Daily prompt: The Outsiders
Tell us about the experience of being outside, looking in — however you’d like to interpret that.
The feeling of being an outsider has constantly nagged me during my childhood. This feeling was never overwhelming, never too heavy for me to handle, but it was always lagging behind like a shadow. This is because I am an unbalanced mix of Caucasian and Cantonese.
In terms of appearances, I look fully Chinese, but I identify as a Canadian. I consider English my first language and while I’m a fluent speaker of Cantonese, I have difficulties reading or writing in Chinese. My parents also identify as Canadians, but raised me with a heavy emphasis on conventional Chinese values. I am not a 50/50 split of these two cultures, and I am most definitely not just one of them. Because of this, there were many instances where I did not feel like I fit in, whether that be in Canada, Hong Kong, or even other parts of the world.
In Canada, the feeling of being an outsider rises when I listen to my friends talk about going to the pool over the weekend while I think about how I can’t go because I have to study for my dictation test in Chinese school. I feel it when other parents say, “Great job!” to a B and mine say, “You can do better next time.” Sometimes I feel it when I open my lunchbox and it’s not a sandwich or a lunchable kit.
In Hong Kong, I feel like an outsider when I see people give me strange looks after I thank the bus driver. I feel it when people rush by me or tell me to hurry up as I walk at (what I believe to be) a normal pace. One time when my sister and I were making sand art, the vendor knew we didn’t grow up in HK simply because we were mixing the colors of the sand. Apparently, HK children liked to keep the colors in separate layers.
Even on my exchange trip to Beijing, my friend and I were classified into a special class of students who could speak Mandarin, but were poor in reading/writing. The other exchange students thought we were great at Mandarin, while the actual native students saw us as foreigners. When people asked us, “Where are you from?” and we replied with, “Canada”, the next question to surely follow was, “Okay, but where are you really from?”
When we are standing on the outside looking in, we always feel as if the inside is better – as if we are missing something that everyone should have. Maybe that is not the right way of looking at it.
Part of being or feeling like an outsider means that you must have been an insider at some point. The other part is that an “inside” never just pops up by itself- people make it, which means you can create your own places of belonging as well.