Saturday, October 17, 2009

"A Real Chinese Kid"

I've posted this video before, but since obsessive watching of it apparently makes one sound like a "real Chinese kid" when singing it, I thought I'd post it again!

My girls do watch it obsessively, and will perform "Ni Wa Wa" at the drop of a hat. So I wasn't surprised when Zoe started singing it in the car when we were giving our Chinese tutor a ride home.

One of the things the tutor was helping us with was picking out some Tang poems for Zoe to recite at the Chinese School speech contest. She nixed on Zoe had picked, and picked another because "everyone will know this one!"

And then when she heard Zoe singing "Ni Wa Wa," she exclaimed, "She must sing this for the speech contest -- she sounds just like a real Chinese kid!"

It reminded me of this video snippet, which I've also posted before:

Zoe, of course, was thrilled to sound like a "real Chinese kid." She loved every opportunity she had in China to distance herself from me so that she would be seen as a "real" Chinese girl. I never really had the heart to tell her that people in China knew immediately by the way she was dressed, how her hair was long and loose, and her behavior that she was overseas Chinese, even if they didn't figure her as adopted.

But hey, Miss Lucy says she sounds like a real Chinese kid -- she's happy. Never mind the multiple layers there . . . .


AmericanFamily said...

That song is catchy, but the lyrics (especially in the context of your post) make me cringe. 'She can't speak. she is a fake baby, she doesn't have a dear old dad, she doesn't have a mom"

I know they are taking about a mud doll, but knowing that is exactly how many chinese view overseas adoptees makes me wonder if native speakers would read as much into an adoptee singing it as I would.

That being said, I have been known to overthink these things. L's favorite song in the whole world is Mama Hao with the lyrics "without a mom you are like a piece of grass. Away from mom's heart, where will you find happiness?" It makes me think of her 1st mom to hear her singing that song in Chinese, but she loves it and I can't convince her to sing something else.

Chinese people seem to think it is precious when she sings it, so what do I know?

Mei-Ling said...

That song is so cute! (Not that I've ever really paid attention to the lyrics)

In the Lost Daughter of China, Karin remarks that a friend once said to the mom of an adopted child, "Even if you can speak a bit of the language, you will be seen as American. It does not matter if you know the customs, the language or the traditions. It's the way you walk, the way you dress, the way you do your hair."

Then explain to me - when I went to Taiwan, NOBODY second-guessed my "native" appearance. Just about everyone assumed (before I even opened my mouth) that I could speak the language.

And again today, I went with a school club to Pacific Hall in Markham. Again, just about every shop that I went in to, the clerk spoke to me in Chinese first. They did not assume I was overly "Canadian-ized."

Before I went overseas I thought they would *immediately* be able to tell I was a foreigner by the way I walked, dressed, and went window-shopping.

I was wrong.

So why are people saying "It's the way you walk" when that hasn't happened to me, nor other adult Korean adoptees that blog daily?

I don't get this.

AChineseDad said...

Mei-Ling, Taiwan is very different from other Asian countries. Many Taiwanese students who came to the U.S. or Canada for college or gradudate studies have returned to Taiwan. These overseas-educated Taiwanese have made Taiwan, especially Taipei, an international metropolican. My kids are U.S. born and raised. They spend 2 to 3 weeks each summer in Taiwan visiting their grandparents. They are often mistaken as local kids. I was in Taipei once and an old lady asked me directions in Taiwanese. I answered in my almost forgotten and broken Taiwanese. I am actually originally from SE Mainland. As soon as I stand on the street of Mainland China, local people could spot me out as an overseas Chinese. I do need more space. My gestures, the way I move around and approach people simply gives me away. Also, I think it's the same reason why in Pacific Hall people would think they speak Chinese. There are simply too many immigrant Chinese in Canada. I think many of the immigrant are Canadianized like you.

Malinda, my kids love to sing Ni Wa Wa when they were little. I think this song is very popular in Taiwan. Maybe grandparents taught them? But the lyrics do make me cringe in light of adoption and all. "She has no mom or dad. Let me be her mom and dad and love her forever." That's the exact Chinese words. It's kinda sad.

