A week or so ago my friend told me about the anti-Asian violence at a Philadelphia high school earlier last month. I don’t read the news as much as I used to, and I hadn’t heard a thing about this story. In short, racial tensions at South Philadelphia High School erupted in a spate of attacks on Asian students at the school, all in one day, during school hours. 30 students in all were assaulted and 7 had to be hospitalized. Many Asian students staged a walkout, refusing to return to school because they felt unsafe, that security and other school staff had turned a blind eye to this and other incidents.

Here are some quotes from several articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

After a series of fights between Asian and African American students in the community last week, about 30 Asian students were attacked in and outside the school on Thursday. In some cases, groups of students went from class to class, looking for Asian students to target.

Somekawa described students at the school being mocked by staff: ” ‘Where are you from? Hey, Chinese. Yo, Dragon Ball. Are you Bruce Lee? Speak English,’ ” quoting what students had told her.

Troung, the South Philadelphia student, recited a litany of problems with school staff. She singled out the security officers, who she claimed forced Asian students to follow them into a lunchroom where they were attacked and who directed the frightened students to leave school after they were beaten.

Yan Zheng, another student, said that when students were fighting in the lunch room last Thursday, “the lunch lady did not do anything to stop them, and went around cheering happily. . . . The staff shouldn’t just stand there and watch and say, ‘Stopping fights is not my job.’ “

Zheng, Jia Rong Lin, and Hang Liu say they were three of eight students targeted during sixth-period lunch on Thursday. In all, there were at least five separate attacks inside school and on the street. Seven students were treated for minor injuries at Methodist Hospital.

The three say they were ready to go to lunch when they heard word that Asian students might be attacked. They worried that it wasn’t safe to go into the lunchroom, but an adult school employee told them they would be fine.

Lin, 16, a ninth grader, was punched repeatedly in the back of his head, he said. Liu, 18, also a freshman, said he was also punched in the head. None of the three know who attacked them or how many students struck them.

It sounds like since the incidents there has been a private investigation launched, criticism of the principal, superintendent and staff, stepped up security which may have thwarted another rumored attack, and all sorts of outrage and finger-pointing. I think I’m most disturbed/intrigued by why the story hasn’t been picked up much by news outlets outside the region. The Times published a puny reprint from the Associated Press. It’s disheartening to consider what combination of races and type of school and district and severity of act would have gotten this story to a larger audience.


About a year ago I went out for dinner with a friend of mine and met one of her friends and his cousin. We had Korean BBQ and in the course of paying I accidentally took $10 from her friend and underpaid. So I wrote him through MySpace and said,

“stalked you through K to tell you that i definitely stole $10 from you at our korean bbq dinner. i confused the math A LOT. next time i see you i will give you $10 or equivalent in meats.”

His response really rubbed me the wrong way, even though I know he was just trying to be funny, and apparently he is a wannabe comedian:

An asain that is bad at math! what is this world coming to. Pretty soon porta ricans will not be tricking out honda civics and the French will stop loving Jerry Lewis. Please stay withing your stero types. It is confussion when you don’t.

P.S. I will take the $10 dollars in meat.

I think he got the message that I wasn’t too pleased because I didn’t write him back and I ignored his friend request. We’re totally fine and friendly now, so this is “water under the bridge,” or what have you. But for a week or so after he wrote me I was debating writing a snarky response about his atrocious spelling and how I am indeed very good at math and how his attempt at humor was pathetic, in the end deciding that it would make things awkward for my friend and our mutual friends if I came out of the gate ranting at this guy.

I wish I had addressed things somehow, so that maybe he would reconsider writing that to the next Asian (or French or Puerto Rican) person he meets, and so I would feel like I took action aside from just hoping he would disappear or be given a talking-to by someone else. I’d be interested to hear what other people think would have been an appropriate response.

I eventually saw him again, gave him back his $10, and I know now that he’s a good guy. If he thinks I’m an oversensitive ice queen, I guess I don’t mind.


On this blog I am chronicling a particular kind of experience. I hope to connect with people who have shared this experience, or who are interested in examining the ways that race comes up in conversations between strangers, distinguishing between what is “acceptable” and what is “objectionable”, and lastly, how a person can deal with these situations, i.e. respond verbally, laugh it off, get angry, or accept it. It’s not a phenomenon unique to one race or culture; people of all colors show their biases toward/curiosity about/ignorance of people of all colors every single day. I know I make snap assumptions too, partly because the human brain is always trying to categorize people and things, and some of that categorization is informed by personal experience. I do try to maintain an awareness of my biases and piece together their origins.

