The ugly truth: how un-Chinese I was


The stamp in my passport reminded me of the first day I came here, the country where my grandparents were born in. Turn back time to the good old days…

I thought being both Thai and Chinese would help me living in China socially and professionally. I thought I could relate to the Chinese locals, and live it up with the foreigners society. But…Oh! Phoebe, you were wrong again..


Among the first lesson as a language student, learning the distinction between “外國人Waiguoren” (Foreigners) and “華人 Huaren” (People with Chinese descents, ethnic Chinese).  My Black hair, fair skin tone (but looks different from local Thai people (with no Chinese ethnic). In Chinese people’s perspective, the skin of Thai is quite dark or brown. Literally, the skins of Southeast Asians people are almost similar to the people in South China, many ordinary Chinese especially in Northern China don’t know much about Southeast Asia Countries except Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore), almond shaped-eyes are enough to prove that I am ethnically Chinese.

With my looks, and speak Mandarin with a Southern accent, I got to enjoy a privileges like paying at the local price for things. The old Chinese laoban was so friendly to me. He gave me a 50% off just because I am 華裔 Huayi (Foreign citizen of Chinese origin).


However, my inability to speak Mandarin fluently blew me up. Some Chinese vendors generally were not as friendly when bargaining after discovered my secret as I was a foreigner. I felt guilty a bit that my face was so misleading.

Even the first time joining my Chinese friends for dinner at Haidilao Hotpot was also reminded me of how truly “Un-Chinese” I was. Those wonderful meals where I sat so quietly in front of a hotpot, listening those four Chinese friends talked about something that I didn’t even understand. I wanted to be a part of their conversation but there was no seat for me. At this point, I remained silent…. I just wasn’t Chinese enough…

Even when I directly presented myself as a foreigner especially when I hanged out with my western friends, I also could not simply being “One of them” in Chinese perspective. We went to Beijing Bookworn in Sanlitun, the waiter treated my Western friends so good, while treated me like…. once I asked them, they just stood at there and gave me such a silly answer “I though you were Chinese….”.


During 4 years in China with many situations happened made me laugh but realised that most Chinese people favour the Westerner more. I think I am okay with this funny fact even it makes no sense to me.

However, in I saw, being a Chinese and a  foreigner has more benefits than you think. As I saw, speaking Mandarin and English plus your native language can open the door of opportunity, make a lot of money and work with locals. It’s really good to be able to speak the languages. Meanwhile, you can enjoy the stuff at a local price, pretending like you are a local people, that is a point!


Phoebe Hung 


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