Half Chinese, Half Chinese

Posted by Ge Cuason on 21. May 2009

As I set foot here in China eight months ago, half of me felt I belong and the other half didn't.

I belong because, obviously, I look very much like the locals. I have the same eyes, dark hair, short stature and fair skin. Some locals have guessed correctly that my roots are from the South of China.

My grandparents are originally from Xiamen. They moved to the Philippines during the Chinese Civil War, where both the second and third generation of my family were born and raised.

According to Wikipedia and the CIA Factbook respectively, ethnic Chinese Filipino (or Filipino Chinese) make up 1.5% of 96,061,680 (July 2008 est.) of the Philippine population.

What still leaves me curious is how the local Chinese managed to get it right that my ancestry is from the South. Is it the texture or color of the skin? The shape of the face?

Perhaps the chinkiness of my eyes?

Certainly they are able to tell by looking at my physical appearance. It'd be impossible to tell by my speaking skills, for I definitely bear neither Northern or Southern Chinese accent.

Asking a friend, who hails from Beijing, how she's able to tell if a fellow countryman is from the North or South, she jokingly answered that people who are from the North dress better than those in the South.

According to my teacher at BLCU, he differentiates by looking at the shape of the face. He said that Southerners' faces are more angular than those from the North.

Still not convinced, I searched our trusty Wikipedia for stereotypes. To paraphrase:

Northerners are said to be taller and bigger, have small, slit-like, and/or slanty eyes with single eyelids (i.e. an epicanthal fold), have longer and more rugged faces (possibly with considerably more facial hair than southerners) and tend to eat wheat-based food rather than rice-based food.

Southerners, according to the same source, tend to be shorter and smaller, possess rounder and smoother faces, have almond-shaped eyes with double eyelids, speak southern dialects like Wu, Hakka, Yue (Cantonese), Xiang or Min, eats rice-based food rather than wheat-based food and tend to resemble other Southeast Asians.

My Chinese is hai hao (not bad), but only because I've practiced speaking Mandarin before. But locals can still tell that I am a foreigner after I've painstakingly babbled a long-practiced sentence.

Also, when Chinese start to gurgle Mandarin (because they think I'm a local) I just give them a blank look and say "dui bu qi, wo ting bu dong."

But if I keep my mouth shut, Chinese would just think I am Chinese -- a local one.

That's also one of the reasons that makes me feel like I belong. People here don't look at me weird; they don't stare at me strangely and especially don't do the "chingchongchuzha" (just Chinese gibberish) phrases at me.

Because back home, I was the foreigner. I was the chinky-eyed, fair skinned thorn among almond-eyed kayumanggi (brown-skinned) roses.

It's like what my American friend told me: "I was an outcast back home, but here in China, I'm a star!" But in my case, I'm the plain Oriental girl here in China, and I was the star back home. (Ok, maybe I do need to put my ego in check.)

But there never fails a time when I navigate the streets and have some random Filipino guy whisper just loud enough for me to hear "Hi Miss." The difference in China is, provincial Chinese folks like to be heard by everyone in the event when they'd like to catch the attention of a laowai:


Once I was with my German friend shopping for clothes at the market in Wudaokou. My friend did most of the talking since her Mandarin is admittedly better than mine. I just kept quiet. But the salesladies always turn to me when they talk, expecting me to translate to my friend. And when my friend would bargain, they'd always say, "I am giving you this special discount, because you are with a Chinese friend!"

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Markus Bollingmo.

What do you think of Ge's insights? Agree? Disagree? Do Northerners really dress better than those in the South? Give her an earful below.


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