As is probably clear, the way I process people’s reactions to me as a Chinese American woman ranges from amusement to irateness, and what I personally want to come to terms with through this blog is the exchanges that make me irate. I’m sometimes too caught off guard to respond to the person, and it’s not my nature to tell people off, and ideally I would want to make people aware of their assumptions/stereotypes without resorting to much confrontational language at all.

The experience I’m referring to, which on a small scale is interactions with strangers in which the stranger addresses my race, is on a larger scale the effect over time of a constant stream of such interactions. For me, I have become terribly sad that I am regularly assumed to be a foreigner in my own country; no matter how I speak, or dress, or where I live, the color of my skin is still foremost what some people see and process about me. Then I am also disheartened by assumptions made about Chinese people living in America (i.e. that we live in our specific ethnic enclaves and don’t speak English well). And I am most exasperated by the fact that most of these interactions are between me and a man, oftentimes in the form of a man saying something to my face right as he walks by (ni hao, konichiwa, hey china doll, etc), or saying something as I walk by him, or approaching me when I’m alone. Catcalls are one thing; a race-related comment said at close range can make me feel preyed upon.

And don’t get me started on comments that are tied up with sex and reflect the exoticizing of Asian women.

I don’t want to be the PC Police with everyone, including my friends who sometimes say things that rub me the wrong way. I am simply trying to meet kindred spirits and see new perspectives, not demonize people or places or cry victim or come off as morally superior.

A closing thought. Now that I’m in Hong Kong and, to borrow a term my cousin coined, an “undercover tourist,” it’s a different ballgame. If someone assumes I’m a Hong Kong native, I think, “Cool! I blend in!” And when people ask where I’m from, my reaction is, “Well, you guessed right, I am indeed not from here.” As I know I don’t “belong,” I am not nearly as sensitive about “Where you from?” However, if someone came up to me and said “Konichiwa” salaciously, or something dirty in English, I wouldn’t be too pleased.

I suppose it is often about the person’s intentions, and when I figure out tactful ways to respond verbally to these things, I will of course gauge whether something is said mockingly, out of ignorance, or (sadly) in an attempt to be funny. There’s a big difference between the guy who wants to practice some Chinese words with me at the deli, and the drunk asshole at the bar saying loudly to his friends, “Remember that time we went cruising for Asian girls?”

True story. Le sigh.


From fall 2006-fall 2007 i had an incredibly stressful job based in Herald Square. It was stressful because the office politics had gotten out of hand. My co-workers and I had a very unhealthy relationship; there were upsetting gender roles, passive-aggressive emails, power struggles, issues of respect for each others’ strengths, and on top of that I was dating one of them on the sly. A terrible combination of things.

One day I was sitting in the little area of tables and chairs by the Macy’s flagship store, and I was crying. One of my co-workers had just taken me outside to tell me that I was being a bitch and that others agreed with him and that I was being condescending to his ally, the project manager. I shouldn’t have started crying, but I did, and he suddenly felt bad and left me there.

A few minutes later, a very friendly and sweet black girl came and sat next to me and asked me why I was crying. She told me she worked at Banana Republic and was on her break.

She eventually told me to cheer up and not let the bad guys see me crying, that they were the ones who had problems and that it sounded to her like they were dating or something. But early on in our exchange she said, “So… are you Chinese? Japanese?”

Yes, Chinese.

Then, “So… you live in Flushing?”

I know I gave her a look then, but I was feeling too vulnerable to be very annoyed. I was really glad that she was talking to me and trying to be comforting. But I hope she doesn’t ask all Chinese people that as a rule. Yes, there are a lot of Chinese people and a large Chinatown in Flushing but not all Chinese people in New York live there!


I had a bit of a deja vu moment while walking around Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon last weekend. There are a lot of South Asian guys who hang out around there and ask if you want to buy watches and handbags. One said to me, “Where is Kowloon Hotel?” I told him I didn’t know. Then a familiar exchange began.

“Where you from — Japan?”
“No.”
“Korea?”
“No,” I said, and kept walking. It was pretty amusing.

I’m Chinese, you asshole! We’re in Hong Kong!


Signage win.

11Aug09

in the subway cars there are signs that read, “please give your seat to anyone in need”. according to the accompanying symbols, people in need include:

those who are pregnant

and those being mounted by midgets.


Follow-up.

11Aug09

I realize that last post sounded pretty aggro, and I did feel a little worked up while typing it out, but really it’s more that now that I’m out of New York I feel relieved in certain ways, and able to properly vent about some of these things because they are (maybe) behind me.

I’m sure that while I’m in Hong Kong I’ll encounter people who are curious about my background, and maybe some who will make comments I find offensive that I haven’t encountered before. But I feel different here, like I’m from America AND from Hong Kong, because so many of the traditions here are so familiar to me. My dualing identities (Chinese and American) both have advantages here.

