I am Chinese but I am not from China

I mean my ancestors probably are from China many many many years ago. Both my grandparents are born and grew up in Singapore, both my parents are born and grew up in Singapore, me and my sister are born and grew up in Singapore too. What is our race? Chinese. What is our native language? English and Chinese. What is our nationality? Singaporeans.

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But what irks me sometimes is that I can mistaken for being a Chinese from China. It’s like my nationality doesn’t matter. It’s like you are deem as from Africa just because of your skin color. Or you are seen as either from America or UK, just because you are white and English spoken. It just made no sense. Particularly now that the world has become global and as long you have the means, you can travel almost to anywhere and live anywhere.

If you ask why I am not proud of my roots, I am! I am proud that I am a Singaporean, my roots are tied to Singapore. I never step onto the soil of China until much later in life when I need to go to Shanghai for work. Is Singapore very much different from China?

Definitely! Singapore is a tiny weeny dot comparison to a lot of countries. Despite its size, we are first world country too!

The dilemma comes in when people asked if I am a Chinese and they get confused when I said I am a Singaporean or when I said I am a Chinese from Singapore and I’ll have to explain myself. This kept going on especially when I am overseas regardless whether I’m in China.

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I also counted my blessings that as inconvenience as it seems, it is a conversation starter among strangers and it arises curiosity enough for them to want to understand more about my country. Because of this, I have befriend many foreigners especially the Chinese who are intrigued about my thoughts, my upbringing and my influences. This has led to many business opportunities and offers as they see me as a bridge to the western world.

So not every situation in your life is purely negative ones. If you are able to turn the situation around to your advantage, you’ll be able to balance a win-win solution out of it. I could have grumbled and avoided those I deem ignorants but I didn’t, instead now I have friends in China I could count on and I could stay with whenever I visit China. I also get to understand my colleagues from China and the way they handle certain things in certain matter, this way I avoided misunderstandings and confusion as well.

Have you encounter a situation where you turned it around to your advantage? Share it with us here!

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110 comments

  1. I do not like labels. A label whether it’s a nationality, a religion or a gender or social class does not define who you are. You by your own traits and standards define who you are.
    I’m of Scottish and Irish descent. I’ve never been to the British Isles and I probably never will. I’m an American and proud of it and my ancestry does not define me as a person even though I’m proud of my heritage.
    I define who I am and that’s the way it should be!

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Such a thought-provoking post, Kally. And being a person of Chinese (Malaysian) descent who isn’t born in China (never been there yet too), I get people expressing surprised when I say my family are from Malaysian. Generations of my ancestors grew up and lived in Malaysia – I’m sure at some point far back they originated from China, but my family tree is certainly rooted in Malaysia in the present day.

    I do refer to myself as Chinese-Australian. A lot of people I’ve met in Australia are well-traveled with an open-mind set, and so most of the time they don’t assume I’m from China – it’s usually those who are from Malaysia, Singapore and other Asian countries that often think I come from China.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Haha!! What an opposite of mine. I had to explain to a lot of people and mostly people from the States and Europe that I am not from China, I am a Chinese but I’m from Singapore and get a bewildering look from them like they are trying to process that thought in their head. I guess it’s the same for the Chinese Malaysian, the Indonesia Chinese and the Thai Chinese.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. My conversation with random strangers, usually goes a little something like this.

    Them: Where are you from?
    Me: Proud Canadian
    Them: No really, where are you from?
    Me: I was born in Canada. I’ve lived here my entire life.
    Them: Are you sure your not Jamaican or African?
    Me: No
    Them: well what about your parents? Grand parents, Great Grand parents? Spiritual Ancestors?
    Me: no answer
    Them: well you don’t Speak like a black person. You sure your black?
    Me: Look at my skin. I am definitely black.
    Them: Do you smoke weed? Grow marijuana, cause most black people smoke weed.
    Me: No.

    You get the picture. People will always make up assumptions, all you can do is smile and move along from the ignorance 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

    • Precisely!! I think it’s very backward to think only the English lived in England, only the Scots live in Scotland and only the Irish live in Ireland. We belong everywhere we chose to build our lives.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well put. Our national identity never tells the full story. I love living here as there is a multitude of different nationalities in close proximity, not just Scots, Irish and Welsh but there are Indians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Arabs and Jews, to name a few. Chinese New Year brings a lot of colour and fireworks to Newcastle and has been celebrated for years. Muslims and Jews have been living side by side for decades and racism never enters the equation. I love that people get on, for the most part, without any trouble. You’re always going to get a minority of idiots who hate blindly.

        Hope you have a good weekend.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I have been to Singapore many times…and I must say I love the place …and yes I have seen many Chinese looking people who I am sure are Singaporeans…labelling them as Chinese-Singaporeans is somewhat frustrating…but I must say I am truely glad you are proud of your nationality.
    few years back I have to apply for a board exam in our country..I almost didn’t make it to even applying because my middle name is foreign sounding middle name add to that, that I look like a foreigner too…I have to go through tedious process to pove them otherwise..

