I feel like Doctor Who’s Ten regeneration. (Doctor Who reference coming up so I’ll try to explain it).
His regeneration is one of the most emotional moments of the show because David Tennant was one of the best doctors and Tennant himself was a fan of Doctor Who since he was a kid. So it was his dream come true to play the Doctor and he said he felt like he could always play the Doctor.
Everyone knew it was coming, that his time was up, but no one wanted him to go. The scene is emotional because it’s not just an actor leaving a role, but this lifelong dream being achieved and coming to an end.
It didn’t mean he could never interact with Doctor Who again or even appear in the show again, but it was the end of that moment that he had always dreamed of. Bittersweet.
Now I’m not regenerating or doing anything as fantastical as a Doctor Who plot line, but my time in China is coming to a close.
I will come back. I have a ten-year multiple entry visa, so I’ll come back as long as China let’s me come back and I have the time and money to.
But I will never have this “first time” visit. The new rush of feelings, new people, understanding of myself, etc.
One of the things I got often from locals was “welcome back” when I told them it was my first time in China since I was adopted. I will not hear those words with that same meaning again.
I am aware that so much of the treatment I’ve gotten by locals is because I’m a young Chinese girl traveling alone. I’ve met a lot of people who are interested in my story and a lot of people who give me grace and embrace me as Chinese. I think I have experienced a taste of the significance of family in Chinese culture and why some people who are Chinese call America a lonely place.
I’ve experienced lots of kindness from Chinese people here. Kindness from people at bus stops, at The Great Wall, on the street, in restaurants, in my hostels, everywhere.
So it’s been easy here. It’s been easy because I have the money and ability to leisurely stroll through parks on a work day. It’s been easy because I blend into the crowd and don’t feel the constant pressure of being stared at. It’s been easy because the people here have treated me with such warmth.
And that makes leaving that much harder.
This part of the trip wasn’t what I would call a “reconnecting” trip or whatever other term that gets overused and romanticized when people of color (rarely used when a white person visits say, England or Ireland) visit their ancestry home.
I wouldn’t call it that because that’s what some white travelers here have described it to me as and it’s always with an infantalizing tone. One that makes it seem like I had no previous connection to being Chinese but because I saw the Great Wall and ate tofu, I feel connection finally! It’s not necessarily the words they use, but the way it’s said that makes it seem like a just another cliché movie plot.
I know maybe it appears that way. I came to China and met amazing people and had all these experiences about my identity. But my identity and my wholeness isn’t something to trivialize.
What I mean by my wholeness is the fact that I didn’t have much of a reason to visit China except that I continually felt like I didn’t belong in America. I think it’s the questions, the staring, and other stuff that I’ve talked about before. So I wondered if China would be the same. I wondered if I’d always feel “separate”, whether it’s in China, America, Vietnam, etc.
And the answer is yes.
Yes my Chinese-ness will always be questioned and I will always be a Westerner.
But I’ve found in my short time here, that maybe how I’m treated because of it will be different.
I met up with some exchange students back in Hong Kong. They went to Cornell and University of Northern Carolina and were both Black Americans. We were taking about race and how we have been treated in the countries we’ve traveled to. We’ve all experienced different questions, racisms, or highlights in each place. And one of the things one of them said was that they like China because they “feel like [they] are treated like a person here.”
They emphasized the person part because it’s something we all at that table understood. In America, in the UK, in most other places in the West, we are stared at, called slurs, just objectified and not seen as people. Just as Black or Chinese, to taunt and question, not actual people with stories and lives.
They, the students, are obviously coming from vastly different experiences and arguably more extreme acts but it stuck out to me because I too feel that way here.
Maybe I’m not seen as culturally Chinese because I was raised in America, but I feel like I’m treated as a person. I feel like I have been accepted as I am and understood by locals here more than I have by most Westerners.
It’s not like I don’t embrace the fact that I’m a Chinese-American adoptee. I know no other way and my life is great, I can’t complain. But I also know that I’m quite tired of feeling like I always have to compromise parts of myself. To hide the fact that I’m adopted from my Asian America friends because then I’m no longer Asian. To hide parts of my Chinese-ness from white friends because I don’t want them to make fun of it. Or hide the fact that I’m adopted from white friends because then they think it’s okay to say racist things about Chinese people to me because I’m “not really Chinese.”
It has felt like few care to truly understand and accept me as how I want to be seen. It seems like they are more interested in labeling me, putting me into either category, using me to bridge the divide, just interested in using me as a thing, not seeing me as a person.
