Friday, November 30, 2007

Bananna Split

How wonderful it is to have a white child raised in a yellow land! It is, so the going says, infusing the child with both cultures in one go. End of utopia.

The west and the east are irreconcilable. Breeching the gap is multi-culture tasking. Assimilating China, when you are from Canada, is entirely possible; it means to be aware of antipodes, and choosing between two.

The easiest way would be for the surrounding to adapt to me.

We adults, having moved to China somewhere past the prime age to absorb foreign language like salt on a red stain, look up to expatriate children with awe, and melancholic jealousy for being such thoroughly native bilinguals (trilinguals, and more) and fluent in two cultures.
We call them banana, back in the U.S. The American born Chinese. White on the inside; yellow on the outside. I think it’s a cute and fun metaphor. My Chinese American born friend thinks it’s calling her names. Whatever the case, there is no name I know for the white folks yellow on the inside. Perhaps because we thought it can never be. After all, versed in at least two languages, and versed in BOTH cultures is what we think is happening to those foreign children who are raised in China. That they are full-on Chinese inside, unbeknownst to their family and friends of, is not a bell that rings to be heard.

It dawned on me last Saturday that my friend’s almost 10 years old daughter (9.5 years in China) is what I decided to call her: a banana-split.

This banana-split is surrounded by Chinese (of course) and by a vast net-group of international expatriates. She speaks fluent English and Chinese. And writes in both tongues. She’s got the soiled manner of a kid from here (making noise with her mouth while she eats, picking her nose) and to be sure, her foreign mother will correct her manners inevitably adding the “like the Chinese”. (For all the Sino-lovers out there, to be sure Canadians also pick their nose. Yet in Beijing, digging for the boogies is not SUCH a big deal.)

The Banana-split also has no “space” awareness. She is, and rams in, and crowds in even if there’s a good 3 persons space available on the sofa. She’ll speak through your head and often will not look at you when spoken to. Judge as you want. Space issues are cultural. And volume in Beijing is loud. So is muttering “uh-huh” rather than looking at someone intently in the eyes when spoken to.

Why am I pointing out to my Banana-split’s faults being Chinese influenced? I’m assuming none of us ever thought her western upbringing would fail to immune her against the invasion of bad Chinese habits. Let me rephrase: one child two cultures equal immersion. You get the best out of both. And polish out the stains from either or.
Last Saturday, I realized my Banana-split was actually yellow on the inside, whipped cream on the peel.

Last Saturday, I realized my Banana-split was of the “community-I” versus the “self-I”. There is here, another article to be written. Though for now, take my word for it, this little girl is living proof that east don’t meet west. You can understand, respect, be familiar and able with two (or more) cultures. But when it comes down to application, there’s always a choice to be made.

(Mix blood babies are gorgeous. They also are choosy. The child will have green eyes and afro hair. The child will not have silky soft wavy reddish hair sprinkled through her black fro. And the child will not have one round nostril and the other shape like a crack in a piggy bank. Blood mixes yet chooses. Why is it so uncomfortable admitting two cultures work together yet do not merge? I suppose this is why ethnic cleansing happens. It saves people from having to make choices. Can culture learn from blood/genes? Is there a lesson to learn in this?)

Definitively on this, my exploration goes on.
Saturday was my birthday’s eve. We ate cheese; we drank wine. And Banana-split put on a good show of dressing herself up as a Mata-Hari in my zillions loud silk scarves.
26 November, 2007, Beijing.

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