So in the vein of the last post, I was thinking that if I return to New York I could make T-shirts that say, “I’m not exotic. I’m a fucking person.” Or something similarly standoffish. And maybe the back could say, “My English is better than yours.”


I live in Hong Kong now. I left my apartment and life in New York and took two suitcases and a duffle bag with me. (I got a grant to work here for a year.)

About two weeks before I left, when I was home taking stock of all the things in my apartment I don’t need, a very pungent-smelling guy (it was a very hot day) knocked on my door trying to get me to sign up for a service to lock in my utility bill rates. I couldn’t tell if his accent was African or Caribbean but I didn’t really feel bad about that after our exchange. The only good thing about my opening the door was that his smell drew the mosquito who had been feasting on me for two weeks into the hallway.

He wanted to see my bills and I told him no, I was moving. He said that I should still show him because I could take this service with me to my next place. (Total scam, in my opinion.) So I told him I wasn’t just leaving the building, I was leaving the country.

“Oh, back to China?” he said excitedly.

WTF!!! I didn’t want to say yes, because I was pretty offended that after our short interchange he still didn’t think I was “from” America. I mumbled something about seeing my family. I guess I didn’t want him to think he was right, even though I was indeed going “back to China.”

As a friend of a friend said, I don’t look like a FOB and I don’t talk like a FOB. (She said this after I told her that a stranger in Fort Greene asked me if I spoke English before he started to ask me for money.) There’s nothing wrong with being a FOB, and it’s not even like I’m super proud to be American, but I’m just tired of people thinking I’m OTHER, not FROM here. I was probably more American than him, and spoke better English than him, and he may not have even been an American citizen. I just don’t know what more I can do, besides speaking English properly and understanding American social norms, and dressing like an American, to make people stop assuming I’m from another country. I know that New York is chock full of recent immigrants, but for God’s sake, Americans come in all colors. Why can’t people in New York grow up!

This is part of why I want to live in the Bay Area again. No cabbie there is going to ask me where I’m “from,” and people aren’t going to say “Ni hao” or “Konichiwa” to me as they pass me on the street. Some of it may just be interest, like “I’m not from this country and am curious as to what country you’re from,” but after 9 years it had stopped being quaint and funny.

Now that I’m in Hong Kong, I’m soooo happy to have a break from some of those conversations. It had just gotten to a point where those sorts of exchanges had intertwined themselves with feelings I’d had of being an outsider in New York, of just being different from everyone else. It was all very unhealthy and frustrating. Bye bye, New York.


On an amusing outing to my boyfriend’s favorite possibly Mafia-linked dive bar, I caught the attention of a large and imposing patron who may or may not be the bar’s namesake.

He told me I was beautiful, etc., then announced he wanted to buy me a drink, which made the bartender point out my oblivious boyfriend who was at the jukebox. The man decided he was going to buy us both drinks, which seemed fine to me. He raised his glass and said something like, “When I look at you, I see a beautiful Chinese girl in an American establishment.”

Um. Thanks? In the end I guess I can’t complain about getting free drinks for being a beautiful Chinese girl in an American establishment.


It was a bizarre June. Sorry I’ve been silent. But here’s a quick plug for some stuff worth checking out.

I’d heard about the Museum of Chinese in America but had never visited. I plan to check it out in the next few weeks and am even more excited that it has gotten a state-of-the-art makeover in a new building designed by Maya Lin.

I won’t be living in New York once it has its grand opening on September 22nd, but I’m still interested to go on a Thursday (for now it is only open that day and admission is free) to see the few things they’ve already unveiled.

Here is a story about the museum and its vision for the future. On Saturday, the museum will host the first Asian American ComiCon, an event brought about by Secret Identities, the comic anthology and now organizing force focused on Asians and Asian Americans in comics. I think it will be awesome, so register to attend if that’s your thing.


I’ve been meaning to write about interesting interactions I’ve had with other Asians who assume I’m something other than Chinese. Whether at a Korean deli or a Chinese nail salon, I usually enjoy these exchanges. But sometimes they definitely get awkward (more on that later).

Here’s a relevant story from a contributor:

New York City, NY

Greeting me as in reference to my race often seems endearing or humorous. The latter is when someone greets me in confusion to my actual race. I get this a lot.

The race people often confuse me for is Japanese or Korean. One of my stories comes from one afternoon. I walked out of a [Japanese] bookstore. From the corner of my eye I noticed an older woman approached me. She greeted me in Japanese and handed me a flyer (in Japanese) and discussed the program she was trying to promote. It was a workshop of some sort. She went on and on without the right moment for me to save her from her trouble. Finally, I said, apologetically, Thank you, but I did not speak Japanese. I should have added I was also not Japanese, but she went on as to where I was born (Here, in the US, I said) and then why my parents never taught me Japanese.