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m so glad you love Singapore! I love it too although I’m pretty bias having that is my country. Haha! But now I’m residing in Malaysia, loving being a foreigner in a different country and learning it’s culture.

      What?! You need to prove you are from your own country? That’s incredulous.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This always surprises me, that people say these things to someone they just met. Honestly, it never occurs to me to ask someone their heritage. I am a mutt. Scottish and Greek logs in my woodpile, who knows what else? Never found it to be relevant to anything. I always want to just get to know who someone is. If they have cultural traditions they practice, I find that interesting, but we are all the same, when it gets down to it.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hello Kally
    I loved this post and thank you for visiting ChattyKerry, I was born in America,half Irish/half Hispanic but my ancestors are much more varied including someone from south east Asia. I have Scottish accent and I look Scandinavian. Ignorant white people share their racist opinions with me until I tell them I am Hispanic, Hispanic people cannot believe that I am despite my maiden name being Ortega. My black friends were surprised that I had North African genetics. Finally, I love to sneak up to Arabic speakers and wish them good morning in Arabic. They don’t expect it in Texas and certainly not from a blonde wearing a mini-skirt. There is more about us that is the same than is different.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Thank you for this beautiful post Kally. It makes me know you better. You are definitely proud of your nationality which is great. As someone has said, the world is fast becoming a global village, and what matters is not someone’s geographical origins but the content of one’s heart. I love all nice people like you no matter where they come from.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. When I was in school , I was bullied by some classmates , they continuously made fun and taunted me…I was badly hurt 😞later on I talked to my seniors and teachers regarding that….I got to know that they bullied bcz they thought I m proudy….I m very reserved in nature thats true…😯
    I knew I couldn’t change my nature…however I tried to clear the doubts…and it ended pretty well😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Kally – I’m English and it does annoy me when people from other countries refer to us as Brits. Most of us from the British Isles I’m sure think of ourselves as either English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. It doesn’t make us dislike one another, in fact we are stronger, I think, for each feeling we are unique. We only ever think of ourselves as British when we are being invaded, or when we have to produce our passports. Of course, other ‘Brits’ may disagree!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Just like Singapore, Hawaii is quite the melting pot!! We have people of all kinds of ethnicities, and when any of us locals head to the mainland or away from the islands, we are considered “Hawaiian” even if that isn’t necessarily part of our personal heritage. We all take pride in being “Hawaiian”, because it’s where we grew up and what we know. Just like you are Singaporean, even though that isn’t your ethnicity, it’s part of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It reminds me about my surroundings. 90% of my students are Chinese descents, but they consider themselves in accordance to their homeland..for example, I’m from Jakarta..I’m from Surabaya, My dad is from Palembang and my mom is from Kalimantan, most of them just say they’re Indonesian and only minority who speaks Chinese at home (mostly Mandarin or dialects) and some speak English..but great majority speak Bahasa Indonesia at home and among friends and they get Mandarin at school along with English and Bahasa.
    And maybe for some foreigners, Indonesian Chinese is unique as they had two names and many took from Javanese/Sanskrite names for their surnames.
    Like Tan surnames, it can be Tanuwijaya, Tanusetya, Tanusoedibjo, Tanjaya, Tanueve, Tanasal, Sutanto, Tanubrata
    Wong becomes Wongso, Wangsamulya, Wangsajaya etc
    Ong can be Ongkowiyono, Ongkojoyo, Ongkowidjojo
    Oei becomes Wijaya, Winata, Wirata, etc.
    Lim becomes Halim, Salim, Taslim, Nursalim, Limanta, Limanto, Limanjaya, Liman, Kaslim, Rimba, Wanandi etc

    Or many of my students have a very Buddhist names like Avalokita, Virya, Viryandika, Paramitha, Visakha, Wiryaka, Katthyananda, Ananda, etc..

    Some also retain their original Chinese surnames especially the younger generations.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Similar to other countries, Chinese descents are divided into two…totok (purely or recent immigrants) and peranakan (more than two generations or local born), their cultures are also distinct each other. While in Indonesia itself, Peranakan culture is far more dominant than Totok, as I read and see by myself, and most Malaysian Chinese peranakan had already been assimilated to mainstream Chinese culture, am I right?

    Chinese culture influence is very vibrant in such cities like Medan, Batam, Pontianak, Singkawang, Jakarta, Tangerang, Pekalongan, Semarang, Lasem, until Surabaya. In Pekalongan, Lasem and Semarang, you can see Chinese influence in their batik…motives and colours. 🙂 And Semarang itself has the largest temple and Chinatown too.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I think I reply too much here..hahahaha..

    And the last thing is also Peranakan cuisine. Peranakan cuisine in Indonesia and Malaysia as well as Singapore has many similarities, but also distant differences particularly in Java. Peranakan cuisine is centered in Semarang, Central Java. It’s influenced by Javanese style so that’s why it tastes sweeter but spicy at the same time.

    Sorry if my replies are little bit far from the topic 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  14. When I first married my husband, he would proudly tell the world he was Italian and I would tell him, no you are an American and should be proud of that fact. Fast forward to coming home from a trip to Italy (which was delightful), in the plane my husband start calling himself American and has never gone back.

