Frustrations on being Asian American

Originally written 4/2/17, and not fully formed thoughts. A topic I’ll revisit later.

The other day as I was browsing travel sites in preparation for my summer post-grad trip to Asia, I came across a post on safety. The blogger, a very beautiful American blonde, had enthused about the friendliness of the locals, and how safety isn’t an issue.

A thought popped into my head rather unmercifully: “Well, of course people are friendly. You’re a beautiful blonde American girl.”

The identity of the Asian American is something that has interested me for a while, in all of its complexities, especially in its relation to me. In some ways I feel quite American, native English-speaking, born and bred in the cradle of the San Francisco Bay Area, arguably one of the places that most embodies American ideals. In other ways, I feel less American, an outsider standing because I am neither white nor black, Christian, homeschooled, and so forth. I consider myself Asian American with a Chinese heritage, but cannot identify with many of the other people who claim the same dual identities.

As I was growing up, the cultures most prevalent in my household was first American (my mother, LA-born and bred) and then Malaysian/Singaporean (my father and my father’s family). Navigating this has produced some problems, especially as I’ve learned Chinese.

  • [in Chinese class] “Of course her accent’s the best, and she can do the best, she’s Chinese” — Thanks for trashing all the hard work I’ve done, and the fact that not a single person close to me actually spoke Mandarin Chinese natively.
  • [in China] “Why can’t she speak Chinese? Is she Korean?” — I’m a 华裔, but that doesn’t meant my parents can speak any more Chinese than I can. In fact, they don’t speak Mandarin at all.
  • Learning Mandarin is not an attempt at me “finding my heritage.” If I wanted to do that, I would go learn Malay. I would learn Cantonese. I’m frustrated at others and myself for viewing this as “making up for some deficiency” that I clearly have. I’m tired of people thinking that this is something I should have already done as a kid — starting at -30, as opposed to starting at 0.

attempts of an amateur tea enthusiast

So while I was browsing on Amazon for things to put on my Christmas list, I came across various tea materials – like a tea basket, a thermos, etc. It then occurred to me that connoisseur tea drinking is a thing. I’ve never been much into fancy wines (they all taste like alcohol to me), or been able to tell to a fine degree how authentic Chinese food is (a result of growing up in the States – I know what’s good but not necessarily what’s authentic), but tea drinking, huh. That’s something I could be more serious in, because these days, I drink a lot of tea in my room.

I’ll confess: some part of me wants to be an expert in something, or be passionate and knowledgeable about something. Like how some people can rattle off football scores or tell at a taste where the vineyard that produced a certain wine is located. But much more of me wants to understand tea drinking because 1) I’ve always enjoyed tea and 2) I’m also the type of person to accidentally leave tea bags in the thermos for days. (Whoops.) So at least this might help me stop drinking so much accidentally-bitter tea.

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