By Albert Leung, Staff Writer

Growing up in Minnesota has made me accustomed to the frigid weather and American ways. I feel normal here; in place. Throughout my childhood and teenage years my parents regularly brought my sister and I back to Hong Kong to retrace our ancestral roots and visit family. Despite the numerous visits, I've never felt like I fit into the population mix. I felt as if I stood out from the masses like a lost wayfayer rather than blending harmoniously with the locals. Amongst all those Chinese faces, there stands Albert Leung, who is not so Chinese.

By Albert Leung, Staff Writer

Growing up in Minnesota has made me accustomed to the frigid weather and American ways. I feel normal here; in place. Throughout my childhood and teenage years my parents regularly brought my sister and I back to Hong Kong to retrace our ancestral roots and visit family. Despite the numerous visits, I've never felt like I fit into the population mix. I felt as if I stood out from the masses like a lost wayfayer rather than blending harmoniously with the locals. Amongst all those Chinese faces, there stands Albert Leung, who is not so Chinese.

As an adolescent and teen, it was inexplicably important to me that I could seemingly blend into the country where I was born. I didn't want the locals to easily pinpoint me as an out-of-touch American kid who knows nothing about Chinese culture and language. I remember instances of my aunt, who lives in Hong Kong, telling her friends and strangers that my sister and I were only visiting from the United States I know she meant well, but it always supremely embarrassed me. Although, I never put in much effort to disprove anyone who might actually think I am an out-of-touch foreigner. I never dedicated myself to being fluent in Chinese or look like I was “Fresh Off the Boat” (FOB) in the United States.

In comparing fashion choices, to Hong Kong kids I probably looked like an FOB from America, if there is such a thing. My hairstyles were never remotely similar the immaculate coiffures donned on the domes of my fellow Hong Kong brethren; during summer visits I like khaki shorts instead of skinny leg jeans; I prefer wearing t-shirts on 50 degree days rather than bundling up, and so on. Though most of all, I preferred speaking English rather than Cantonese. I think you can put me in any city throughout America and I'd feel more in place amongst my English speaking commoners. Perhaps all these observations are just indications of an insecure young man or typical concerns everyone tackles when growing up and finding a place in the world. Whatever the reasons, now, at 24 years old I have stopped worrying over such things. Yes, I am more American than Chinese and if I look peculiar to the Hong Kong masses then so be it. I just hope the women notice and find me pleasing.

The universe works in odd ways, though.

This past December I spent two weeks in Hong Kong with just my sister. The trip allowed me to reevaluate my former anxieties. It was an adjustment not having our mother with us. Typically during visits my aunt would accompany us also but due to a cold she was stuck at home for most of our visit. For the first time there, we were reliant on each other to get around, sightsee and fend for ourselves. We were truly on our own. It was carte blanche over our vacation plans.

With such freedom, our days varied from missions to find obscure art galleries to aimlessly wandering outlying cities we had never visited. We chose not to restrict ourselves to the regular tourist spots. Instead of delegating others to speak on my behalf, I utilized what Cantonese speaking skills I have. Using the Internet, we sought for the refuges where locals dwell. We also wanted food. Lots of it.

Each passing gluttonous day managed to alter my former view of how I might be perceived by the local people. I came to realize that maybe I don't seem like a foolish American visitor as I once thought. It was a strange sensation this visit. I felt like I had more interaction with random locals and visitors than I ever had. Almost every day I was there I had someone approach me to ask for directions, to help their charity or try to engage me in conversation in Chinese.

One day, for example, I was stopped by a woman who was toting her husband and two kids. She asked which direction she should walk to reach Lady's Market. Unfortunately I had wandered aimlessly for a couple hours and wasn't entirely sure of my own bearings anymore. I politely said that I was uncertain where she should go. She then responded surprisingly with, “Huuuuhh? YOU don't know?”

These chance interactions may only mean that I look like a knowledgeable tour guide, an approachable young man, a skillful conversationalist and a sucker for volunteering and donating to charities. I understand that these are only insignificant encounters but they still made me feel more accepted and less of an outsider. It was reassuring.

This last visit has made me reconsider and decide that my past worries were foolish. It forced me to break out socially and become more comfortable thriving within unaccustomed surroundings. Perhaps I never had a problem melding with my native countrymen and those uneasy feelings were indeed just foolishness. My mind was only tricking me during vulnerable situations or because of culture shock. All it took was a little push to engage myself with the people and the city to find that perhaps I am not so odd after all.

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CHINAINSIGHT (CI) is published monthly ((except July/August and November/December are combined) by China Insight, Inc., an independent, privately owned company started in 2001 and headquartered in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

CHINAINSIGHT is the only English-language American newspaper to focus exclusively on connections between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

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