Ni hao! Where are you from?

The other week, my mother showed me a video on Facebook: What (Not) To Say To An Asian Person. It featured a couple of East Asian women explaining how to avoid making a race-themed social faux pas. Naturally, the comments section was full of words like “special snowflake” and “stop-whining-about-issues-we-have-never-experienced-but-are-judging-you-for-anyway*, ” and “how DO you talk to them?”

Which, to be fair, is an interesting question. The short answer is: if you talk like one respectable human being to another without making assumptions about the other person, then you’re probably getting it right. But I thought I’d break it down further.

For a start, upon seeing someone who may be in a racial minority, I like to assume that they speak English and don’t want to be singled out. Apparently, though, it’s perfectly acceptable to say a random greeting to them in a language that all people who look like them must speak – especially if you have no other reason to talk to them. Or to shout it through the window of your moving car. Ni hao! Konichiwa! Or be downright racist and shout “Great Wall of China!” at them to impress your mates. Right?

Wrong. It’s not simply saying hello. Do you have the same urge to shout a greeting to a completely white stranger? I never know why people do it, but if they want to be funny, clever, or cool, then they’ve got work to do.

And sometimes it is meant to be friendly. But having heard “ni hao” used as a slur – and even combined with catcalling – I just associate it with being made fun of. Besides, how do you know what language someone speaks? A white person, for example, could come from any continent in the world! Don’t get me wrong, if you’re fluent in their language, and they struggle with yours, then great. Otherwise, a simple “hello” or “hi” will suffice.

Interestingly, when my mum lived in Taiwan, she had a lot of passing strangers say “hello” or “good day”. If I ever went back to Taiwan and experienced this, I would be too amused by the irony of being in a reverse situation to usual to be offended.

As for asking where I’m from? Loughborough, England, UK. No, where am I really from? Born in Taiwan with a Taiwanese father, but raised British since age 4. What about my mum? British. Do I talk to, or visit my father? No. My ethnicity is no secret, but honestly, sometimes it’s like being questioned by the Spanish Inquisition! I like to think I just look like a dark haired British person, but the number of times I’ve heard these questions has disproven this. I don’t mind talking about the subject – it’ll come up naturally if you hang around with me long enough anyway – but I can’t help feeling a little self conscious when questioned on the first meeting.

I realise I’m being a bit sensitive. I think having a learning difference has made me fed up of being scrutinised for my differences, and I am working on that.

So there you go. Discussions like this so often lead to people thinking minority groups expect special treatment. If I need special treatment, I’ll swallow my pride and let you know, but apart from that, it’s the opposite. I just want people to get to know me for me, and learn naturally how to treat me based on that.

 

 

*Well maybe not those exact words…

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Proud to be different?

For those of you who don’t know, I’m not only autistic, I’m also biracial. Specifically half Taiwanese, half British. And throughout my life, I’ve had more people than I can count react to this. Often unprompted. I get complete strangers saying ni hao to me. Men trying to be funny. Women selling Chinese literature. Boys at school who wanted to “have my Chinese babies.”

People have argued that there’s nothing wrong with saying “ni hao.” It’s only hello, right? Well it’s not funny. Or cool. It makes me feel the same as when men catcall me – they might not be using a direct insult, but it is still disturbing. Plus how do I know they’re not making fun? You don’t go around singing Lion King songs to black people. Or assuming that an autistic person is a living incarnation of Christopher from The Curious Incident. Oh, wait…

Yet being in a minority is seen as special. Which brings me onto a conversation I had with Mum, following a man-trying-to-be-funny incident the other day.

These days, it’s both healthy and trendy to do a Lady Gaga and proudly say “I was born this way, hey!” And many people believe it’s good to be different. Great that they think that, but it’s easy enough to say when you haven’t fallen behind at school, dealt with countless preconceptions about your race or how your brain works, feared judgement even from those closest to you, had people take you less seriously than they should…Sometimes I still hate being different. There, I said it.

But by all means be proud of your brain. Or heritage, or whatever. If you’re neurotypical and/or firmly rooted into your home country by 10 generations, your support means a lot to people like me. Either way, remember that no matter how well things are going, it can be tough. And if you’re not happy in who you are, don’t try to pretend otherwise – it’s ok to be frustrated.

If it does get you down and someone is trying too hard to be positive, say: “I’m glad you think it’s a good thing, and I realise that it’s important to be happy in who I am. But being/having x,y,z can be hard because (insert reason), and sometimes I need people to acknowledge that and sympathise.” This isn’t the same as being pitied just for being in a minority – it’s simply feeling sorry that someone else is struggling.

And if someone says something careless without trying to hurt you, just explain that you are a regular person. Say that displaying preconceptions about you makes you feel really uncomfortable, especially because sometimes people do mean it unkindly. Or because they have assumed something that just isn’t true. If they are apologetic, accept their apology and move on. If not, just…move on.

