Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Even after almost four years back in China now, I was still often branded "American" by my colleagues. When I showed physical impatience at four-hour-long weekly meetings, argueded with my boss about some of his not-so-wise decisions, or asked questions about details of some business that people at my level are supposed to know and not to inquire even if don't know, I would be told--"Only Americans would do that." (Good Chinese, I came to understand, are supposed to follow orders and when frustrated, shrug their shoulders and sigh, "Mei you ban fa, there's nothing we can do about it.")
It has begun to annoy me. I really enjoyed my job, much more so than back in the Silicon Valley. Learning about my colleagues' way of life is fun. Helping them grow professionally is fun. Even more fun is to feel being part of something that I don't have to try but just naturally understand. Yet despite all that, I was still recognized as the odd one out.
(I wanted to tell them that my impatience and tendency to argue were from my incredibly difficult and very very Chinese mother. Then unfortunately I found myself at a loss to come up with something clever in Chinese to deliver that.)
Anyway, there's this very cool young colleague of mine who always dresses in trendy Korean clothes. She belongs to the post-80s generation, which to my peers born in the 70s, often meant self-centered, pleasure seeking and reckless at their lives' responsibilities (what are they again?). Slightly disappointing to me, however, she has all the wild rings and bracelets and looks all rebellious, but at work she speaks low and walks quiet.
So one day we were talking about fashion. She said she was switching from Korean to Japanese (what's the difference?). I asked her to pick out the best dressers in the department (me! me! me!). She mentioned her boss, a guy in his early 30s who carries Louis Vitton bag and wears Prada. She said he is a... metrosexual. (Brand queen?)
How about this other good-looking trendy manager in the department?
He? He dresses like a homosexual, with his tight colored T over tight long T, she giggled. (Gasp! The guy is married with a new born baby!)
Oh well, I had to volunteer myself. "How about me? What's my style?" I asked.
"You?" She scanned me from top to bottom. "You try everything. Most often you just look... how should I say it...American."
That's so not true! I protested. I shopped mostly at Zara nowadays to save time and keep my style consistent. How could she mistake a distinct European style for American?
But she only shrugged. "It's American to me," she said.
Oh well, perhaps being American isn't so bad if it allows me to be Chinese and forgiven at the same time for being different--loud, argumentative, and fashionably sloppy.