The Amy Tan Essay

Coming up on two weeks in Shantou, I think it’s due time to finally look at race and cultural issues. The students here are indeed fascinated by any American. They want to know and learn about “American culture.” Last night, I went to the “English Lounge” for the first time to promote auditions. The Lounge is supposed to be a super hip place to hang out and speak in English. They feature English DVDs, magazines, and English teachers seven days a week from 7:30 to 10:30PM. As soon as I sat down at a table, some students approached me wanting to talk. I wanted to sorta give a plug and then make my way around the room. However, they wouldn’t stop asking questions and making conversation. I tried to excuse myself several times but to no avail. They wasted little time in quizzing me about my race. “You look Chinese,” one said. Indeed, I am Chinese but not quite, here in Shantou. They’re not sure of what they see but they are sure to ask.

They’ve never seen a biracial person in their life. Sure, they’ve seen the tall white woman teaching English but me, I’m exotic, all of a sudden. Some expect me to speak Mandarin, which I don’t. Once I’ve convinced them that I am American and proceed to utter a phrase of Cantonese, they flip out. They no longer can pin me as “American” or “Chinese” and that is even more intruguing for these students. The races and cultures are blending together for them. There are a number of tall white English teachers that speak perfectly okay Mandarin. There are a number of short Chinese teachers that speak perfectly okay English. I represent something entirely different and new. They’re opening up their minds, and I get to open up mine.

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