Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Chinese who cannot speak Chinese

I am Chinese but I cannot speak Chinese. To many, I don’t even look like a Chinese. Some identity crisis, huh?

Just yesterday. I was chided about the way I handled a sensitive case with one of the customers of our café. The conclusion was “Serene doesn’t know how to handle things in the ‘Chinese way’”.
This has been a recurring chorus in my life… I am not Chinese enough.

When friends laugh and poke fun at my inability to speak Chinese… I can only laugh along and agree what a terrible person I am, not being able to speak a word of my so called native language. Their eyes demand an explanation. I am obligated to justify myself… to offer an explanation for my condition. It must be some kind of sickness it seems.

When coffee shop aunties and taxi drivers speak to me to take my order or ask my destination, I can only try to follow as best as I can with my smattering of Chinese… and try my best to make myself understood with the few words and sentences I know in Chinese. I am already familiar with the look of disgust that shows on their face when they realise my handicap. It’s as if I am a traitor who does not have the right to move freely among them since I do not really belong as one of them.

Sometimes I watch other Chinese-look-a-likes but who clearly distinguish themselves as being mixed-blood or “Eurasian”. They get away with not needing to utter a word of Chinese simply because they are not “Pure Chinese”. And they are forgiven. It is not their fault. These people are satisfied with living apart from their Chinese heritage. They accept that they do not belong.

But is my ethnicity something I have to earn? I did not choose to be Chinese. I just am. Do I have to apologise to you because I do not follow your stereotype of what a Chinese person should be?

Discrimination comes in all kinds of forms. Sometimes I am tempted to register myself as a minority group. A Chinese who does not speak Chinese.

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