I can’t speak Chinese, now move on.

I have learnt to accept that I’m not gifted when it comes to being Chinese. I wasn’t raised in a particularly Chinese culture, and the only Chinese thing I have ever done is probably asking for ang pao during Chinese New Year. But I doubt that counts for much.

The thing is, I’m not in touch with my Chinese heritage, so what? Big deal. I wish people would stop making a fuss about it and just accept the fact that not ALL Chinese-looking people know what yung sheng is, or what Seven Lunar Month represents.

(Honestly, I still have no idea.)

As if I’m not bombarded with a high dose of Chineseness on a daily basis, (if it were a drug, I would have been overdosed) today is a day that one particular Chinese person decided to get on my nerve during lunch.

See, let me give you a little background. My default look these days consist on a clueless, blank, confused and helpless look. It just rotates between these four, so take a pick. Sometimes I don’t have any idea what is happening around me or what’s being discussed until I have to ask for a translation. Well, to be fair, normally I don’t really mind this, because that means that the things they discuss don’t really concern me, thus, I don’t need to know. And with the amount of work I have these days, well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing.

Seriously. Sometimes I would fear having clients or office people call me on my mobile because that means something is wrong and in need for my attention. These days I would probably jump in shock or have an extreme anxiety attack everytime my phone rings!

So I’m taking it like a man; being the odd one out.

If I don’t even mind being one, then why wouldn’t some people just let it rest? Alright, so back to my story. This afternoon during lunch I went down with a colleague of mine. We grabbed a packet of lunch and as I was about to sit, a Chinese person approached and started talking in gibberi..ops, I mean, Chinese.

I looked at him blankly, with the hope that he would be smart enough to read my expression. But of course this would be asking too much. He continued babbling and I let him finish his long sentence before I finally said, “I don’t speak Chinese.”

He looked at me in amusement and I decided to ignore him, hoping for a peaceful, undisturbed lunch. Apparently this was too much to ask again, because not long after, he approached me again and said, “Oh, oh, where you from? Malaysia? Philippines? Myanmar?”

Can’t he see that I was having my lunch? And I had been asked this hundreth of times before that it was really starting to get old.

I gave him a ‘shut up’ look but he continued mentioning some other country names. So I said, “Indonesia”, and went back to face my food although I had lost my appetite. “Oh! Indonesia!” he exclaimed as if I just told him I won a Nobel Prize.

Double sigh. Seriously, he then still had the nerves to ask me why an Indonesian couldn’t speak Chinese, and why I looked Chinese in the first place, you know, yada yidi yada, I could already memorize the script by heart.

First, ask where I’m from, then which part of Indonesia, then how come I can’t speak Chinese. Man.

You think I failed to see myself in the mirror every morning and realized that yes, I do have slanted eyes, that yes, I am Chinese? I know I am one, but that doesn’t automatically mean I can speak the language, and even if it does just by basic assumption, why is it such a big deal when you finally find out that I can’t?

At this point, I completely stopped eating, and after less than 15 minutes downstairs, I asked my colleague to just go back upstairs.

In retrospect, I should’ve just answered “Zimbabwe” or something, when he asked me where I was from. Then maybe he would shut up.

Upstairs, my colleague and I were still talking and she told me a story of what happened a few weeks back. Our office has a unisex restroom which means it is shared by both the men and ladies. Normally, we have to wear our slippers into the bathroom so we would know if someone is inside by the missing pair of slippers outside. This signals that we ought to wait until the person is out, and then we’ll get out turn.

Simple enough, right?

See a pair of missing slippers. Means someone is inside. Means, wait and don’t come in!

One time, my colleague was inside. You know, being ladies, sometimes we don’t just go to the restroom to pee. Sometimes after doing our business, we spend some time examining our face in the mirror, look for any signs of aging (or acne), or silly things like that. But that’s our thing, alright? And we should be spared another minute of privacy.

And then suddenly the door barked open and a Chinese guy came in, even though he should have seen that someone was inside. He saw my colleague standing in front of the mirror and asked the dumbest question, “What are you doing?”

At this point as she was telling the story, my colleague yelled in frustration, and she told me that she was this close to actually tell the male colleague to go and f*** himself!

Of course this has nothing to do with him being Chinese, but he happens to be one. And sorry, we can’t help it.

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Test, The Fountainhead

Today two things happened.

I passed a dustbin on my way to class, and it was yellow.

Oh no, they weren’t the things that I’d like to say here. I thought that was a good build-up? Okay, sorry.

As you know, I had my first chinese test last Friday. Everyone’s supposed to take the test when they have been in the school for a month, and I guess I fit in to that particular category. The day before, one of my classmate approached me during break.

“Look. Here’s what you got to study,” she began, flipping my book. “Here, here. Here. Oh, and here too. You’ll be given pictures and you should know the chinese words and the right quantifier for each object.”

