Nas Daily recently made a video on “Why I don’t have an accent.” So many viewers commented that he does have an accent, which surprised him and he gave a somewhat defensive response. It was interesting for me to see this. I used to hate it when people say “Your English is so good”, “You have very little accent” or “I can barely hear any accent”. Although they meant it as a compliment, I would take it as a daunting verdict that I still have a Chinese accent. I realized later on that this discontent with the faint accent I have comes from the sense of inferiority as a non-native speaker and minority living in the U.S. On top of that, I felt pressured to speak perfect English so I could push back as much as possible the stereotype of Chinese people not being able to speak good English.
On a deeper level, there is the issue of internalized racism — I was at war with my Chinese identity for years (resolved now, yayyyy!). It wasn’t until I finally left the US to see the world did I realize just how important it is to embrace whatever accent I have in any languages I speak as long as the accent does not hinder authentic communication. I can still choose to perfect my English, but it will never again come from the place of fear and self-rejection.
Also, everyone has an accent! I have an accent when I speak Chinese too, I don’t pronounce the “ng” nasal sound in “standard” Mandarin. What is considered as standard or accented depends on the power dynamic among the cultures that the speakers come from.
Lastly, in a few decades, or even sooner, the world will get used to Chinese accent, Indian accent, and many others as the power dynamic of cultural, technological and political influences is bound to change. So now when people say that my English is good or that I have very little Chinese accent, I celebrate the fact that I have my unique flavor!
“I often remember the words from a meditation teacher in Ubud. He looked at a whole room of serious-looking people in meditation poses with mudras, and asked: “What is a spiritual person?” People turned to each other, looking more serious….He laughed: “A spiritual person is a happy person! Don’t be so serious ”
I thought of his words again just now as I enjoyed a bowl of beautifully cooked Massaman curry. The colorful yam, tofu and broccoli stacked on top of each other like a half rainbow, resting peacefully above the sea of sweet coconut milk. I gently walked through the rainbow bridge with my gaze, wondering how come I never realized “somewhere over the rainbow” is so close!
The young lady who prepared the food for me emanates pure joy that quietly lights up the whole space. At four o’clock every day, she would put her hat on and walk into the yard with a broomstick. Yesterday she was sweeping the yard as a bunch of people arrived for a shamanic cacao ceremony. Few people seemed to have noticed her. I stopped and greeted her, asking how she was doing. She was surprised, but quickly replied with a wai (Thai gesture for showing respect, palms together) and a heartwarming smile. Ah…
The more I explore, the more spiritual people I encounter on the path. Interestingly, it’s often the people that I came into brief and soft contact with that remind me the most of pure joy — the waitress humming a chirpy song while wiping the tables in a secluded restaurant in Big Sur, the maid at a homestay in Chiang Rai whose joy is contagious, and this young lady cooking at a cafe nested in the jungles of Koh Pha Ngan. Beautiful human beings blessing the world like a gentle breeze….
Today I went to a super cute vegetarian restaurant in Guangzhou called “xintian” (“field of hearts”). Unfortunately, the staff member was having a really bad day. It’s always sad to witness how much people hate their work or their life (even for a day). Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the interior design (this pic) and the food, and I hope he feels better tomorrow.
I’ve met a couple of Chinese friends since coming back to China. Some of them I haven’t met for 6 years and some are new. The entrepreneurial spirit is really high right now, not surprising, China is changing at a whopping speed, crazy spend. For real you gotta come take a look before Chinese people can’t even recognize the place themselves, plus it’s getting pricier and pricier every year, a meal can easily cost $10+ now.
Aside from my admiration for the convenience of the daily cashless transactions (all with mobile apps; my friend counted with one hand the times he used cash in the past month), and for the solid infrastructure everywhere, two things really stood out to me:
1. People are so distracted from the present. There hasn’t been a single meal where everyone is present. At least 2-3 friends would spend a few minutes or more on a phone right at the table right in front of you EVERY SINGLE TIME, without saying anything. Not even an iota of guilt is traceable on their faces, so blatantly they would disappear into the digital world. No one finds it weird except me. There were moments when everyone was messaging/reading on their phones during a meal get-together, leaving me wondering if I should start a new conversation or start checking my phone as well.
2. No matter how entrepreneurial they are, buying a house/apt is still the No.1 thing. I often feel that technological advancement hasn’t changed people’s mindset at all. The rat race is just running in a better-built cage.
These are the observations in the past 5 days. Tomorrow I am heading to a dance conscious community in the mountains! Ready for new insights 🙂
It was a random afternoon in my 7th grade, I happened to be in the same room when someone played a pirated disc of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I don’t remember where it was or with whom I watched it, but I remember this pirated movie had the most ridiculous subtitle that nothing in the story made sense to me. I walked out of the room wondering why on earth so many people were obsessed with Harry Potter!
A few days later, I walked into a bookstore and saw some Harry Potter books on the bestseller shelf. Remembering how bizarre the movie was, I decided to read a few pages just to understand what was really going on. There I was, two hours later, sitting on the floor and up to my neck in this book. Thus began my Harry Potter journey.
In the next a few days I finished the first five books and started what seemed to be an eternity of waiting for the 6th. On top of that, I had to wait for an additional 6-12 months for the book to be translated into Chinese! Oh how could I ever allow that to happen?! So after the English version came out, I spent my entire summer break plowing through the 600-page book at the speed of half an hour per page. So many times I flipped through the brick-sized Oxford English-Chinese dictionary only to find that Oxford also doesn’t know what words like Dungbomb and Wizengamot mean.
This may sound a bit crazy but, had I never come across Harry Potter, I wouldn’t have put as much effort into learning English, I wouldn’t have made the determination to live more internationally (because people didn’t cue up at 6 am at the local bookstore for HP 7, which to the 16-year-old me, was a powerful indicator of how “backward” this place was and that almost made me cry out of anger). Then I probably wouldn’t have left China for college, wouldn’t have spent five amazing years in the US, let alone living my current nomadic life. I also wouldn’t have written some of the poems, nor would I have done the amazing things I did and met the amazing friends I met. Maybe I would never meet you if I didn’t read Harry Potter.
Maya Angelou said:”Your legacy is every life you’ve touched.” I know my life was touched by HP and J.K.Rowling. It opened me up to a magic world that is still so palpable, it helped me understand that life itself is magical and love is the root. And that whether you believe you can or you cannot, you are both right.
I spent this past month in Cambodia, three weeks in Siem Reap and a few days in Battambang. My overall impression is: life is hard there. In these three posts, I will talk about the bad, the good, my thoughts, and some recommendations. Part One focuses on the history and my observations, Part Two the people and interesting experiences. Part Three is all about art!
In the first 20 years of my life in China, I had never spent more than two hours in a Buddhist temple. Yet, after five years in the US, one of the first things I wanted to do upon returning was to do an immerse myself in a monastery. The rise of Buddhism in the West has ignited my curiosity about this ancient practice. I wanted to take a closer look.
As I walked in the bustling train station amidst droves of people, a mixed feeling of both familiarity and unfamiliarity arose. Part of my senses became alive at the sound of the local dialects, and the other part just wanted to retreat into the serenity of the redwoods.
Despite the initial waves of counter-cultural shocks, I have been re-grounding myself in the Chinese soil. I reconnected with some high school friends, traveled to a few places, and even spent a week in a Buddhist monastery. My once neglected mother tongue got brushed up again. My tastebuds rejoiced in the heartwarming Chinese food. Even my upper respiratory system is staying strong in the smog (knock on wood).
Being away for five years means that both China and I have missed witnessing each other’s growth. Among all the changes I’ve noticed so far, three things stood out to me: