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…

Advertisements

Is freedom of speech really free?

This was a popular topic of debate in my journalism lectures at uni. In fact, some people got so wound up in their freedom of speech that the rest of us would spend the best part of these lectures sitting back and watching, as at least two people passionately argued their stance on free speech, or politics, or whatever. I don’t know if the best part was when someone would still be sulking after the lecture about not getting the last word, or when comments beginning “Your mum” were thrown around. Either way, quality entertainment.

What does freedom of speech really mean anyway? I like to think there’s more to it than simply being able to say what you like, but honestly, that is how most people seem to take it. I was musing on this the other day when I read a Facebook post that was nostalgically remembering the good old days when one could make a joke without having to worry about insulting women, racial minorities, LGBT people, etc. Really, it’s so tough being in a generation where everyone has a voice, not just heterosexual white men…

When people make statements online – for whatever cause – conflict in the comments section will inevitably ensue. And you can bet at least one person will defend their viewpoint by using the “free speech, free country” card. But people who try to be “PC” in their use of speech are stigmatised and mocked. Apparently casual racism, or sexism, or whatever, is fine, but trying to show respect and compassion towards other people makes you subject to ridicule.

And none of this answers my question.

The way I see it is this. Freedom in any form isn’t as simple as being able to do whatever you want, with no regards to the consequences. Think about growing up. You spend your childhood being heavily dependent on your parents, then your teen years testing their boundaries and your own limits. You take matters into your own hands, and when you fail, you get angry when your parents still make sure you get your comeuppance just when you thought you were entitled to more privileges.

But your parents don’t give you more freedom because they stop caring what you do. Rather, they do so because they are trying to trust you to make your own decisions without having to be told. At any stage in our lives, we will inevitably abuse our privileges, and the consequences will be no less real.

Make sense? We are free to voice our opinions, but that doesn’t make it any more ok to attack others. No-one is always fully right or fully wrong. Conflict may be unavoidable, but if you manage it by defending your side without tearing down someone else’s, you’re making a step in the right direction.

20 interesting/weird/hopefully-not-too-boring facts about me

1) When I was at primary school, I was made to take memory tests. The irony is, I can’t remember taking them.

2) I have said many times that the song “Hot n Cold” by Katy Perry has to be about British Weather.

3) On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, I’m either an ISFP (Introverted Sensing Feeling Perceiving) or an INFP (Introverted iNtuition Feeling Perceiving). If I spend too long trying to decide, I may end up in a state of inner turmoil. But then most life situations send me into such a state at the drop of a hat…

4) As you can probably tell, I spend an unhealthy amount of time trying to make sense of how people (including myself) think. Don’t even get me started on the 4 temperaments theory and how it DOES actually work (for those who know about it, I am apparently a phlegmatic-melancholic).

5) I used to have a phobia of fireworks. Also balloons, party poppers and anything that bangs. But especially fireworks.

6) I see certain letters, numbers, words and even tunes in colour. Synaesthesia, I think it’s called.

7) When Mum taught me about puberty, I misunderstood and thought I would be bleeding painfully non-stop until the age of fifty. Yes, I did struggle to hold back the tears when Mum was telling me, you can say “Aww” all you like. No, louder than that!

8) I used to write diaries on behalf of certain favourite toys. Because my sister might read this, I’m not telling where those diaries ended up or how old I was at the time…except I wasn’t too far from single figures…Oh come on, I am autistic!

9) Only days after giving up looking for two more uni housemates, I had two people put themselves forward. Either they waited until the moment I gave up, or I forgot to take down all my “Housemates” adverts. But I think they waited.

10) I had my first pet when I was five: a budgie who I named Bernard.

11) When my parents were dating, my now-stepdad tried to bond with my sister (age two) and I (age six) by taking us to the Edward Jenner Smallpox Museum. It was practically made of grotesque photos, plus a similar video, of smallpox victims dying painfully. My sister and I came back pale, not wanting dinner and just a little traumatised. Not the best day out we’ve ever had.

12) As a small child I had more imaginary friends than I can count. They were either favourite book/film animal characters or made-up relatives of said characters. I never told anyone, so sshhh…

13) When on a residential trip to London in year 10, I accidentally set a hotel toaster on fire. I missed the sign saying not to toast anything other than bread, and apparently croissants don’t count as bread…

14) When staying with my Grandad recently, I chose to accompany him to the Easter church service. And realised I am not good at dealing with having nearly the whole congregation approaching from all angles saying they remember me from when I was yea high.

15) Cat vs dog wars make me want to pull my hair out. Yes, I am more into cats. No, that doesn’t make cats “better”.

16) I once dreamt that Katy (see March 2013) abandoned me when we were meant to be playing in an orchestra concert. She has had a similar dream about me.

17) I still get the odd racist comment from passers-by about my half Asian heritage.

18) I have a strong sense of right and wrong when it comes to sticking by my morals and how to treat other people. In other words, I am a bit of a goody-two-shoes.

19) Bouncer (April 2013) and I cannot decide who my/his revolving chair belongs to. Put it this way: I am currently sitting on 1/9 of it.

20) When I was twelve I had some random guy come and ask me if I’d sung with Britney Spears the night before.

So there you have it. I’m still worried that this post may be a little self-centred but apparently people like reading this sort of thing. Meanwhile, if anyone has any blog topic suggestions that aren’t just me rambling about my life, I am right here. And no longer on MY revolving chair.