While on the metro my friend and I were talking about our experiences in China. The man next to us was probably listening to our conversation for 10 minutes before he asked us where we were from (turns out he spoke English very well). When I replied America he jokingly said, “Oh, we don’t like you”. Although he said that in good humor I could not help but think that he was right.
I have always heard about the shock of being an American-Born-Chinese in China but I never thought I would actually experience it. Before I came to China I watched a documentary on the experiences of Chinese Americans in China. I recently re-watched it and I can finally understand their experiences.
I first experience being an ABC while I was on the plane from Germany to Shanghai. The shock of having almost every person around you look like you but speaking a different language pretty much set me up for the next 10 weeks of my life. Flight attendants would come to me and speak Chinese and when I tried to use whatever broken Chinese I knew I would be a source of entertainment for about a minute. At first I did not think too hard about it but it would reoccur so often right when I left the plane.
The worst place is in the metro. Being on the metro is a time where you can just sit and stare out into space…until a foreigners comes on, then they’re the center of attention. When my friend and I travel on the metro most people would stare, whether it would be out of harmless curiosity or less flattering reasons. They rarely paid attention to me until I spoke. When they realize that they do not understand the words that are coming out of my mouth, they momentarily revert their attention to me. I would mostly get looks of curiosity as well.
Speaking English is one thing, but NOT speaking Chinese is completely different. Although it does not happen too often, I have had some instances where I would feel the peoples’ judgment. Some people laugh, some scoff, and most like to comment that I look like a “real Chinese person”. Those do reactions don’t bother me too much but it can get annoying.
A fun tidbit that I did not know: It seems that Chinese locals know the phrase “ABC” and sometimes use it when referring to Chinese Americans.
Despite the frustration of not fitting in, being Asian has a lot of perks. The best being that you are less likely to get scammed. A particular scam that my friends always get approached for is the “Tea Scam”. This is a scam in which people approach you because they supposedly want to practice their English. They will take you to a tea house then excuse themselves to use the restroom in which they won’t return, sticking you with the bill. Whenever my friends go to People’s Square they always seem to come back with a story of their experiences with the Tea scam. I have also been there many times but thankfully I have avoided being approached.
Being Asian also definitely helps when you are bargaining. You are automatically given a better price compared to an obvious foreigner. You still have a higher price than the worth but still. When comparing prices with my friends at the same store, I was given at most 30 kuai cheaper. Thankfully they do not discover I am a foreigner until after they give me the price.
For me the best part about being an ABC is that I really do get the best of both worlds. I can to be treated like a local Chinese person or, if I just open my mouth, I can see how it feels to be a foreigner. This is a really unique position that I have only recently come to appreciate.