I should add, not everyone! I have come accross great people and friends who do want to accept me. And even most of those who do say these things aren’t bad people, just usually not aware of what their words mean. So I don’t usually hold these words against them, but it does take a toll on me to constantly hear it.
I don’t really have an answer to all of the above. I don’t know if there is one clear concrete answer. I know that these things are complex, people are complex. I know that my thoughts can be contradictory, maybe seem off, maybe be inaccurate. I’m not saying I’m right, I’m just saying what I feel.
I know that I feel more whole, more ordinary in China. Maybe it’s the adrenaline and rose-colored lens of traveling though and I’ve yet to experience reality.
I was just sitting in this square, watching all these families taking pictures. Siblings laughing and messing around with each other. Young people taking selfies. And I started crying because it’s my last day here. And because everyone here is just normal and happy. And no one is even looking at me because I’m just normal. I’m going to miss that.
I know it can seem like I’m advocating for a colorblind way of thinking and I am not.
I am Chinese.
But it’s easier to be Chinese in China because I’m just another normal person. Just one of a billion of diverse, interesting, complex Chinese people.
Whereas when I’m Chinese in the West, I’m “other”. I have to look a certain way, know certain cultural things. Being labeled as Chinese in the West often comes with terms like chink, exotic, oriental, etc.
So I feel more whole, maybe not just whole, but more human. Even I don’t think I can fully explain what it feels like. Maybe it’s something only people of color, in this context, can understand.
I know that even though I like China, I don’t think I would live here longterm. For some reasons I won’t dive into with this blog, but also because America is my home. Where my family is, where I know I can find a job, where there is so much heterogeneity with food and people (maybe not in Colorado though).
I know it’s harder, more stressful for me to exist as Asian in the West. I find myself dreading going to the UK because of stories from fellow solo Asian American/Asian Australian/Asian “other Western country” who have been called slurs, ignored by restaurant people, nihao’ed, spit on, etc. in the UK. So I am nervous for the rude awakening when I leave East Asia and go to a place that is known to be bad to, specifically, Asian travelers.
But as some have told me in China, I’m lucky. Lucky to be in America, lucky to be adopted by a loving family, lucky to be educated, lucky to be traveling.
As a traveler, China makes me feel good and the people I have come across have treated me well as a visitor. But I know, because I don’t know the language, culture, or history, to live here would be harder. I have been given a lot of grace because it’s my first time, I’m young, and I’m adopted. But as time goes on, I won’t be given the same grace for my lack of knowledge.
And that’s one of the reasons why China is not, at least for now, a place where I would try to live longterm.
This sort of divided feeling about America and China, being not fully able to feel truly whole in either, is maybe just a testament to my being as a Chinese American adoptee.
This is all my experience. I don’t want to say any other adoptee would feel the same. I think I’m probably sensitive and observational. I maybe care more about words and meanings. I am interested and educated in race formations. So my experience and insights could be vastly different from someone else’s.
I know much of this blog has been a bit ranty/sentimental and more open than I usually am in conversation. I was hesitant to do a blog because I felt the urge to censor myself. I knew I would come across topics and opinions that may be critical to the people I really care about. But I also know that me trying to be seen as more whole and being seen as a person means being more open about myself.
“New lives in America are not easily forged. One of my brightest students, a Vietnamese war orphan, awoke one morning, and shunning the soft radio music she relied on at the start of each day to soothe what the American teachers labeled ‘cultural adjustment,’ she wandered to a nearby lake and found a wizened Chinese man playing his flute on the shore. Out of the silver instrument floated sweet, holy, tremendous notes unlike anything the girl had heard except in Vietnam.
A few days later, she appeared in my office, her eyes looking sad and aged. She told me the story of the flute and how she lingered on, listening until the old man went away. ‘Now I must confess to you, my counselor, that I do not have the same heart to be in this country. I do not fit well in this society. I do not like to compete all the time. I know it cannot happen, but often, I wish I could go back to Vietnam and become a simple person again.’
The homeland will never be forgotten. But I remain buoyed in my hopes for these children’s futures when I recall their exuberance upon arriving in this new land. One child wrote: ‘I was overwhelmed by the friendly hospitality of some Americans who had given me an optimistic prediction for my next days in this country. At that moment, I had almost forgotten all the terribly dark times of my life. Wishing to fly to another promised land… And now, the wish has come to reality, even though at first, I could not believe it was so. America has opened her arms and greeted us, the miserable birds struggling against the winter’s coldness, with the warmest humanity.’
Let it be so, I whisper. Like my parents these children have come to the hopeland, and I celebrate them.”
I move onto Seoul next. Mostly a visit with Jin and to have Korean food. Then onto the UK and then back home.