My parents are Chinese, I answered.

I only know a few simple phrases in Japanese and if I could have said them correctly to the woman – I would have really thrown her off.

A week later, that same woman was about to approach me again, but this time I lost myself into a crowd of pedestrians.


Moo goo FAIL.

28May09

I’ve been so busy the past two weeks so I’ve been unable to post the awesome stories contributed by my awesome friends. This tidbit from about ten days ago is golden. I think Gohmert himself looks a bit embarrassed just before he speaks, knowing he is about to say something astoundingly stupid. [Note: WordPress is having trouble embedding this video. You may have to just click the 'Moment of Zen' link - sorry.]

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Moment of Zen – Moo Goo Dog Pan
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Economic Crisis Political Humor

If we keep borrowing money from the Chinese, they’ll have enough power over us to force us to adopt their savage ways, making moo goo gai pan with cats and dogs instead of gai (chicken)? The way he says “Cha-nees” kind of makes my stomach turn. I’m not sure if anyone on the floor followed his argument. You can watch a longer video here and see if you can make sense of it all. Thanks for the tip, Peej!

I’m really tired of the “Chinese eat dog” thing – the jokes, snide comments, and judgments of Chinese culture based on this. It’s just so exhausting trying to explain to people that they are thinking like 4-year-olds and not applying facts, empathy, and their analytical powers to see the culture with any clarity. My favorite is when the people who express disgust about dog on the menu pretty much don’t hesitate to pop open a can of Hungry Man frank and beans for dinner. Who’s “civilized” now?

A few years ago I spotted a headline in the Post or NY Daily News about a Chinese delivery guy who fled an attempted robbery. It read: “Moo Goo Guy Ran”.


I was tempted to title this post “Holy guacamole! Aiya!” because that’s how I felt upon seeing the image and accompanying text for this article in the NYTimes. It seems that plans for a sex-themed park got under way in Chongqing, but then got nixed by local authorities. Some snippets from the article:

Photographs on the Internet showed workers on Saturday pulling down a pair of white plastic legs and hips that appear to be the bottom half of a giant female mannequin towering over the park entrance. The mannequin is wearing a red G-string.

Like other fast-growing cities in China, [Chongqing] has a reputation among some people for loose moral standards.

Chinese approach sex with an attitude that seems alternately more prudish and more open than that of Westerners.

The government, for example, regularly censors movies and other works of art that are deemed to have overly graphic depictions of sex. (“The Plum in the Golden Vase” was banned by imperial decree.) Parents rarely talk to their children about sex.

On the other hand, prostitution, while officially illegal, is practiced openly, with full-service “massage parlors” and “hair salons” found everywhere. Officials and businessmen have a propensity to take and support a mistress as a sign of success in their careers.

That is actually the closing sentence of the article. So many statements made without much substantiation. I think one could write a friggin magnum opus about China’s attitude towards sex. This article could at least have maintained some focus in addressing China in re: sex. Instead, we get some “fun facts”, a very entertaining photo, and another example of the bizarre coverage that China gets in the West.


More for me.

13May09

Today I decided to go get a hearty lunch for cheap so I headed to Jimi’s on Jay Street to get over a pound of rice and Chinese/Spanish food for $5.50.

At the hot foods counter the guy serving me said, “Chinese?” I said yes. He then proceeded to heap extra beef stew and soft tofu onto my rice.

I’m so full and happy now.


There’s a lively discussion going on at the “Room for Debate” blog at the New York Times. I’d heard about Jackie Chan’s remarks, but the issues brought up in the comments to this blog post provided so many different perspectives that I thought I should post them here. From questioning whether Jackie Chan was mistranslated (not to mention misquoted or taken out of context) to how his statements might benefit his career, the commenters make one thing clear: We may not know exactly what Chan meant to say and what context he said it in, but people all over the world sure have diverse opinions about how China, and humans in general, should be governed (or not governed at all).

I’m not able to provide any wisdom as to whether Chan was saying “we Chinese need to be controlled” or “The Chinese need to be regulated,” but the fact that he apparently also mentioned Hong Kong and Taiwan has made for even more discussion. I’m not siding with any of the commenters, but I found the comments coming from people living in China to be interesting. There’s not much cohesiveness to the discussion as Chan seems to have incited every person with an opinion about mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Communism, and humanity to weigh in.

No clue if Chan’s career or image will suffer as a result of this. But I think instead of weighing in on such divisive matters he should stick to making sure his new movies that are better than the Forbidden Kingdom. Please.




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