Silence and Paralysis Between Two Cultures

You’d think I’d be in the best position to be all things to all people: Natively Cantonese-speaking American-born Chinese with no non-native accent in either Cantonese and English and a relatively socially prestigious accent in both. Instead, I’m living proof that having what appear to be great assets doesn’t mean you actually benefit from them.

Instead, I struggle to know how to talk to whom in Cantonese, how not to sound too awkward in English, how to be versed in both without sounding foreign in either, how not to need to fish for expressions from the other language. I’m not different enough to sound like a recognizable “other”, but enough to sound, well, different. I fit in nowhere, and yet I fit in too much everywhere.

And all the time I’m trying to avoid seeming too materially “successful” in a whitewashed way, too indolent in the non-Asian way, too inappropriate, too conventional — I sound like a whiny American white teenager just talking about it. Like a yuppie. Like a suburban kid who doesn’t know how to do anything.

There’s no way in the world to make me not Chinese, but there’s no way for me to be like an immigrant. Maybe I want to be of a class that doesn’t watch TV dramas and doesn’t get written into TV drama characters, one that lives a quiet life that isn’t partitioned off from the other people, the normal people. Instead I’m in the class of the kiasu, the greedy, the unprincipled, both because of America and because of the Chinese people I see. God save me.

I hate being like the people of my demographic profile. I have a love-hate relationship with being Chinese. I love its historical heritage, its philosophical heritage, its cultural heritage of cultivation and honour. I hate the unquestioned adherence to tradition; I hate the chasing after the dregs of Western trends.

I know the Lord puts me in this station in life intending for me to live it well, to be a light, but sometimes I just want to leave it all and forget feeling as if I am the only one who has the will to live it God’s way and live the good parts of each culture and discard the sinful parts. All the while, I feel the parallel need to be as obedient to the word of God as possible while maintaining half a thousand images of living a life that people might find half-interesting but not as an oddity.

But God, being rich in mercy, is more than enough for my inadequacies. Perhaps I need only walk in His ways and not concern myself with asserting my ethos habitually, only making it and using it when I speak of something weighty. Otherwise I may spend eternity hedging rather than speaking the truth in love.

Cogito, Credo, Petam


One response to “Silence and Paralysis Between Two Cultures

  1. Bro, thank you for highlighting the tensions in between these two identities. I’ve got to sort a lot of these out in my heart.


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