**Originally published on tumblr in Feb 2013 **
It happens every time I travel to Asia…
First, some background on me: In a time long long ago, I was born to Chinese parents in Singapore. We lived there for another five years before we made a major shift and moved to Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada.
By every measure my parents raised me well, teaching me to treat everyone with respect, eat my vegetables, and study hard—you know, pretty typical asian stuff. They even taught me how to eat durian (a really stinky, smelly Asian fruit) and weird stuff like pickled baby snails and stinky tofu (another really stinky, smelly, Asian thing).
What they didn’t ever push on me, however, was the need to go to Chinese school. They asked me, and left the choice up to me. This was a decision that many of my friends never got to make for themselves. After all, what seven-year-old boy would consciously make a decision to attend Chinese school every weekend, over going out to ride his bike around the neighbourhood with friends??
So in my later life (i.e. now) I have come to realize that it really sucks to look Chinese when you travel in Asia, and can’t speak Mandarin. For example in Singapore, at the food stalls away from the touristy areas, I’m still initially spoken to in Mandarin. Fortunately, most of the “Uncles” and “Aunties” who run these stalls understand English (surprisingly to most people, English is one of Singapore’s official languages) and they switch over right away.
Another time, I was on a business trip to Taiwan with some white co-workers, one of whom could speak Mandarin. Wherever we went and interacted with the locals, their first instinct was to look at me and speak in Mandarin. Many were taken aback when I would give them a puzzled stare and look to my coworker Mike, who would then reply in Mandarin. We always got a good chuckle out of it every time it happened, which was often.
Well, at least I look the part.