Land of Confusion

So I decided to use the WordPress daily prompt today.

Tell us about a time when you felt out of place.

Today.

I was walking down the hallway with a friend after school, when she decided to stop in front of the Chinese room, since there were people practicing for an upcoming talent show. Seeing that I didn’t take Chinese (whee French), the room  was unfamiliar to me, and a bunch of unfamiliar Chinese faces didn’t help either. Specifically, most of these students were fobs, aka fresh off the boats, people who had recently moved to America from a foreign country, in this case China.

As I awkwardly stood there watching the group of fobs joking and rapidly speaking Chinese to each other, I realized that this was a different realm of people from most of the Asians I knew. Although I looked like most of them and even shared a common language, they had created a culture that I was incapable of understanding because of my growing up in America.

Even the language link was weak. Sure, I spoke Chinese at home, but that did not prepare me at all for the rapid-fire fluency of Chinese adolescents, nor any modern slang and other language subtleties. My friend’s advice of “Just speak Chinese” didn’t resonate with me well, since any attempt for me to “mix in” would seem forced, and I’d never fully assimilate.

To them, I was more of an ABC (American born Chinese) than a Chinese person, just an outsider who didn’t understand fob culture. They had already created a tight-knit community among themselves, sharing a common culture within a large school of 3500+ students.

Ironically, my friend and I had come from a math club meeting with a difficult problem in hand, and following the stereotype, my friend asked who was the best at math. The group of fobs quickly directed us to one person, who upon looking at the problem, snapped a picture of the paper with his phone and told us that he’d get to it later. And they all suddenly left the room, leaving me unsure about another one of my few encounters with the fob group.

[Related article on Asian-American identity: Paper Tigers]

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