Anonymous said...

It drives me crazy how fast the lyrics are sung. I guess you must have to watch it obsessively to learn the lyrics at that rate!

Frank Wu makes a good point. And even I could tell that he was overseas Chinese because he pronounces Shanghai incorrectly!

The notion of "real Chinese" is interesting... I find myself thinking that way too, sometimes.

I was at the FCC "Culture Day" today and some families were telling me that they tried other Chinese schools in the DFW area and were told that it was not appropriate for their kids. We are fortunate that our Chinese school is so flexible. At least they get some chance there to be part of a community of Chinese-American kids.

Sue (aka anonymous)

malinda said...

Interesting comments -- the lyrics of the song didn't "ping" on my finely-tuned adoption radar! It is a little cringe-worthy, I agree.

The single-mom radar only reacted to the I'm-both-mama-and-baba thing.

The girls love the song, so I guess I'll suppress my new awareness for now.

Anonymous said...

The snip from the Adopted movie was interesting. But I think the same can be said for everyone whose family has left their original country. My family is 100% Irish as far as descent, but we don't really know what Irish culture is today, because we've been in the U.S. for generations. We could go to Ireland and "pass" as Irish, with our red hair and freckles, but Irish people would know that we were not Irish. I always like going to the big Irish festival we have in my city because I feel like I'm surrounded by "my people" - so many people with white, untanned skin and red hair and freckles. I know that I don't stand out as different in the same way that my Chinese and Indian daughters do, but still grew up feeling different. When you can't get a suntan and society says you need a tan, you feel different. In the same way that Zoe didn't want to wear shorts because her knees were dark, I didn't wear shorts for years because my legs were too white. Different stages on the spectrum of cultural diaspora.

Mei-Ling said...

"My gestures, the way I move around and approach people simply gives me away."

So immigrated Chinese have a different stance compared to Chinese-Chinese?

I don't understand this. There's only so many different ways you can hold a stance or "style" your own walk...

Mei-Ling said...

"I think many of the immigrant are Canadianized like you."

Hmmm, Pacific Mall - I would think - mostly contains entire families who grew up in a Chinese region and then immigrated. So they've kept up their native tongue.

In fact, the city that this mall is in actually has bilingual labels on many of its stores.

Not sure if that would indicate enough families have recently immigrated that such a city would require bilingual signs to define itself as Asian-Canadian, or if they are mostly families who grew up maintaining their traditional customs from China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan.

AmericanFamily said...

I know it seems crazy, but there really are visual clues to where someone is from based on their walk and how they old their body/shoulders/facial expressions etc. There are also huge clues in clothing choices, hair styles, jewelry, glasses/sunglasses.

When I first traveled in Asia, I thought Mr. A was full of crap when he would declare some random Asian guy to be Korean, HK chinese, Chinese etc, but when we would talk to people, 9 times out of 10 he was right. Now that I have had more practice, I can make a decent educated guess myself.

There is no denying that Mr. A (Taiwanese American) moves his body in a very different way than someone from China or Taiwan. There is a different way he claims the space around him, different gestures, a different way of walking, different choices on making eye contact etc. Even the way he was giving people money (one hand instead of two) was a big flashing outsider clue. After he spent a year in China, he came back moving in a more Chinese way than he had before, but I didn't notice it any more after about 6 months back in the States.

It isn't just people from Asia either. I used to have a Dutch friend who could spot another Dutch person from 50 yards away. Once when we were in Washington DC at a huge march, she found two other random Dutch people without ever hearing them speak. They were tall, had a on a cut of jeans that Dutch people favored, etc.

lava said...

I know the lyrics are cringe-worthy in re: adoption, but I think adopted kids need to do things like this.

It helps their brains wrap around these big ideas of abandonment, loss of family etc. When I was little and played dolls the first order of business was to get my baby kidnapped or hanged or drown in the swimming pool.

It was really gruesome. People Chinese or otherwise carry an instinctive prejudice against adoptees whether or not they admit it. Being the baby-birds pushed out of the nest, is indeed something to cope with.