Recently, I posted a blog highlighting my experiences in Taiwan with having been called a F-oreigner too many times to tally, and I further jotted some thoughts down about humanity’s propensity to focus on race in my Love See No Color posting. The upshot of the former entry is simply that because I’ve lived here for nearly eight years, I don’t feel the need to be labeled as a foreigner everywhere I go whereas when I travel abroad, the term doesn’t really ruffle my feathers. All in all, such name calling here in Formosa doesn’t irk me that much; however, my fists clench, my jaws tighten, and the veins on my temple become more prominent when I hear the same F-word in the presence of my four-year-old daughter and, now, my one-year-old son. This occurs when I am being labelled an outsider in front of them–but even more so when local folks here call either of them a foreigner.
My issue with all this is that Taiwanese continue to point out how I am an outsider in front of my children, both of whom are mixed-race, their mom being from Taiwan. Naturally, my son doesn’t understand any of it, but I am starting to wonder if my daughter will feel odd or uncomfortable during these encounters. Will she think I am different when people, oft exuberantly exclaiming “wei gwo ren, wei gwo ren,” are pointing at me, sometimes right in plain view? Constantly being exposed to this phenomenon, she may begin to feel I am not like everyone else here (hey, in some ways that could be a good thing I suppose). That this happens and could have an effect on her miffs me beyond compare.
Often, I’ll simply overhear such comments when someone passes, but at times, said perpetrators will blatantly label me as such—-pointing at me from three feet away or stopping in their tracks to take in the sights, me and my children. Just within the past few days, a child and his granddad froze in front of us on the sidewalk when the tyke pulled back grandpa’s hand to get his attention, and he then exclaimed that I was “A foreigner!” My daughter could clearly see and hear him.
FYI #1: If you didn’t read my last posting, you should know that “wei gwo ren” translates directly from Chinese to “outside country person,” i.e., a foreigner.
FYI #2: Henceforth, to not have to keep using both daughter and son here, i.e., having to come up with various synonyms for ‘son’ and ‘daughter,’ I’ll rely on using my girl as the focus of this blog though my son is, logically, also included in such musings.
Incredulous that countless people here have to label me the F-word in front of her, I merely want her to think I am just Dad, desiring also that she doesn’t learn to focus on people’s differences herself. Ideally, in an ideal world, with idealistic notions of what the world idealistically should be like, we wouldn’t even point out race, creed, color, etc. My desires are not realistic. My hopes unfounded and ideals largely unattainable, I realize that this won’t be the case any time soon.
Who am I kidding? Humanity thrives on focusing on differences. We generally relish the opportunity to point out someone’s dissimilarities. To expect anything different is foolhardy. No change is likely in her lifetime, certainly not in mine.
Even worse, however, is when people call her a foreigner. How dare they!
When she was a mere newborn, during observation times at the Rong Women’s Clinic’s nursery here in Kaohsiung, when the curtains would be drawn so that a dozen or so couples and visiting families could view their babies, folks came over to where I was standing (with my Taiwanese in-laws, extended family, and wife) and then proceeded to spew “wei gwo ren” comments in abundance. Such remarks weren’t actually intended for me; they were meant for and directed at my daughter. Practically everyone that inched over to get a glimpse pointed at her and called her the F-word. You’ve got to be kidding me!
In fact, some didn’t even inch over: they were called over by a companion who practically shouted out “Look at the foreign kid!”
The whole experience brought images to my mind of crowds packed around the panda cage at the Taipei Zoo when the newest cub was first put on display.
Naturally, all the human babies behind the nursery’s window were being gazed at, yet those stares were because of love, because of some sense of warmth and tenderness. Without a doubt, there were also comments about other babies. Some were labeled as “chubby”, “adorable”, etc. You know, the normal stuff. On the contrary, she was blatantly called an outsider. WTF!
Wasn’t she, lying next to the other babies side by side, the same as them? One of them? They were all made in Taiwan, right (pardon the pun)? Other Taiwanese mothers there had gone through the same process, all within days of each other, resulting in said babies. Doesn’t that qualify my daughter as being Taiwanese?
Indeed, she can live in Taiwan forever, if she chooses, using her Taiwanese passport to come and go as she pleases, just like other Taiwanese. Doesn’t that qualify her as Taiwanese? I can’t ever gain such a status. If anything, I’m the F-word. She isn’t.
