One reads some interesting articles, but “Don’t just assume that I’m Chinese” by Minh Giang in TheAge says more about Minh and a need to travel than anything.
She complains that she is mistaken for being Chinese as if she is the only person in the world that it happens to.
Sorry Minh, it happens “everywhere”, worldwide to every nationality.
If you’re not a local then it’s natural for people to guess you’re nationality.
Some people like to take a stab at it to make you feel good.. let’s face it, they are pretty good odds in Australia that you are Chinese. It doesn’t make people bad.
Aussies in Europe.. Kiwis, Brits, Canadian, hell, other Aussies try and guess what state you’re from.
Get over it and enjoy the attention, or buy a t-shirt!
Don’t just assume that I’m Chinese
It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday. I was walking with my sister along Flinders Street when a beggar came up to us and said happily: “Ni hao ma. Do you have any change?”
It means “hello” in Chinese.
And we’re Vietnamese.
And we did not have any change.
I was waiting at a tram stop when another commuter and I started the usual morning small talk at public transport stations. The only difference was, before everything else, he pointed at me and asked confidently, “( you’re from) China?”
I have worked in hospitality for a couple of years, from low-end restaurants in Footscray and a food truck that goes as far as four hours away from the city, to a fivestar hotel at the rear of the CBD. No matter where I go, there have always been customers who would thank me with a smile and all their hearts, saying “xie xie” (“ thank you” in Mandarin).
I hold nothing against the people who have mistaken my nationality. I know it is impossible to get everything right in a country so culturally diverse as Australia; and I know curiosity is a fantastic conversation starter that can spark something much bigger.
It would be lovelier to be given an opportunity to introduce myself rather than to be bumped into with full certainty of my identity, just because I look Asian.
And I am not the only one who wishes so.
I was fortunate enough to meet many students of all backgrounds when volunteering at my university in 2016. After one long shift I found myself with several Middle Eastern girls who I had not had a chance to talk to before. Just another ice-breaking session, I began with THE question, “Where are you from?”, with almost absolute confidence that they would say “India” .
However, they responded to me with a relieved sigh before saying, “You know what? We are so glad you asked.”
That was when I realised I had accidentally saved my politically incorrect arse.
As expats, we do not mind “where are you from?” I actually enjoy talking about my origins and am open to all questions regarding pho, banh mi or why there are so many Nguyens (trust me, I have the answers up my sleeves), so long as it comes from genuine interest.
However, it could be odd for those whose nationality (or identity) does not match the way they look (ethnicity). So, here’s another way to phrase it: “What’s your background?”
Minh Giang is an Age contributor.
Do me a favour and don’t assume I’m Chinese
By Minh Giang
24 October 2018
This article is from the October 25, 2015 issue of The Age Digital Edition.
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