The first impression I usually make on strangers is that I’m westernized, so much so that I am only Chinese in appearance.
I shrug this off most days. I don’t care because I am comfortable in my multicultural identity. Yes, I possess an obvious spectrum of Western outlooks and mannerisms, but I am also solid in my Chinese roots, history and values.
However, catch me at a moment of weakness or identity crisis and this comment of my westernization will irritate the living day lights out of me. And you can bet I will defend my Chinese-ness until you back away slowly in hopes of not being injured by the shrapnel that is the remains of the bomb you just set off when you uttered those words.
Don’t worry dear readers, there are no shrapnel here. This post is not a result of someone blatantly, inconsiderately verbalizing their unprocessed inner thoughts to me. It is inspired by Lianne Yu’s “17 Signs You Were Raised in a Chinese-American Family“.
Although there are millions of little signs that make up that special part of identity, I doubt you’d be interested in reading through that. So I’ve picked out 10.
A little disclaimer before we get started. Don’t mistaken these as me generalising them as Chinese and nothing but Chinese. Many other societies and cultures retain similar customs and characteristics. Plus, everyone is idiosyncratic. These are merely what I see as originating from my own Chinese background and upbringing.
1) I shower at night. I cannot get a good night’s sleep without being squeaky clean and moisturized. This is especially essential in the cold winter months because crawling into bed with cold toes and fingers are not acceptable. My bed is a sacred place of clean sheets and lavender scents, ain’t no outside dirt gonna get up in there!
2) I have to handle “interesting” family expectations. I was recently made aware that my entire family’s biggest New Year wish for me is to find a suitable boy. My grandmother has become so desperate she’s lowered her expectations and has explicitly told me to not to have high standards. I’m pretty sure they already have plans to matchmake me, Chinese-style. So, my face and all my personal details and credentials will be put up in some random park in China with hundreds of other singletons’ leaflets in hopes that someone will find my qualifications up-to-par. They’ve probably began talking to their friends and colleagues about potentially pulling together their single daughter and their single, eligible sons. Who knows, maybe I’m already engaged and I don’t even know it. Either way, the push is strong with this family.
3) I still get red envelopes full of money. But as long as I stay single and unwed, I can use my family and family friends as cash cows come Chinese New Year, every year. Mom and dad, if you want me to get married, you should ban this tradition from my life. Money is the ultimate disincentive for that put-a-ring-on-it call.
4) I have a Type-A tiger mother. My room is quite clean according to the standards of people my age and older. You can see all of the floor. My desk is neatly arranged with tons of room to spare. My bed is always made. My clothes are stacked in their proper places. But my mother would walk in and be exacerbated at how unkept my space is. Our house back in Vancouver is always, always clean and dustless. She would also prefer I have my life mapped out down to the minute. When she plans something, there’s nothing that will stop those plans going forward, not even an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse. But I wouldn’t have her any other way. Love you mum! (Oh, in case you’re wondering, yes I have inherited many, many of these neurotic type-A traits, but dialled down a few notches)
5) I am all about avoiding trouble. Videos of Chinese people standing around or walking swiftly pass a guy who just got severely beaten up or a little girl crushed under multiple vehicles is infamous around the world now. This type of behaviour could be attributed to the indifference of the society. It could also be a result of the fact that getting oneself involved with situations that have nothing to do with you could get yourself into trouble as well. For instance, helping an old lady up from a fall, she turns around and accuses you of tripping her in the first place and then sues you for everything you’ve got. Rare. But it is nonetheless, a story some Chinese tell themselves and their family to scare each other into inaction. So, it is better to stand off to one side and/or ignore it. Don’t “inconvenience” yourself. This is, unfortunately, something I’ve internalized and tend to practice. Don’t start screaming at my inhumane, apathetic behaviour now. I am changing, slowly.
6) I speak Chinglish. I attribute my horrible but still intact ability to speak Chinese to the fact that I have to speak it to my father whose English is elementary. This is probably the sole reason I can even still speak Chinese, so thanks dad! But even when I do talk to my dad, quite a few English words still slip out. With my mom, the flood is overwhelming, and the few Chinese vocabulary that have not been drowned out is barely afloat. Still, there are certain terms that are just easier to say in Chinese instead of its inadequate English counterpart: mafan (inconvenient), fanren (annoying), diulian (losing face), and all Chinese produce and condiments. The other day, I just couldn’t think of the word for nashou, the english equivalent of which, as it turned out, was forté. So in the moment, I used Chinglish on a flatmate of mine who didn’t speak a word of Chinese. Not going to let that stop my proud-to-be-Chinese march!
7) I eat rice, all day every day. Chinese food in general. I eat it for every meal. My toast is not buttered, it’s lathered in Chinese spicy sauce (gross to many, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). I cannot go more than two days without rice and spicy food. Even during my sickest days, I indulge in hotness.
8) Red is my lucky colour. Ask anyone who knows me well, they will say I am unhealthily obsessed with the colour. It is my absolute favourite colour to wear. I don’t walk out the door unless I have something red on me. I know it’s pure superstition and irrationality, but that colour keeps my confidence and fortunes above water. I have been referred to as a communist for loving red so much. They’re just jealous that my complexion goes so well with it.
9) I am completely uncomfortable with discussing sex with my mum or any member of my family. Sex education in China is infamously bad. There’s no birds-and-the-bees talk tradition of any kind in families. Schools don’t teach the subject properly. Any public (ie. TV programmes, sexualized music videos, posters, etc.) display of anything close to sexiness is banned (ie. recent dynastic drama banned from airing due to too much “cleveage”). This tense and forbidden atmosphere surrounding something so basic to our nature has wormed its way into my relationship with my family. It’s probably going to stay this way. My mother will probably ask me to take this point down. Sorry mum!
10) I know my parents love me, without ever hearing an “I Love You”. Don’t be fooled by the exorbitant amount of times I complain about my family and all their craziness. No matter how much I rant against them, you will never ever convince me they don’t love me as much as I know they do (and probably more). I have never heard this love verbalized in the explicit “I love you”, but we Chinese all understand that their nagging, their excessive worrying, their “put on a sweater or you’ll catch a cold” and “be vigilant” because you’re in a foreign city they’ve never been to, are all implicit expressions of their unconditional love for us. We are reminded every day of this love even if that word is never uttered.
No matter how long or how short this list is, most of these are all just superficial really. None of it matters because all that matters is that I feel Chinese. I am Chinese, and proud to be.