This evening, sitting in the lobby of my residence with a white person on either side of me, an American girl came and addressed herself to one of my companions, saying she had to give out some flyers to foreign students. She proceeded to hand one to him, and then another to the person sitting on my other side, and did not even look at me. It was like I did not exist.
This offended me more than any Chinese person mistaking me for a Chinese person ever could, because usually foreigners can tell fellow foreigners apart, and besides, what would your average Chinese girl be doing in the foreign student dorm sitting between two blond boys, speaking in English? On reflection, maybe she was actually just being a bitch.
Being mistaken for a “real” Chinese happens with depressing frequency. I also regularly find myself sandwiched between two blonds; for example in the first week of lessons, walking to the classroom with my two blonde friends, some men handing out booklets on tourism in English actually retracted their booklets when they came near me, but hastened to hand them to my classmates. The irony being that neither of my classmates are actually English, but I am. I just said loudly, in Chinese, “why aren’t you giving me one?” and finally got my crappy validation and a crappy booklet, which I immediately thew out.
It’s tiring having to endlessly explain myself, and I know I am not alone. There are a few others like me, the “special” ones, who look Chinese and get all the extra aggro with it. Just this evening a Canadian Chinese friend was telling me how she was at dinner with some white friends and a Chinese boy came directly up to her and asked her in Chinese to translate some things for him into English. The presumption of it is astounding (not to mention rude… interrupting her meal anyone?) Firstly, those white people could actually speak Chinese. Secondly, why the hell should she do some shitty translation for a stranger?
I don’t mind when Chinese people ask me where I am from, or say “you are not Chinese, are you?” when I stumble over my Chinese. I gladly reveal where I am from, and in a big city like this it is not really met with surprise. I don’t mind acknowledging that I am foreign. What does bother me is when I am treated differently from my foreign peers, my equals, when I am standing right next to them, clearly one of them (and sadly it usually is very much a clear case of “them” and “us”). I also hate being made to feel that I somehow need to be surrounded by foreign-looking people to validate my shiny “foreign” status. I feel like I’m in a much, much milder version of 12 Years a Slave or something. I’m different, I swear!
All this is doing is making me extremely patriotic. This evening I actually said the sentence “England is the best country in the world. Excluding perhaps Canada and Switzerland”. It might have been serious, or a joke, I don’t even know anymore…