Foreigner in a foreign land


It seems that for all cultures, there is a tendency to pick out the ‘aliens’ or the foreigners that enter, to call them ‘gaijin’, ‘guailo’, ‘angmos’, even ‘fobs’ and whatever words you choose to use in order to differentiate ‘them’ from ‘us’. For some, this has become part of their identity, something that they wear proudly. I can’t say I really know about the other side — perhaps you have existential crisis.

When you can't beat 'em, join 'em

Again in one of those unknown incidents, somehow my dad had navigated over to YouTube yesterday to watch a video featuring Corinna Chamberlain and Albert Au. What was interesting about this? Well, possibly the fact that Corinna speaks impeccable Cantonese.

She is currently a Hong Kong based singer and actress, according to her Wikipedia page, and this is not the first time she has cropped up before as that white girl who sings in perfect Cantonese, and speaks in fluent Chinese too. Given that was born and raised in Hong Kong though, this is not too difficult to see how she could have become so fluent and familiar with local culture, although it is still admirable as foreigners living in other countries still do not always embrace a culture so openly.

It is interesting in that sense that when watching her perform, her gestures still seem atypical of a ‘white person’, or is that simply because one is being hypersensitive because we feel threatened that a ‘white’ person is better at something that someone of Chinese background is not? If an Asian made the same motions would these seem ‘white’ or just normal? I will admit that I also try harder to find fault in her Cantonese, and while subtle faults are found — can I really say my own Cantonese is that much better?

Out of culture

Corinna and I are in opposite situations, where she was born and raised in Hong Kong and I born and raised in Australia. One article obnoxiously headlines “It’s rare to see Western singers attempt to sing in Chinese”, but it is arguable if Corinna really sees herself as a true Westerner, although it is clear she has acknowledged her background as she calls herself essentially a white girl.

For people like Corinna and I, sometimes it can be difficult to see where we stand culture-wise. There are stories of Chinese Australians who never feel completely Australian, even though they were born and raised there — it is simpler for me because I simply don’t want to be Australian. The flip side. Meaning I simply have mediocre knowledge of both cultures.

It is harder for Corinna in some cases, seeing as there are now so many Asians living in Australia - but a white girl who speaks fluent Chinese in Hong Kong… now that’s something new. There’s nothing wrong with that though, this fact has helped rocketed her into further fame that encompasses more than her ability.

The slightly hidden messages from hosts that introduce her and the description of her as a custard bun (in other words, an egg) she flicks off lightly. “Do you even know how to speak English?” one asks on stage, to which she replies that she actually mostly thinks in Cantonese now. (It’s curious to note what sounds to me like an American accent whens she speaks English though.)

This matter of culture is never a simple one that can simply be solved, and cross-culture anything simply muddies the grounds in all sorts of ways. Maybe one day my white guy can speak Chinese as fluently, which will be an exciting thing for sure. And maybe one day I can also return the motherland and get a chance to learn about the life and people that I really feel a connection to.