Without placards on each baby’s little trolley identifying whose kid was whose, I am sure some relatives would have been confused as to which infant was which, i.e., they couldn’t tell my daughter apart from their own kids/grandkids. Though born on the same day, in the same clinic, on the same street, in the same district–okay, you get my point…
Why was she different than the other wee ones? Why was she different to the adults? How the hell was she an “outside country person”? If anything in life remains a mystery to me even on my deathbed, it will be this.
Countless folks came along to get a glance of her over the seven days she was in the ward, and practically every time they did, the focus was on her being foreign. Even though my wife explained to me that they meant no harm, I just couldn’t bite my tongue. As patiently as possible, given the incessant ringing in my ear of “wei gwo ren, wei gwo ren”, I responded near simultaneously, each time, in Mandarin, “She is not a ‘foreigner’; she is Taiwanese.”
Of course, such a retort dumbfounded the offenders. Dumbstruck, some moved away, others became cautiously quiet—-as if they wouldn’t be seen ogling her, still, as if I couldn’t hear the mumbled “wei gwo ren” comments, yet a few boldly responded with a “Really? Is that right?”
Though I haven’t used this expression since high school, I admit I was ready to “bitch slap” these people, the ones who had the audacity to question my response. I suppose it all boils down to some sort of cultural perspective, and I recognize that on a deeper, more erudite level, but on the surface, I wanted to smack those who wondered aloud if I was right in defending her.
When she was old enough to go out in public (yes, that’s right, we waited a month or more to leave the house, as is the custom here for Taiwanese), whenever we strolled her around shopping malls or department stores, folks continued to point at her and exclaim “wei-gwo-ren du baby” (or “outside country person’s baby). What? “She was born here in Taiwan!” I wanted to scream! It goes without saying that this is the response I have wanted to use for the last four years.
Perhaps it was because of my obvious stature, being a “foreigner” here, people simply noticed her more (and continue to do so today). It is a fact that many babies/young kids receive attention, with the cutest, based on human nature, oft receiving the most, yet my daughter, who is damn cute in my opinion, seemed to get constant stares. Everywhere we went, people wanted to get a glimpse of her.
Normally, I would appreciate the “how cute” commentary, and there have been times when we’re asked to have our photo taken, which I take as somewhat complimentary; however, when the F-word has accompanied such encounters, my feathers get ruffled. Why not just say she is cute? Why ruin it with such a classification?
Was my wife right, though? I never felt anyone intended harm, but does that make it right? Totally debatable isn’t it?
Over the course of the four years since she was born, there have been countless comments. However, not once when we lived in Switzerland for one year, traveling around Europe frequently, did we hear “straniero,” “extranjero,” nor “Ausländer.” Nor did we hear anything of the sort when we visited America. Just here in Taiwan.
Though I could go on and on with examples and specific occurrences, and I know I should stop before I overdo it, I’ll just mention here that it happened once more just this past week. While on the MRT, the three of us together (my two kids and me), a woman stared at us non-stop from her seat next to us. Her smile warm and kind, she didn’t worry me–whereas some MRT goers are a trifle eccentric. She then asked my daughter, in Chinese, “What country are you from?” Knowing she was unsure how to answer that, I responded for my gal and quipped, using Mandarin, too, “She is Taiwanese.” Why the woman felt it necessary to convert to English I am not sure, but she retorted, “Really? Are you sure?”
Envisioning tossing the woman from the train, with my kids applauding me for doing so, I stared at this woman, not sure what to say. Perhaps she didn’t mean any harm, like my wife always says. However, I remain incredulous that one can be so narrow-minded. A mere, “Yes, I am sure,” was all I could offer, sure that I needed to remain calm in front of the children.
With that, I ask you, dear bloggers, friends and family…
Is it appropriate to categorize my children as foreigners? What makes one a Taiwanese? For that matter, what makes anyone one nationality or another (I thought I knew that answer!)? Can one be mixed-race and still be Taiwanese at the same time? Undeniably, it is debatable, but let’s hear what you think.
If you see me out on the streets of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, please don’t call me or my kids foreigners. I promise I will not use the F-word–or any F-word, for that matter, in return.