    There is a big difference between your ethnic background and the country of your birth but you should not have to choose between either when describing yourself.

    That being said, sometimes describing my ethnic background has been a good conversation starter.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I suspect it’s more complicated for a Singaporean of Chinese descent vs. a Chinese-Canadian like myself, since Canada is known worldwide to be a country made of aboriginals, immigrants and descendants of immigrants.

    Canada is just so much further away from China.

    I don’t spend much energy trying to explain to people anymore. And I tell them flat on that I’ve never been to Asia yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hi Kally, being a Singapore citizen by birth it is natural that you’ll have a greater affinity for Singapore. US citizens whose ancestors migrated from different countries are all Americans ..right? It is good that you look upon this point as a conversation starter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks!! I guess it’s how people look at where they come from and where they call home. To me, I still call Singapore my home. Anywhere I’ve been is just a temporary stop until I go home one day.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Great post, and really interesting to read some of the comments made. For my part, I’m English (and from Liverpool, which is a very unique part of England) and have been fortunate to work in several other countries so I can fully understand your frustration!
    I’ve worked in Kuwait, Libya, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Germany. I think it is a great eye opener to travel and especially if you are working in a foreign country.
    You are right to be proud of your heritage, and you seem to be a perfectly well balanced intelligent person. Keep up your great posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Love this post. My parents and grandparents are from Ghana, West Africa. I was born in the United States and lived here all my life. One thing that I have found troubling with people and their concerns in labeling or identifying others based on race or ethnicity is how they treat you depending on your ethnicity/background. Like previous commenters have said I prefer to not hold on to labels and instead get to know people and their background before assuming anything. The only assumptions I could make of a person is what continent they most likely originate from. Beyond that, I cannot assume.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Happened to me too, when I said I was Chinese…and they asked me if I came from China. They did not know Malaysia and asked if it was near Hawaii, probably because the name sounded like Polynesia…and after a lengthy explanation about Sarawak and Borneo where I come from, it dawned on them and they exclaimed, “Ahhhhhh!!!! It is in Singapore!” Ah well! That was in the 80’s – I think it is not so bad now – the world has grown much smaller.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. There are so many variations on people’s ignorance and assumptions. I get a bagfull because I’m of very mixed heritage and look vaguely foreign wherever I am, I’ve lived in many countries and speak a number of languages fluently. “Where are you from?” is a very fraught question for me – actually one of my first blogposts was about it 🙂 The point is, multicultural would truly be the only honest label, but it doesn’t satisfy people so they usually end up with “but where were you born?” and decide for themselves that’s where I’m from! which is pretty funny because I was packed off to another country at the age of 9 months and have no memories whatsoever of the place!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I have travelled to around eighty countries in my life. I have lived and worked in many of them. This includes Singapore, Borneo and Hong Kong. I just love to immerse myself in the huge variety of cultures, languages and cuisines that cover our planet.

    My father is from Yorkshire and my mother was from the Highlands of Scotland.

    If somebody asks me where I am from, I often say that I am from Planet Earth.

    To follow up on that, if they are being small-minded, like some of the people who have questioned you, instead of asking them which country they are from, I ask them which planet they are from.

    Life can be such fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. This conversation reminds me of an attempt by Mark Bellison (The Invention of Lying) to explain “the Man in the Sky” to totally ethnocentric people. Finally in total frustration he said, to the question of race, “He’s multi-ethnic, he’s made up of all races!… and now can we carry on, folks?” I don’t like travelling, hence I don’t, but I come from Brittany, a conquered country with its own ethnicity, language, yet now totally immersed in French since the conquest. I now live in the south-west corner of Canada, in the Lower Mainland and there is so much ethnic variation here that nobody even notices racial differences anymore. People from all over the world live here, all mixed, some in their own communities but very flexible. Richmond has a high Chinese population; Surry and Abbotsford, East Indian and Sikh; also Mennonites from Russia; French Canadians in New Westminster and etc., My parents, mother Breton, Dad more French, were not nationalists and kids were taught to see the world as one planet, not different races. All was best, segregation and judgment based on race was evil. Here it’s simply impossible to know who’s from where, and assuming is often cause for much laughter. A while ago while in a computer store, I assumed, by his looks and accent that my clerk was from Pakistan. Oops, he was Persian (Iran)… and a short moment of embarrassment quickly laughed over. We have black people who could be recently from an African country, or they could be from the USA (which is just a few miles to the border), so can’t know that either. Best for me to think of “all of you” as fellow travellers in space, on a planet designated as earth and possibly surrounded by countless other races we may get to meet some day and thus broaden our understanding of acceptance!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Every day I deal with ethnic stereotypes, stereotypes regarding sexual preference and the most destructive stereotypes regarding mental health and mental illness. The only way to deal with them is to refuse to accept them — and the best way is to turn them to your advantage; especially when you use your gifts and skills to learn who you are as a person, which ultimately transcends all stereotypes.

    I can see that you do that.

    Liked by 1 person

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