Wednesday, February 01, 2012

It's about assimilation

The following is in response to LIFT's blog entry on racism "排外".

I created a blog entry in response because my original response exceed the 4,096 characters limit.



I agree with your analysis and observations about those "cannot make it" Chinese being stuck in a figurative Chinese ghetto (not geographically limited Chinatown) and exploited at work. My comments below are directed at Aura. Just to add my 2 cents of observation of recent Chinese immigrants from China to Metro Vancouver.

> Aura wrote: “加拿大最不排外”, meaning Canada is the least anti-immigrants

I am a Singaporean living in Metro Vancouver. As a country, Canada holds its value of non-discrimination seriously. In every government office [in Metro Vancouver], you can request for a translator so that you may receive service in your own language. However, it would be a different matter if you talking about individual interactions with Canadians.

Ethnic Chinese has a long history of immigration in Canada, see LIFT's analysis in his blog post. Majority of the of earlier migrants and their descendants sought to assimilate into the Canadian society while retaining some aspects of their cultural roots. In contrast, a significant proportion of the recent waves of economic migrants from China to various host countries are unable and/or unwilling to assimilate. Some even bring with them a "China is the next superpower" attitude and hold an ethnocentric superiority complex. Add to that some socially unaccepted habits -- e.g. spitting on the streets, talking loudly in enclosed public areas/transport, speaking in Mandarin in a mixed ethnic group, repeatedly and continuously praising how developed China/Communism is -- it certainly makes being yellow-skinned more of a liability in multi-ethnic social interactions.

Even the descendants of the earlier Chinese emigrants look down on such China PRC Chinese emigrants (see here). This is not a racial thing, given that it's (a) Chinese against Chinese, and (b) Chinese from other countries (e.g. South-East Asian countries) are not viewed similarly. As an immigrant, it is a sign of disrespect to one's host country if one does not make an effort to integrate into the society. For sure, one can survive in Vancouver mixing only within the ethnic Chinese communities. Nevertheless, this refusal to integrate would understandably cause an "anti China PRC Chinese immigrants" resentment from the Canadians (whatever their ethnicity) in the long run.

As LIFT has pointed out, the China PRC Chinese are not a monolithic group. Within the group there are those who are more adaptable, more culturally sensitive, more worldly exposed, etc. Those who are willing and able to speak English well (and/or take advantage of the free English as a 2nd Language lessons for immigrants) will find it easier to fit into the Canadian society.

Lastly, be humble. Someone like Norman Wu (click here and here) would not be welcomed by most citizens of any host country.


While on the topic of humility, I have another story to share. A China PRC Chinese colleague AH thought highly of her English abilities. After a couple of months of joining the company, AH went to the director and said, "I think my English is much better now and I am ready for more responsibilities and work hours."

I don't know what happened next, probably some workplace politics. Nevertheless one afternoon AH was stationed alone at the Customer Service Counter. I belong to the sales floor at another dept. At the start of my shift, a Caucasian customer suddenly charged into my dept, started speaking very rudely to me and demanded that I served him personally. Rudeness, I guarantee you, is not the norm in Metro Vancouver -- maybe only about 1% to 2% of all customers I've encountered. My Caucasian colleague R was there earlier and had observed the whole situation. He stepped in, spoke to the customer and led the customer away to the item(s) that he was searching for.

What is significant about this incident is what my colleague R remarked to me upon returning to our dept.

R said, "You know what the problem is? The problem is people like AH. People go to Customer Service expecting to be served, but AH cannot understand them. They have to keep repeating themselves to no effect. Then they get all frustrated. And they come in here and see you (yet another Chinese face) and dump their frustrations at you. But they don't get it that you and AH are DIFFERENT!" [He actually exclaimed the word "different" loudly for emphasis.]

Ok, my colleague R may not have been 100% politically correct. Nevertheless his point was that AH's Chinese-accented English sucked in regular day-to-day Canadian-accented conversations. My acrolectal Singaporean English was OK for the usual daily Canadian-accented conversations (from his perspective). Thus while both AH and I are ethnically the same, from R's perspective, we are effectively different!


As for taking (IMHO, perverse) pride in being a victim citing China's recent history, my conversation with my China PRC Chinese housemate H brings up another hilarious example. We were taking about the poor in Canada, Singapore and China. We both agreed that drug-users represents to a significant chunk of the homeless poor in Canada. Then H remarked that it is karma ["应果"].

I did a double-take and asked him in Mandarin, "How is that karma?"

H elaborated on how the Western nations corrupted the China Chinese with drugs during the time of the Opium Wars, and thus contributed to the downfall of China. It is now karma that the Western countries have such a high drug-user rate, and it will eventually lead to the downfall of the Western countries.

Now my housemate H is a naturalized Canadian citizen. He is reasonably well adjusted to Canadian life and works in an English speaking multi-cultural office. I was stunned that he would reduce such a complex issue to a simple ethnocentric causality. I mentioned that perhaps the socio-economic profiles of drug users in Singapore and China are different from that in Canada. E.g. Many "party" drugs are targeted at the [youthful adult] offsprings of the wealthy in Singapore and China. [That is, drugs were often done at private parties, hidden from the public eye.] Whereas in Canada, drugs are pushed to all levels of the socio-economic spectrum. [That is, the poor and homeless do it openly in some street alleys.]

While H acknowledged the differences in targeted drug-users from each country, he insisted that the overall higher rate of visible of drug-use in Canada was due to karma operating at a nationalistic level.


OK, enough about the faux pas by the recent China PRC Chinese immigrants. Maybe someday I would write about the other side of the story -- the additional issues & prejudices that China PRC Chinese immigrants face.


  1. Excellent post WD, I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you so much.

    1. Hi LIFT,

      I'm glad that you like this piece. I had thought about whether to write about the incidents for a long time, because I thought that it was just my observations alone. I thought, "perhaps I was prejudicial?"

      After having read your piece about Xiao Hong, I realized that perhaps others have similar observations too. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

      Cheers, WD.

  2. Hi Winking Doll,
    Your colleague's hard to understand english reminds of the foreign workers despatched across sg homes installing the new generation broadband fibre network.

    Don't speak english & don't understand. Drill the 1st hole drill wrongly on my bedroom wall. I closed an eye & didn't complain since the socket will cover it.

    Later their supervisor (sgrean) came to inspect their finished job. I didn't mention botched drill to him else the foreign worker get scolded which i also sympathise their peanut salary.

    Later during the day in my room i got bitten by bedbug which gives me a clue on the those workers living conditions- bug migrated to my flat from their clothes.

    1. Hi Xianlong,

      Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting.

      Yes, I agree with you. IMHO, the PAP-led Singapore government is party to this labour exploitation by refusing to implement minimum wage policy and having foreign labour policies that stack heavily against the foreign labourers with limited English abilities.

      When I was in Singapore, I had housemates who were Malaysians. One of them had an employer who scammed her of her rightful pay by withholding her pay and suddenly cancelling her Work Permit. I wrote a letter of complaint to the Ministry of Labour on her behalf. Even with MOL's intervention, the owner (of a "reputable" chain of spas in Singapore) behaved like a gangster when my housemate and her fiance went to collect her rightful pay.

      I have seen other kinds of labour exploitation as a nurse in a private hospital too. That's another long topic altogether.


    Anthony Perry's comments on discrimination and assimilation, I think he is spot on.