I was thinking last night about how I shouldn’t have made the title of my last post “Why do I always get the stupid taxi drivers?” That’s not true. I usually get the very professional, competent ones. It is not easy to be a taxi driver in Taipei. From what Ron and I have heard in different conversations, they have to work at least 12 hours each day in order to get by, traffic is often stressful to navigate and fares are increasingly few and far between with the economy being what it is. I’m not trying to patronize taxi drivers but the fact of the matter is, it is not a cushy job.
That’s something I always keep in mind the few times I’ve had a taxi driver who has said something that I perceive as being really rude. I write “perceive” because chances are, what I think is rude is just their idea of a nice chat that breaks up the monotony and stress of their workday. If I snap at them, I’ll just make the ride awkward and make myself feel like a grade-A jerk afterwards.
But I was looking the long list of stupid remarks I’ve received from people over the years that have to do with me being Asian (and, like I said, that was only a partial list), and I realized that in all of those instances, I really held back what I said to people. And that wasn’t right. They needed to know, in that moment, just how hurtful and wrong those comments are, even if they are meant as a “joke.”
It’s the difference between replying “I’m sure my boyfriend doesn’t have an Asian fetish. If he did, I think I’d know by now, don’t you?” and replying “That is an incredibly rude and hurtful thing to say. You’ve hurt me, insulted somebody I care about, and trivialized interracial relationships all at once. Why would you say something like that?”
Or it is the difference between replying “You think I have an Asian accent? Really? That’s the first time I’ve heard that” and replying “I was born and raised in the United States. The only accent I would have is a regional U.S. one. I think the fact that you think I have an Asian accent says more about your prejudices than it does about how I talk. And what do you mean by ‘Asian’ accent? Asia is a very big continent, with a plethora of many languages, only a few of which are even remotely related to one another.”
Ron encounters parallel situations here in regards to assumptions about his language ability. A lot of people assume that just because he is white, he obviously must not know Mandarin. In most cases, they are just trying to be kind, because there are indeed a lot of foreigners here (of any nationality) who aren’t fluent in Mandarin and would appreciate a helping hand. Once they find out that Ron is indeed fluent, they usually just start talking to him in Chinese. But certain people are just unable to get past their preconceived notions of what a foreigner’s Mandarin ability must be. Sometimes it gets to the point where they treat him like a toddler.
A couple weeks ago, we went to open an account at our bank. The woman kept explaining things exclusively to me and then saying “please translate that for your fiance.” What made this annoying was that Ron had been speaking Chinese to her already, and he’s had an account longer at this branch than I have, so there was absolutely no reason for her not to know that she could speak to both of us in Mandarin. In fact, because Ron has worked and banked in this country for six years more than I have, there was quite a bit of vocabulary he had to translate for me. Another particularly annoying incident was when Ron and I went to a Thai restaurant with my parents, and the owner literally leaned over Ron’s head and said to my parents and me “Order him a curry. Foreigners like curry.” Once again, this was a place Ron and I had been to several times before and where the owner recognized us and had heard Ron speak Mandarin before and seen him translate the menu for me. So I felt there was really no excuse for her behavior unless she had early-onset dementia.
These things are pretty annoying to Ron, too, but for the most part he stays very cordial. I admire him for that. Neither of us really feel that there is anything to be gained from being rude in these situations.
But at the same time, I have to ask myself — at what point do I cross the line from being the bigger person to a doormat? In my last post I wrote that I’ve had crappy friends who’d made racist — or at the very least insensitive — remarks to me. To be fair, it was partly my fault because I did let them say those things to me. And, in fact, I did them a disservice by not letting them know, more forthrightly, just how ignorant and ridiculous they sounded.
I don’t feel comfortable writing entries like these because I don’t want to give my friends and family the impression that these issues suck up all of my mental energy. I also don’t want to give people who find this blog the idea that Ron and I encounter incidents like the ones I’ve described above all the time in Taipei. Far from it. Taipei is absolutely not a backwater where people who are different are constantly treated with disrespect. It is a diverse and cosmopolitan city.
One of the reasons I started this blog, however, was to keep track of how being in Taiwan affects my understanding of the impact of race and cultural heritage on my identity, personality and my interactions with other people. I haven’t really done that, and perhaps part of it is because I feel shy about putting anything too, too personal on the Web. But this is an issue that I continue to feel is important for me to write about, and to perhaps from time to time get some feedback or a new perspective on. I know I am not the only person out there who asks herself (or himself) these very same questions.
The taxi driver made me realize that I need to start being more direct with people, if not in that particular situation (I’m not foolhardy enough to risk ticking off or distracting the person in charge of the rapidly-moving vehicle that I am in) then certainly in many others. If I let an ignorant comment go, that means I am complicit in the ill-conceived notions, prejudices or downright bigotry and racism that may lie behind it. As someone who plans to have children, and who will be the mother of Hapa children, it is important for me to set an example — when they encounter bigotry, or even just a tactless remark, as they inevitably will, they have the right to challenge that person on what they said. And to do so does not necessarily mean you are being rude or not empathetic enough.
That’s something that’s hard for me to say to myself. There are times when my self-confidence is shaky, but I’ve always thought, even if I feel like I’ve let myself or other people down, at least I can make up for it by being the kindest, nicest and easy-goingest person someone has ever met. I know a lot of other people feel this way. It’s certainly not an uncommon phenomenon, especially among women. And I feel like it does have its benefits — I firmly believe that you get from the world what you put into it, and that validity of that mantra has been proven to me over and over again. But that’s not always the best way to run my life. It’s sometimes dishonest because I hide what I am really feeling. And, in the end, it is a hugely counterproductive way of dealing with certain situations.