I quickly took notes, a rise of panic started building up. I thought it’s gonna be all written? All multiple choice questions? My voice was nothing more than a silent muffle in defeat.

“Of course not. There are listening and speaking test also,” she said. I thought I noticed a pleasure in her voice, but I must have been imagining it. When I looked at her again, she almost looked radiant. Gloating.

“Oh, don’t forget to learn these and these too. Memorize all the words. You also should know how to ask for price and bargain in conversation.”

I jotted everything down helplessly, there was so much to learn in just a day. It’s official, I suck at this. I should just stick to what I know best, like posing or something. Chinese? What was I thinking?

After class, I took my baby sister to Holland Village for dinner so it was safe to say that I didn’t do any studying at all that day. The exam was less in 6 hours away when I woke up on Friday morning. Scrambling, I just tried to memorize everything I could, to not much avail. I guess I just had to bullshit my way to the test again, like any other tests I’ve ever done before. It gave me a little comfort.

Of course, I was in denial.

Anyway, to make long story short, the exam turned out to be all so very easy. Even at the rate that I studied (if you could call it studying at all), I felt like I’ve overstudied!

So today I got the result, and I got a perfect score. “Very good!” my teacher wrote it at the front page of my paper, she was grinning broadly, expecting me to scream, shriek, cry, laugh, and possibly faint. Well, of course I was delighted, but I almost felt as if I cheated. As if someone’s gonna come out from under the desk and yell, “GOTCHA! That was a fake paper! Now HERE is your real exam! You don’t think for a second that the exam’s gonna be THAT easy, do you?! DO YOU!”

The other thing is this: this afternoon I finally finished The Fountainhead. I was on the bus, and I wish I were at home, because then I could probably let out a big, loud, happy sigh. The fact is, I’m utterly satisfied by this book. It’s an experience in itself. The part when I simply couldn’t stop reading it during the first chapter, how I was almost scared to continue because I knew something big was gonna happen in the story, how I consciously slowing the speed at which I was reading because I didn’t want it to end, and that it was just like everything I wished it would be during the climax. Overall, it’s been more than enjoyable, engrossing, and stimulating.

Was I just being a complete nerd for 3 seconds there? I’m serious, don’t you just love it when a book can make you feel that much emotions?

The next book that I’m gonna read is so gonna fall short in comparison. I don’t like it, but at the same time, I hope nothing else would come remotely close. I realize the irony in that. But we don’t have to be logical all the time, do we?

Nerdenstein

At the risk of sounding like a total nerd (which I totally am anyway), I’m hereby declaring my undying love for studying!

No, seriously. I know I’ve been very ungrateful, always complaining and whining during exam periods or assignments’ deadlines, but in fact I’ve been taking those for granted. Afterall, after 16 years of studying, it’s bound to happen sometimes.

Since then, I was focused on finding a job. It certainly didn’t occur to me that it would be this hard, or this ridiculously frustrating. Even after getting jobs, there were still other things needed to be settled. And let’s just say that these other things haven’t worked out very well either.

In short, I decided to take up studying again, in the form of enrolling myself in a language school. My parents have encouraged me to learn chinese for as long as I could remember, but since I’ve been in school and I’ve been taking up internships and in the midst of still trying to be young and have fun, I just haven’t gotten around to actually doing it.

Afterall, it wasn’t really an urgent necessity, at least that’s what I thought. I have a couple western friends who speak perfect chinese, that ought to put me to shame, but I’m not called shameless for nothing. I could always give blank look to people who talked to me in chinese, and in a sweet tone said, “oh sorry, I’m not from around here.” Usually accompanied with some winking action. That ought to do the trick. They either would find me adorable and try their best to speak broken english, or they would…well, leave me alone. Which is fine by me.

Sometimes pretending to be Japanese works too. Except for that one time when someone approached and asked me whether I’m from Japan, and I shamelessly said yes, and then he started speaking fluent japanese and I was stoned. Epic fail!

Well, anyway, now seemed like a good time to finally learn the language so I did. It’s just been a week, but I’m loving it so far. I missed being in a class, with the textbook, notepad and pen in hand, just learning something new. Speaking out, making mistakes, making notes, and all that jazz. Of course, the most awesome thing is finally finding out things I didn’t know before.

I still think it doesn’t sound quite right when I do speak chinese, I always feel that people might laugh or find me incredibly awkward and unnatural, but I suppose everyone feels the same way the first time around. Right?

Or maybe not. I was having dinner with a chinese friend a few days ago and I was practising some words, and he just laughed at me the whole time. “You sound like a caucasian speaking chinese!” he said. Very unhelpful. Well, it’s not my fault my tongue isn’t exactly designed to speak my supposedly-mother-tongue.

Still, I enjoy the process very, very much.