhelming, so I stuck to seeking out street food. We did hit a couple of department stores only because my MIL was looking for sunglasses, but had no issues looking at merchandise. Maybe it’s store-specific, in higher end shops?
        Yep, parents can be creative about spanking tools. Honestly though, the times we got spanked were so few and far between… but they made them count, lol. It took A LOT for the wooden shoe horn to come out, but when it did… oh boy. Hugs to you too! ❤

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  4. Amazing article! At the end of the day the only expectations you should be obligated to meet are your own (when it comes to identity). Unique and diverse stories are a great ways to elevate AA voices..and further illustrates that there exists diversity within diversity. Keep on “glitching the matrix” of societal expectations 🙂

    —Cheers!

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    1. Thanks Dan. I’m glad you found me. I was sharing your unique AA upbringing to my boyfriend yesterday. I hope you plan on writing more!

      And yes! “Diversity within diversity”. Love it. Will have to steal it. 😉

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  5. Being “a participant and an outsider” is perfect for a writer. A person with your life experiences is blessed with a multitude of stories, both your own and those of people you’ve met.

    My husband used to delight in being mistaken for a Korean in Korea or a Thai in Thailand. I think he had this theory that he could fit in anywhere. Even though he escaped from China when he was ten years old and grew up in Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines, and later became a US citizen, he never seemed to worry about not fitting in. For some reason, he had an unusually strong sense of self. I can understand, though, why many Asian Americans struggle to feel they belong in one place or another. You have a great (maybe hard won) attitude. I enjoyed your thoughtful article.

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    1. Thank you Nicki. Your husband sounds like a remarkable man. To grow up and live in different countries with confidence must have been contagious!

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  6. You are a gifted writer, Lani. Your words paint vivid and evocative pictures. I’m so proud of your voice.

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    1. Thanks, Mrs. Abrigo. I appreciate it because you are so good about keeping up with us old students 😀 and it’s a honor.

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  7. You have such an interesting and unique perspective on being Asian-American. Do you find that you can relate well with other Asian-Americans? The American and Asian cultures definitely clash in many ways, but I’m hoping to extract the positive things out of both and apply to my own life and to my family’s. For example, I want to be more affectionate and less stingy (but not irresponsible) like my husband’s American family. I also love the Chinese emphasis on family and doing whatever it takes to help each other, but I don’t want to limit it to just family, either. Having this dual perspective is definitely a gift.

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    1. Absolutely. We have to make it be! And to do our best is all that we can do. Good for you for recognizing what both sides have to offer.

      Do I find that I relate well to other AAs? That’s an interesting question. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it that way. I mean, when I was in Hawaii, it’s just Hawaii, everyone’s AA.

      When I was in college it felt like other AA women were competitive and didn’t want to be friends, as much as they wanted to the novelty Asian girl.

      But when I was in Alabama, the other AA girl was THRILLED to meet me. And then being out here in Asia, yeah, feeling a bond, but people have to want to engage.

      I think it depends on people…

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  8. Thank you so much. I read all of your blogs and this one is so powerful. I too find myself within this world of duality. Growing up in atisemetic country and then moving to the US and for most Jews I am not Jewish enough. In Israel I am not even considered Jewish as I grew up in Russia. And here in America it’s a whole new identity crisis.
    Thank you for your voice that I believe is shared by so many yet left unspoken.

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    1. Thank you for commenting. Your background strikes me as rather interesting! I love stories that reveal another side of what our preconceived ideas are about a people or a place. Thank you.

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  9. It’s the first time I’ve listened to your recording while I was reading (I think you had done this before but I had never tried to listen). You have a very nice voice!

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  10. This read got me into various levels of feels (as the millennials call it). I felt sad, bad, mad, ashamed, curious,…I’m really very overwhelmed right now. I will just comment on two less heavy things:

    “We like to throw pity-parties for ourselves and stuff our ‘woe is me’ hole with Death By Chocolate ice cream cake. I’m very good at feeling sorry for myself.”

    That’s exactly me, and that was me yesterday when I posted that alone-in-this-planet crap on FB.

    “Typically, adopting a child in Asian countries is not considered normal unless it is within your own family: there are too many taboos and religious ideas surrounding the idea of taking in another kid.”

    It’s a bit more accepted here. Sure, there are still lots of orphaned kids out there. But there are many stories of people simply accepting children/babies left to them or orphans they find on the streets as theirs. They raise these kids as theirs despite poverty. They don’t go through legalities (they should, but they are too poor to even have the time and money to take care of that), but they’re family.

