Have an accent? Celebrate!

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!

A spiritual person is a happy person

“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….