My 4-Year Old Gets the F-Word, Too!

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.

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21 Responses to My 4-Year Old Gets the F-Word, Too!

  1. Boonies says:

    Being labelled an outsider at every turn you make can be quite annoying, even after more than 20 years in Taiwan as it is for me. But you should also realize that most of these comments are not meant to annoy you (or your kids). It’s the thought that counts and it’s simply OK in local culture to label you a foreigner. If you are annoyed by this then – well – get over it.
    My kids grew up hearing their fair share of the f-word, but I always told them that being different can be a very good thing indeed and is nothing to be ashamed of. They have their friends in school just like all the other kids and I have never seen them having any problems with or because of being of mixed origin. I assume you live in the big city so it should be even easier for your kids. We live out in the boonies where foreigners are an even bigger attraction.
    Taiwan is a great place for families, not without its faults of course, but great! Embrace it and think of the warts as beauty spots…

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Hi, Boonies. Thank you for your insight. Yes, it does make a difference since we live in the city, yet I have also realized that when we get out to the “boonies” on weekend trips, to places like Wutai and such that it isn’t blatantly voiced, at least from what I’ve felt I’ve noticed (or perhaps it is in Taiwanese and I have to yet learn the word for foreigner in the language). Yes, I don’t ever feel that one intentionally attempts to annoy or hurt me or my kids; nothing of the sort. Good points on everything you said about raising your kids to appreciate their uniqueness. Thank you for that.

      I am now curious to hear back from some Taiwanese moms of mixed-race/culture kids to see if they themselves consider their own kids as Taiwanese or not.

  2. Luke says:

    My favorite response is to ask if they are aboriginal (原住民). They gasp incredulously and say no. That is when I tell them they are ethnically Chinese, and under the same consideration 外國人. They are not sure what to think. At the end of the day, it is not a big deal to be called a foreigner. However, it is annoying. If they were traveling and someone called them a `chink` or `chinaman` (which in all technical aspects of nomenclatures they are), there would be some article in every news paper and news broadcast on every channel regarding the social injustice they had been subjected to. I recently had a son here as well, his mother Taiwanese. I feel most of the comments regarding your *f-word* have been directed at me. I am quick to fire a comment back in Mandarin or English, to tell them where to stick it. I think as he gets older, the more sensitive I am to it, the more he will be as well. It irks me to now end. Even today, in an office at the university receiving a stamp. Kid at the desk`s english faltered, so I switched to Mandarin. As soon as I said a word, the whole office, which ignored me when I walked in, chimed excitedly about how the waiguoren could speak their ching-chang-chong. I think the more you let it affect you by reacting, might just exacerbate the situation for your kids. Save your righteous anger for when you run across people and your children are not with you. Derogatory terms in asia are common, just as long as you do they are not towards Asians (my experience with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese).

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Thanks, Luke, for the response and the tip on not exacerbating the situation on the spot. I’ve learned more to bite back my tongue, but every so often I just let something out, though nothing intensely irate or rude in response. You know, I have long been bewildered as to why locals here use “wei gwo ren” for westerners, yet they don’t use it for Japanese, Korean, etc., even if they know that those folks might not be from here either. A very curious happening, me thinks.

  3. Get over yourself says:

    Is this what I have to look forward to? Been here 11 years already with two mixed blood children. Will my life deteriorate to trying to come off as witty or insightful on a useless topic.

    Get with it…you are a foreigner, your kids are foreigners for “F” sake. It takes a small shift in your perception and realize we are unique to some people. We are separate and always will be. I view it as a compliment. Sometimes its annoying but I am not going to puff up my chest and beat my drum on a public forum. Even if my own.

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      How interesting that you say your life would deteriorate by posting on a useless topic, i.e., I am below you for that reason. Simply put, I just don’t understand why there is a personal attack here. The topic is what it is: realistic happenings that I thought I would share. Why that has to be criticized is questionable.

      Apparently, you don’t see that being born here should qualify one as being from here, eh? I appreciate that, knowing that it all does boil down to perspective. Yet I once again question why expressing it comes off as puffing up one’s chest.

      Whether you promote or attack the notions expressed within the blog, and you’re clearly on the latter end of that spectrum, I thank you for chiming in, for it allows a greater understanding of the world.

  4. Celtsalish says:

    Who cares what the culturally schizophrenic Taiwanese bigots have to say about our mixed children? Really? I should care that my “foreign looking” child is being pointed out as different? He (and they) are unique. It is a fact. Please… here’s the news flash! This is called ENVY. Naturally the majority of decent Taiwanese people out there will show us the nice side of their face, smile and say something positive. I say brush off the bigots like dust of the sleeves. We all know how much people here like to give their opinions and judgements. Coming from Western UN member countries does have its cross to bear I suppose but I think we can manage in the long run.