    Example, I have a cousin on my father’s side who was not biologically my uncle’s son but he was raised as one. I think he was simply abandoned by his real parents. Also, my husband’s cousin was a motherless street child his relatives found and raised. She carries the relatives’ last name, but from what I heard, that wasn’t her real name when she was found. I am not sure if the adoption was legal but, well, she’s already a grown and living her own life, however she lived it despite the love and care she was provided.

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    1. I’m very glad to hear that adoption is considered acceptable in the Philippines. Now I’m curious about Cambodia. I’ll have to ask friends. I think countries who’ve had more “colonial contact” rather than being isolated are probably more open to different ideas. But I’m just guessing. My friend volunteered at an orphanage here and I learned a lot through her. Plus, well, living here.

      Sorry to overwhelm you. That wasn’t my intention. I think it was just to say, hey! We’re all different!

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      1. You’re apology is not accepted because there is no need. 🙂

        Anyway, adoption is acceptable here but there are still so many kids that are orphans and aren’t being adopted.

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  11. “Asians in Asia, on the other hand, speak directly to me regardless if a non-Asian person is there speaking better Thai or Chinese. Often they will tolerate hear the white person, but reply to me.”

    Very interesting situation!
    Anyway…..we will be going to Japan in a few weeks, then fly over for a few days in Seoul. My first time in Asia.. Yea. I’m getting too old to be left behind.

    He’s heading off to Shanghai just for a few days while I return to work. Part of me would like to avoid Shanghai/not deal with China. It is a big country and this time of year may not be the greatest to visit..in terms of humidity and higher probability of pollution. My narrow impressions. But what can I do since I don’t have enough vacation days benefit.

    Deeper down though, part of me is annoyed because CHina just doesn’t care as much as Japan to preserve its architectural heritage in its quest for global economic domination and urban modernization.

    I’m sure the trip will reveal how Canadian I am… I have a number of relatives who immigrated as adults to Canada, so am acutely aware how different life would have been if I was born and raised in mainland China in 1960’s onward.

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    1. Wow. I can’t wait to hear about your holiday. Although, I think Japan and South Korea will be a very gentle introduction because they are fully developed countries with fascinating cultures.

      China is poised to take over the US economically as Americans are preoccupied with “social justice issues” and squabbling among themselves. But I know what makes America strong is its ingenuity and creativity, so we’ll see if the US can refocus it’s energies in a more positive way.

      But yes, I agree. The Cultural Revolution took away so much of the “civilized” part of China. In SE Asia I often hear folks complain about the Chinese’s behavior.

      Can’t wait to hear about your impressions!

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      1. There is a capitalist ruthless, an extreme now with still Communist government velvet glove control that is unpleasant. I also think because of the past, it’s like some mainland Chinese are desperately trying to make up for “advancements” when they stunted because of extreme dictatorship over its people 1950’s to early 1980’s. In some ways…the Chinese and Germans are quite similar at least in terms of efficiency, technical focus and getting things done. Yes, Trump is deflecting and misleading Americans internally over sillier things, while China just marches along economically in a brutal way….globally. The strength of Canada and U.S. is combining creativity, community building, social justice, attempt (not always) to glean best from diverse views to create something better. However keep in mind, China’s economy is now helped probably by those returning from overseas and those who are bilingual. I am not surprised by behaviour of I assume of over zealous Chinese entrepreneurs who don’t give a crap about regulations, community sensitivies.. It wouldn’t be surprising the value of life in occupational health and safety in mainland China is less than here in North America. How else could China build high speed rail systems, so many highrise buildings and roads so fast?

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      2. Oh, absolutely. I think there are many (the highest?) Chinese exchange students overseas. It’s really a monster with it’s “ghost cities” and empty highways and highrises. And let’s not talk about the construction of these buildings – I just think about that tragic earthquake where all those school children died. It all comes down to money hungry, whether it be in the West or the East, you said it best – ruthless.

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  12. I will say that being in Hawaii twice….felt to me, personally abit like being in Vancouver: heavily Pacific Rim Canadian residents with family ancestry from Pacific Rim countries. However there a lot of ex-pat Japanese, Koreans and Chinese like to study ESL and live in Vancouver for a short few years. In that city there are many ESL private schools that have carved a market niche.

