Are you from China? Korea? No, Malaysia

Train station

“So, where are you from” and “Are you from China?”

THOSE are two questions I get asked fairly often in the land of the free and home of the brave – America. A typical conversation on this subject matter usually goes like this:

Stranger: So, where are you from? Are you from China?

Me: I’m from Malaysia.

Stranger: Oh, so you are Malay!

Me: Actually, no. I’m actually Chinese.

Stranger: So you are from China.

Me: Um, my forefathers were. Malaysia’s population is about 23 per cent Chinese actually and there is a sizeable Indian population too.

Stranger: You speak such good English. Where did you learn to speak like that?

Me: English is a compulsory subject in Malaysia and we learn it in school for 11 years. Plus, we are a former British colony so naturally, we speak English.

Stranger: That is so interesting! You also look Korean and Filipino. Do you have family there?

Me: I have to catch my train, bye!

It is a mix of Americans and foreigners who ask these questions too. I chalk it up to Americans just being curious and foreigners (especially of the Asian variety) auditioning for the fictional game show of ‘Guess That Race and Nationality’ in their head.

After all, people here are from all over the world and naturally, we want to learn about other people.

Case in point: I once met someone who spoke with a heavy African accent and I asked where he was from. He said Togo.

I had never met anyone from Togo and I turned the chance meeting into a grand inquisition.

Where is it in Africa? What are people from Togo called? How did you end up in America? And I learnt that Togo is in West Africa, people are called Togolese and he was a green card lottery recipient. Boom – a free general knowledge lesson, right there.

There are days where I feel like educating people where Malaysia is and share some random factoids with them.

Other days, I just fake an American accent and say, “San Francisco, so no”, and quickly walk away.

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