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Thanks, Celtafish, for your reply. Yes, I’d love to say, “Who cares?”… and I know I should; however, I am just worried that my daughter may start to question “things” too early in her life, though that could perhaps be healthy for her, too, in that she’ll develop a greater understanding of self by going through such introspection (with guidance) sooner than later. That may be a stretch, but who knows!? Yes, I hope we/I manage in the long run. For me, one way to help deal with the issues is simply to consider that I am by no means the first in the history of the world, nor will I be the last. Generations of overseas travelers and expats abroad have pondered such things. That, most likely, will never change.

      • Celtsalish says:

        You are right to have a sensitive view towards your daughter’s development and I can definitely sympathize with your concerns. This is, of course, a compassionate outlook and what is needed in the world. Perhaps I have a bit of a fiery disposition when it comes to these things, but I think it is equally important to stand up against ignorance and fear and to identifying it as such and to try to instruct our children to do the same. Baring in mind what you said regarding her having to deal with these things too early when you want to allow her the time to be an innocent child, it is so unfortunate that these lessons come sooner rather than later. I couldn’t agree more. I wonder what Bruce Lee 李小龍would have to say? His children were mixed as well and I’m sure they faced some ethnocentric disparagement. Since he was very much a philosopher and teacher of the expression of individuality, it is quite probable that he would suggest to face ignorance like water passing by the rocks in the river. Be the water. Water cuts through stone and it invariably finds it way to the sea.

      • vagabondwithfamily says:

        Yes, be the water. Thank you for the further insight. So very interesting to hear the various perspectives out there, with some spanning the spectrum of ideas.

  5. Jon says:

    I hear you and I empathize. Being labeled as the “other” gets really old. Even if it is in conjunction with being exoctized within the “favored minority” stereotype. I think you are right to bristle at these rude and destructive racist statements. I also think you are right to educate and protect your kids in regard to these reductive and demeaning sentiments. Lastly, I think it is entirely appropriate to educate the people who use the “f” word. Many of the people who read Kaohsiung living are teachers, so perhaps we can also teach a little cultural sensitivity.

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      To some degree, Jon, we have to accept the “other” status, being that we’re expats, and, you’re right, in both being exotic and different.

      When my daughter was around one, a relative here, whom I met at a wedding, stated that she was a “zebra” (mixed-race), which surely ended in my feathers being ruffled. However, because she was so young, I assumed that she wouldn’t be affected. Now that her language skills are up to par, I worry what she can understand of said exchanges, but you’re right in that it will all be a learning experience. Thanks for sharing ideas!

  6. Masakatsu says:

    I once read, “the insult is only an insult, once it is accepted”. Yes, it is (highly) annoying (and unfair) but do you seriously think this will change? Especially when someone has the gall to ask you (the child’s father) whether you are sure she comes from Taiwan? I’m in “Rome” but I prefer not to be one. Good luck to you.

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Very powerful sentiment you’ve shared, Masakatsu, and I’ve dished that lesson out a few times. Just got to take a dose of it myself–and teach my daughter/son about not letting what others think affect them (and teach myself). Simply put, I hope she develops into the hope that we have of her having good qualities from both her cultural backgrounds–and that she is more open to all because of that.

  7. Ivan Chou says:

    as a Taiwanese myself, it is quite embarrassing to see someone like commenter “you” reply such uneducated and shallow comments. “you”, your mind needs to be liberated

  8. you says:

    shut up.
    your kids look white.
    if you are not from taiwan you are foreigner.

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Why “shut up”? Really? Do you care to elaborate?

      Constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated, yet what you wrote doesn’t really qualify as constructive.

      • tashqueedagg says:

        I have to believe that “you” is trying to be sarcastic. However, me and my daughter (bilingual, TW passport, etc.) have a similar experience with the “f-word.” It is something I just got used to, like people assuming I teach ESL. I appreciate your effort to start a resistance movement. I never thought much about it but the US is quite reflective on these types of terms in rent years. “Illegal Alien” to “Illegal Immigrant” to “Undocumented Worker” to “Resident on an Expired Visa”

        I have yet to be called “Foreign Devil”…maybe that is progress or (I suspect) never much used in Taiwan.

        Now I am galvanized. I do not want to still be a “foreigner” in 10 years.

        I had to laugh about the woman insisting on answering in English when you spoke in Chinese. Another daily annoyance, especially to those of us here for the duration and trying to assimilate a bit.

      • vagabondwithfamily says:

        Thank you for giving more of a response than “shut up”.
        Although I have gotten more used to the f-word over the course of my stay here (though still enough of a thought-provoker to write about it), it still hasn’t sunk in that my daughter/kids are going to be subjected to it–and I don’t understand why the should be labelled outsiders by some. Perhaps it was my hope that others can shed light on the perspective that they are. No sarcasm though, from what I recall.

        Yes, back in the States, and I am certain in other nations as well, there is a drive to be more PC, which has created countless euphemisms. Sometimes, folks go a little overboard, but overall, I think the movement is called for, for times are a changin’.

      • vagabondwithfamily says:

        Sorry, but I just got the “you” and sarcasm comment!

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