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    1. Ah, interesting. Makes sense. I heard Vancouver has a lot of second, third, etc, generation Hong Kong immigrants. I certainly felt like I belonged when I was there. Such a beautiful city!

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  13. I’m the first first-generation American in my Asian family. I really enjoyed this post and I write about my experience on my new blog, Always Present. I recently wrote something with some of the same takeaways that you had and I felt that I could really relate to you. I will also be teaching English abroad (in rural Asian communities) this summer as a program for English speaking high school and college students. I really loved this post, and I gave you a follow! Thanks for sharing, and please check out my blog at https://alwayspresent7106.wordpress.com/ 🙂

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    1. Wow. Thanks for finding me Ashley. I’ll be keen to hear about your experiences both at home and abroad. I’ll check your blog out!

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  14. I have to say this is one of my favorite posts from you yet. It’s very raw, honest, and I can relate so much! Like you, I also lived in a place where I was either a. the only Asian or b. the least Asian person. It’s weird to be on both sides.

    I think being half also throws a whole new dynamic into the mix as well. I tried to grapple with two ethnic identities while also trying to grow up as ‘American’ as I could be. Like you, going to Asia changed my entire perspective on being Asian–I realized there is a HUGE difference between someone living in China and a Chinese-American (for example). It made me realize culture really is a learned thing, it’s not something that we’re born with. And this is a whole ‘nother can of worms, but I don’t identify as Asian-American and feel more aligned with the ‘half’ identity. In Utah many Asian-Americans ostracized me or didn’t let me into their social circles because I looked ‘white’ and it was very traumatizing. Anyway, not all Asian-Americans are like that–especially when I moved to California, where I had a much better experience with Asian-Americans.

    I’m also glad there are Asian-American English teachers like you in Thailand and Cambodia! Asians (especially those in Japan) have this stereotyped vision that all English speakers are white people with blue-eyes and blonde-hair… It was a struggle for me to teach my students that being American was kind of a fluid identity, unlike Japanese. Black, Arab, Asian, White, Hispanic–America has many faces.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Mary! I’m glad you liked it! It’s funny how certain posts make me nervous, as in, how is this going to be received? Will I be misunderstood? and so on.

      But at the end of the day, I know that I have to be okay with being misunderstood; I fear that is part of just being alive and blogging.

      I could imagine being half does present a bit of a challenge, but perhaps it also allows for some fluidity? I don’t know. I’m just guessing. I think there’s jealousy involved too because some Asians wish they were half-White. I guess it’s the grass is greener syndrome.

      It is nice that I can represent another face of English. I do need to ask former students what they thought of me. I’m curious! Thanks again, Mary!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Oh my goodness I so feel this. As someone born and raised here, I know what it’s like to be an American. But I also don’t fit what people think of as American because my parents are Pakistani. It’s a consistent battle trying to figure out where I fit in, and if I even do. It’s something I regularly discuss on my blog too, so I hope you’ll take a look… a question: Have you read any good books that speak to your experience? I recently read Love, Hate, and other filters and Saints and misfits, and wbile neither are exactly my experience, they both come closer than any other books I have read.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I’d imagined folks would want to put you in the “Indian” category. Or maybe our American ignorance would generate some other interesting questions? Yeah, glad you found me, I’ll have to check out your experiences 🙂

      As far as books, I’m actually finishing up a book about my life as an AA. So, what I did was AVOID books that might have been similar because I didn’t want them to influence me.

      I’ve been wanting to create a list of bloggers like us; I’ll have to get going on that list! Thanks.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes!! It would be great to have a group of us. You know, I always CRAVED seeing my experience to know I wasn’t alone in the struggles. Lilly Singh, the comedian, says it perfectly (and this is a paraphrase ;)): we all know our stories are relatable too, but for so long, we’ve had to see ourselves on screen only in the Mean Girls-esque type roles. What about the ordinary ones? What about those girls? So, I hope if we create that group you speak of, we can be those role models for others!

        Liked by 2 people

  16. Oh gosh, I relate so much! I wrote a post about this on my blog, too. All the Filipino Americans I meet are really into cultural stuff, like festivals and dances. I grew up in the Philippines and we were never into those things. It’s really interesting to see how generations and environment impact way we identify and see things. But anyways, this was a really good read! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you know, I’ve heard this about other AAs as well. They form these clubs and are really into their culture, but on the other side of the world – the cultural stuff is much more “invisible” or less obvious, if that makes sense.

      And thanks! It’s always nice to make new connections and relate to one another!

      Like

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