Meanwhile, I’d better get back to counting red cars. And giving out fortune cookies. Zai jian for now!

Proudly autistic and Asian

 

My thoughts on the human condition

When people talk about the human condition, it sounds like some big, deep theory that summarises the whole of humanity from an objective viewpoint. People are always trying to make sense of other people, whether it’s from a philosophical, psychological or religious perspective. Yet without being God, or any other higher being that can see us inside out, it’s impossible to get the bigger picture. And anyway, do we really want to know what humanity must look like from the outside…

But the human condition isn’t just about how people were made, and how we turned out. It’s also in the little things. Like so:

Does anyone else find it annoying when mature adults assume you’re younger than you are, then expect you to take that as a compliment? If you’re like me, you want to look to be an age at which people take you seriously. Yet older people want to look younger for the same reason. So basically, we go through each stage of life either missing, or looking forward to, the years when we get taken seriously. While not taking people outside our age range seriously. Yeah.

And the “us against the world” mindset. Life sucks, doesn’t it? Especially when you have to deal with Asperger’s Syndrome, the odd racist catcall, and an anticipated future of being single and unemployed. Honestly, other people have it so easy…

See what I mean? We can only clearly see what’s wrong with our own lives. Anything that doesn’t affect us has to be right under our noses and relevant to our interests. It gets interesting when this mindset is what unites a particular social group. Then what happens? A fight for a noble cause, or a feud over politics, religion, or race?

On a similar note, when we don’t know everything, we fill in the gaps. Sounds like a bad thing, and sometimes it is, but it’s how we make sense of the world around us. We get glimpses of what’s happening in someone’s life, and what we don’t know, we speculate. Problems only start when we are so sure that our understanding is right, that we lose touch with reality.

Then there’s that old “meaning of life” mystery. Whose life? Yours or everyone’s? I’ve come to realise that you don’t “find” your purpose; you choose it, pursue it, and if it stops working, pick another. For life in general, my theory is: keep the world living and moving by playing your part and striving to make a difference. Best I could come up with, anyway.

Us versus them – which is which?

You know what they’re talking about on the news at the moment? You can bet it includes people, politics, and prejudice, no matter when you’re reading this post. On Facebook these days I see about a gazillion hot topics trending. I don’t know if Facebook has become more news-y or if I’m just better at noticing these things, but I’m going to talk about one particular controversy: people’s attitudes towards race and religion.

Yes, you heard me. If you see another blog post from me, you’ll know I didn’t commit social suicide today after all.

As a student living in today’s society, I have seen more online articles and videos than I care to count. Am I alone in that? Somehow I don’t think so. Looking through comments sections following numerous topics of discussion sometimes makes me feel like losing faith in humanity. People often seem to hype up hate towards Christians, Muslims, refugees, anyone who falls under a social category that may have caused problems for other people in the past. But to me, they’re missing the point. It isn’t having beliefs that’s wrong, and it certainly isn’t heritage. It’s cruelty. Which anyone is capable of and anyone can choose not to commit.

As for ‘we should help our own people first’: why do we prioritise people based on race and not on how much they actually need help? We are all people; there should be no ‘our own vs others’.

One thing I have learnt in recent years is this: we live in a society where too many people think that the way they see the world is the way it works. As a Christian, I don’t know whether to be more saddened by the fact that Christians get labelled as prejudiced, bible-bashing bigots or by certain individuals who do nothing to kill that stereotype. Is Christianity meant to show people how best to live, love and learn? Absolutely. Does it make a believer any more or less of a person? I don’t think so.

Atheists who freely post on the internet that all Christians are indeed prejudiced, bible-bashing bigots are being no better than the people they are accusing, in my opinion. Why should it be right for some social groups to shove certain people into a box but not others? Sadly it’s not just religion versus atheism wars where this is apparent. Cats versus dogs, introverts versus extroverts, Harry Potter versus Twilight? You name it.

I mean, just look at the conflicts that arise as a result, and you will see where I’m coming from. I could think of a million and one comments to add to such things, but am no more likely to do so than a football fan turn off the TV to drive all the way to Manchester so they can shout insults at the losing team. In other words, my stance on topics like that are for me, myself and I. And my blog, occasionally.

One of my principles in life is that the world is too big and complicated for us to ever understand it. I have my beliefs and am always trying to improve my understanding of God, faith, and the world in general. If any belief or opinion of mine is right or wrong, it will be one small thing compared with everything else I am right or wrong about. In short, no one on this earth has all the answers.

So with this principle, what morals do I go by? Keep an eye on your own thoughts and feelings. Accept you won’t always be right, and try to understand where other opinions come from. Above all, treat others with the same care and respect you expect to be treated with; at the end of the day, they are your equal.