Kamakamakamachameleon

by Jinryu

It took me about 1 day per pair, but I finally got used to wearing the Korean cut of jeans.

(It felt really strange at first…. ^ ^”’)


I used to cry when I had 비빔밥 because even that was too much for me to handle.  If you look back at my entries from the period where I was fresh off the plan back in October, I do believe I sobbingly confessed that I was going to die out here if only because nothing was edible for my Cantonese dietary habits.

When I was trying to ask for things in Korea, I’d read the English phonetics out of my Lonely Planet phrasebook.  Usually I was met with frowns and wrinkled brows of confusion, since my Canadian phonetic range was so far removed from the local lingo.  I didn’t get anywhere with trying to communicate anything, and the only way I could get lucky was if the person actually knew some English. 

I spent the first month hanging out with the teachers I worked with.  I tried to get in with the various cliques, and see where I fit.

 


There’s something that always bothered me about Chinatown back in Montreal.  I’m a Canadian born Chinese.  It’s a common backstory, really– I’m of the subdivision of CBCs that didn’t learn how to read or write Chinese, and doesn’t know how to speak it all that well.  My vocabulary was limited to the domestic things and common applications– I could make my way in a conversation about the home, or in the restaurants that we were eating in, or the whether.  But if you asked me to teach you how to drive a car, how to use a fax machine, or how to ship a package, I wouldn’t have enough vocabulary.  I basically had the words for whatever I was exposed to most in terms of Chinese culutre, which came from my grandparents– and that was basically ordering food in restaurants or bitching about how the price of vegetables has gone up.

My grandparents and my parents never made much of an effort to teach me Chinese, and I think at the time, especially during elementary, I was struggling with the confusion of having a home with many dialects present.  (Although Cantonese is the primary dialect, we also had Toysan, and my mom’s side spoke Fukien and some Philipino dialects as well.)  Somehow through it all I finished university as an English major, but, simplified, this is to say that I really failed with any Asian language acquisitions.

I used to hate Chinatown for a long time.  At least, I’d never really go there without a purpose.  I’d go there with friends to eat, or I’d go there to play badminton, but I wouldn’t go there to hang out or to relax.  I didn’t like how when I walked into a store and couldn’t speak fluently in one straight dialect that I got frowns or less service.  I especially didn’t like it how even a Caucasian would get better service than me, because somehow a shopkeeper had judged in the 5 seconds since he’d met me that I was purposely forsaking part of ‘our’ history by not being able to communicate fluently.

There was a long time where I simply identified myself as “Canadian,” with the intention of this meaning that I didn’t have any history.  I was Chinese only in appearance. 

And I began to resent Chinatown, because from my Canadian perspective, who were these people?  These immigrants who decided to ship off the shores of the Mainland and then come to Canada, who started their own little ghetto– and for what?  What was Chinatown, any Chinatown really, but a thorn in the side Canada?  I’m saying this from the perspective of someone who at the time was very concerned with socio-economics and government.  Because most Chinese people who congregate to live and work in Chinatown tend to exclude themselves from the outside world.  They don’t take the time to learn English or French to workable levels– for every waiter or shopkeeper who smiles at you and does speak to you with genuinely well-intended broken English, there are 2 or 3 more people who work in the back who not only can’t speak with any level of fluency but they’ll resent you for the fact that you can’t speak Chinese and talk to them on their own terms.

I would think to myself– what gives you this right?  To come into this country, my country, and tell me that I should be the one who should speak your language, or that I should adapt to your customs?  You’re the minority– you came here bceause you wanted to be spared a lesser condition in your native country.  This isn’t your parking lot, this isn’t your hotel– you are not a tourist, you are here to live.  You think that by gathering with like-backgrounded people, it makes it all right to have your own methods within these walls?

Chinatown in Montreal has it’s own rules that operate in parallel to those the rest of the city, or for that matter, the country.  There’s protection rackets.  There’s their own ways of tax evasion.  There are the discounts that Chinese people get that nobody of any other race gets.

I just, really, sort of resented the Chinese community and the way that they thought it was okay for them to pretend that Canada was just their trailer park.


I don’t know exactly when the realization hit me, but at a certain point, I understood what it was like to be in Chinatown back in Montreal.  The table had turned– because I was now the foreigner in a new country.  And while I am here in Korea, it is without a doubt visible how foreigners stick together.  We ignore the rules.  We treat eachother better than we do the locals.  We want favors.  We expect the Korea to understand our ways, and in fact, our common profession as teachers gives us the misguided idea that we are here to tell them how much better things are in the West.

At a certain point it was all so obvious.


In the end, I realize that my resentment of Chinese back in Chinatown was just pointless.  In fact, when is started playing more badminton I actually began to spend a great deal of time in Chinatown.  It was a safehaven for me where things made sense.  When I started working at the hospital, which was just a few blocks from Chinatown, it was easier for me to get to know some of the locals better.  And it wasn’t that they became any more integrated into canada– but I started to like the feeling of exclusivity that I had that my caucasian friends didn’t. 


Things are different in Korea now though.  I don’t want to live in ‘foreigner land’ because if I did, I could ask myself the same question that I used to ask Chinese people back home in Chinatown: “Why don’t you go back to your native country, if you think that your ways are so great?”

And so

here I am.

I’m doing my best to adapt.

Sometimes it frustrates me because doing so has been difficult for both my pride, my patience, and in some cases, my mental and physical health– but at the end of the day I feel like I’m learning a bit more about the world a milimetre at a time.


I wonder sometimes though… why go through all the trouble?

Some people go through their entire lives without challenging themselves.  And while from an outside eye one might comment negatively, to them, in their world as they see it, what’s the appeal of complicating our lives?