Male and Foreign

Squirmy boys, – remember Justice Roberts’s son? – get up and act some dramatic scenes. Move about. If Othello’s gonna kill his wife, let him walk in and see her lying there, and let him approach, and let him be overcome with desire to smell and kiss her, and let him go ahead and smother her in the sheets. If I had confidence for anything in primary school, it was for spelling, history, mythology, geography and acting.

I remember that as a kid I – fine, I admit that this continues even now, to my mild embarrassment – used to sing at the dinner table and loudly in the shower, and even on the school bus I used to need to release some kind of energy by singing Cantonese opera.

If you’ll allow me to digress a little… the other kids must have thought I was so foreign. Foreignness, though, was always a conflicted affair for me. When I started acquiring English at three, I was acutely aware already of the bad accents that most immigrants from Hong Kong had, and I resolved not to sound like them, to which end I would try to acquire English pronunciation and syntax perfectly: I would master what the fobs didn’t. This was a matter of competence, and I would not be stymied. At the same time, not wanting to melt into the American soup, I often asserted my Chineseness, and if it differed from other people’s experience and people didn’t want to validate it as part of the public consciousness, so be it.

The issues of fidgetiness and cultural belonging are probably too tied up each in the other for me to pull them apart. To me, this is about being allowed to be yourself – although I hear a certain Alceste wasn’t too popular. If you seem not to belong, what do you do? Even today, if your beliefs are at odds with those of most of your church or university or nation, what then? Oh, and now I should start reading Edward M. Said’s Orientalism to come to terms with stuff.


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