Just so the context is clear, I’m a tall white American.
Picture that? Good.
Now picture me strolling down a street or (as was the case of yesterday) walking down the concourse of a large Major League baseball stadium and seeing an Asian family, huddled around a small table, chowing down on some hot dogs and other concessions.
What do you think my first thoughts were?
I wanted to go say “hello” to them, introduce myself, and find the connections that we most assuredly would have.
After I felt that inclination, I studied my reactions the rest of the day when I saw a person of Asian descent. No doubt about it, I am extremely comfortable with Asians. And, really, that should be no surprise. I have lived most of the last twenty years in Asia – ten in Vietnam and nine in Malaysia. I am somewhat Asian, or at least how ever much a 40 something white guy from Pennsylvania who never had Asian food or friends until he was 25 could feel.
I am clearly an example of how you can’t judge a book by its cover, an apt thing to be for an author. I’m clearly not as open and chatty with white people. My wife reminded me of this during our recent trip to Germany. We were touring a castle and chatted briefly with some white guys from Ohio, but when a three-person Asian family was around, I talked to them, helped them with their kid’s stroller and just naturally felt at home being around them.
Actually, I’ve been around so many Asian families in so many contexts that I am sure I know how my conversation with the couple at the baseball game would have gone if I HAD approached them. Here’s what would have happened: (M for Me; AF for Asian Family)
M: Hello, I happened to hear you speak Korean. Actually, my son-in-law is Korean.
M: Yes, and I used to have some Koreans who lived in our house. They were exchange students.
AF: Please, come have a seat by us.
M: Don’t you wish they served Kim Bap instead of hot dogs?
M: How do you like Kang’s chances for succeeding in MLB?
If the family was Japanese, I would have said:
M: Japan? I visited Tokyo with my family a number of years ago. Also, we had a Japanese student who lived with us.
If the family was Chinese, I would have said:
M: I went to China for the first time in 1992. I spent the summer teaching English in Dalian.
If the family was Vietnamese, I would have said:
M: Xin loi, cac ban la nguoi Viet Nam, phai khong?
AF: (shocked and smiling) Ngoi di.
M: Truoc day, toi song o Viet Nam muoi nam
If the family was Thai, I would have said:
M: My daughter was born in Thailand, in Chiang Mai.
AF: (shocked and smiling) Really?
If the family was Cambodian, I would have said:
M: I love Cambodia. Angkor Wat was one of the most beautiful and amazing places I’ve ever visited.
AF: (shocked) You know about Angkor Wat?
Asian has definitely gotten under my skin.