Asian Girl Living in Europe
When we scroll through our Instagram feed, we get envious of our friends having the time of their lives, travelling the world. It inspires bouts of “OMG Singapore sucks, the weather sucks, Europe is so much better.”
The grass always seems greener on the other side. But as with social media, it’s a curated feed that only portrays the best part of our lives.
I lived in Manchester, UK for three years while I pursued my degree, and although it was considerably one of the best years of my life, there is a downside most people choose not to talk about.
You’re reminded you don’t belong
I’m half-Chinese and half-white, but during my time abroad, I never felt more acutely Asian.
In a society where people are categorised as either ‘Caucasian’ or ‘Other’, my typical Chinese button nose placed me into the minority group. But it’s not enough to be labelled different, my difference ‘needed’ to be pointed out.
Drunk lads would shout “Konnichiwa” at me on a night out, or I’d have a pleasant afternoon ruined because someone chose to ‘be friendly’ by repeatedly screaming “Ni Hao” down the aisles of Tescos.
Besides being reminded of how ‘yellow’ I look, I was teased for boiling tap water, using soya sauce instead of salt, and saving my plastic bags to use as trash bags later.
It didn’t matter if I was only half Asian. To them, I was different and that itself was something I was made to be ashamed of.
The unintentionally racist remarks
I love how Europeans are chattier than their Singaporean counterparts, but sometimes, their questions can get a tad invasive and personal.
I’m often asked “Where are you really from?” and “Why is your English so good?”. One time, my roommate even exclaimed, “How could you possibly know about The Breakfast Club?”
While it’s great to be curious about other cultures, many Europeans don’t realise these questions stem from stereotypes steeped in racist origins. The assumption that we’re not as well-educated or as cultured is offensive and outdated.
Despite wanting to scream that Asians can speak English, I’d politely smile and accept their backhanded ‘compliment’.
Socialising can also be difficult due to the lack of common topics. While I understand why they’d lean toward European-centric conversations like EU politics, there isn’t much of a practice or an effort to be more inclusive.
It’s the same feeling I’d imagine most minorities in Singapore get when they’re with their Chinese friends and the group suddenly starts speaking in Mandarin.
And if you’re one of those unlucky Asians who gets flushed after a pint of beer, you’d probably be endlessly teased for having a poor alcohol tolerance.
Do they like me, or do they just have ‘yellow fever’?
As an Asian woman, I’ve been called “exotic” and “oriental” a lot.
Thanks to classic films like Madame Butterfly, there is a fetishisation of Asian women as submissive, fragile playthings White men can project their fantasies on. This phenomenon is more commonly known as ‘yellow fever’.
In the beginning, it might be flattering when more than the usual number of men take interest in you. But as time goes by, you’d begin to second-guess their intentions—do they like me or do they like Asians?
Certainly, not all English men are like that. But the extra effort I’ve got to put into figuring out if the person I’m dating is genuine about their feelings or just likes the idea of having a ‘yellow’ girlfriend is emotionally exhausting.
Growing up in Asia, I was fortunate enough because my ‘whiteness’ was privileged and it protected me from most forms of discrimination.
But racism is like an invisible blanket that suffocates only the minority, and we should aim to be more mindful of the way we treat our minority friends.
Even if you don’t see racism, it doesn’t make it less real.