The Unbearable Lightness of Being Chinese

  ( originally written 20th December 2008. )
(Notes from YLB : Extended Mabuhay na Welcome pa rin to kabatch Nelson Tan; looking forward po to the pasabi to long-lost-but-now-found batchmates Doc Gerald So and Simon Sy; we could tell that holiday message from YoungShi was straight from the heart, maraming salamat; and forgive us for thanking the Officers for the Give For A Cause project but not remembering each and every donor who gave substantial goodies for our brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese ! )
NEVER MIND the Asian Century, where we were going to take over the world. Don’t even think about the Asian Decade, where our yellow, brown and olive-skinned bros and sisses were going to lead the rest of the planet, technologically, economically and every-other-ally into the new millenium.
This was the Year of the Great East Asian Dragon, The Already Awakened Giant, for good or ill.
Witness the Greatest Show on Earth from the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremonies to the Glorious End (witnessed in part by a batchmate, our very own Ate Mel A), the Melamine Blight that scared Consumers the World Over, and
Pardon our simplistic argument (shades of Conspiracy Theory 101), but methinks the hundreds of billions of surplus dollars made available by Mainland China savings enabled banks everywhere, awash with credit, to allow the granting of soft loans all over the planet, fueling untrammeled speculation in real estate the likes of which had heretofore never been seen…
WHICH in turn led the to bursting of the distended real estate bubble, WHICH in turn led to the credit crunch, WHICH in turn led to the disintegration of erstwhile solid banking institutions, WHICH in turn led to entropy within the global financial system.
Whether or not we with Chinese blood and heritage will admit it, in a way, three of the BIGGEST events of 2008 (apart from Manong Obama’s electoral triumph) are directly linked to the Motherland.  ( It’s odd that Im saying all these in English, but with apologies, I’m not fluent in the mother tongue. Patawad, Hua na gong po. )
Point to clarify : We are proud of being Pinoy, through and through, and often our hearts are warmed whenever we are approached and asked (in Mandarin) for directions by fellow Chinese, but in truth we are actually neither Chinese nor Pinoy. We are both, but never quite being able to claim being just one or the other. It is our special blessing and curse, and we share this with most batchmates, not just because of our genes, but via culture / values, location and social assimilation.
But going back to topic, isnt it a truism that Chinese just have to do everything the BIG way?  Why is it that the only man made structure on Earth that can be spotted from the moon (wasnt that true Kuya Neil A? Kuya Buzz Aldrin?) was Proudly Made in China ? Why were the famines in China (almost every two centuries) always on a massive scale, killing not tens but HUNDREDS of thousands, rivalling the plagues in Europe ? And why were the wars waged against China ( by not just the superpowers of the Epoch but by a CONSORTIUM of the best of the best, England, Spain, Russia… even the US! ) always on an epic scale, conducted on multi – fronts and in various borders, sometimes at the same time, without our ancestors batting an eyelash, taking it all in stride?  Was it really just out of ethno-centrism that we called our homecourt The Middle Kingdom ?
And the migration ! The diaspora ! Is there any corner of this 3rd Rock From The Sun where the Chinese have not ventured into, set up a dimsum takeaway / laundry / grocer’s and been the source of credit for the rest of the community ? You have ethnic Chinese EVERYWHERE, from Northern Europe near the Arctic Circle to the Indochinese peninsula, souqs of Dubai to the hundreds of Chinatowns in Urban, Middle and Rural America. 
We always have to do everything the Chinese Way, which is the Yao Ming Way (all 91-and-a-half inches of him), who incidentally already speaks fluent English after just 3 or 4 seasons in the NBA.
Precisely because of the great complexity of Chineseness (there is no other way to call it), there are as many faces of the Chinese as there are Po-Land (or Wan Kee) hopia flavors.  The only source of information we can share is that gathered from the wellspring of personal experience :
Second or third generation (or 4th?) Chinese in whatever adopted land, like the US, Canada, or Australia.  These are the most socially and upwardly mobile caste of Chinese ( we use “caste” only figuratively ), they have mastered assimilating and absorbing the speech, the ways, the desirable skills, and the politically correct attitudes that all allow them to blend, in fact disappear within the homogeneity of society. Where we are now, the particular Chinese referred to are even more “local” than the locals, embracing rugby, cricket, and quick to respond to local references to music and theater. Their accents are more pronounced (exaggerated?) than their lighter skinned counterparts.  Sadly, these are also the types of Chinese that will not readily admit their ethnicity (despite their appearance… I know the ridiculousness of the situation) until and unless they are sure that it will inspire no “weird” or “strange” reactions, something that will not disappear especially in the developed (and it must be said, Caucasian) world. . .
Newly minted migrants from the Mainland that will grab every opportunity to keep body and soul together in what for them are harsh conditions (strange land, unfamiliar tongue, unsympathetic reception from both locals and fellow Chinese) but appreciating every aspect of the migratory experience.  I see them everyday on the street, at work, sometimes down-on-their-luck but never surrendering.  These are also the Chinese that still entertain the notion of resettling in their hometown in Hebei or Shaanxi as the local-boy-(or girl) who-did-well, not realizing that, in a very real sense, you can never go back home again…
Professionals and civil servants trying out alternative migration plans and originating usually from the “Mini Dragons” or newly industrialized countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and, to a limited extent, the Philippines.  They retain ties to their first adopted land (their parents / grandparents having come from China) and in many cases are still Chinese in culture and in tradition.  Being able to related best with this particular specie of Chineseness, we have found encounters with them the easiest and most pleasant, not to take anything away from the other kinds ha…
We reserve a special distinction, as we know many of you will, for the millions and millions of ethnic Cantonese everywhere who have stamped their mark on Chinese cuisine, way of doing things, professions, mainly because, well, because they’re everywhere.  They have a particular way of doing things (like all other types of Chinese) but have endeared themselves to all others.
( There are other permutations of Chinese, for example Chinese who were born in the Mainland, tried it out in either Taiwan or Hongkong, then eventually settled elsewhere… these are the truly multifaceted Chinese who have enmeshed themselves, in the truest sense possible, in the Yellow Experience.  There are also the returned Chinese, patriotic Chinese who went abroad but came back, for various reasons… )
Lastly but not the leastly, one of our most treasured experiences is learning Fukienese from batchmates, too many mention, but will still try: the “bad words” and “obscene” from 4-B, you know who you are, funny and will never be forgotten and not quite appropriate for this medium; great phrases like Emmanuel, di cha be ? …. be pa! which was sure way to get a seat on the dinner tables of AchiDoc Evelyn, QueenHedy, YoungTang, BossDanny etc…. ho cha, which was a sure way to get invited again… and to sya which might even encourage takehome, pabaon and assorted takeaways.
To all kabatch…Thanks for the memories and making us proud to be Chinese.
PS. Title borrowed from Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I thought was catchy in expressing the extremes and polarity of feelings whenever describing one’s being Chinese… well you know what I mean right?

2 thoughts on “The Unbearable Lightness of Being Chinese

  1. Pingback: Salute to Bro / Bad Habits of a Temporary Migrant « YLBnoel's Blog

  2. Pingback: why beer isn’t a sure thing even in a bar & resto district | YLBnoel's Blog

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