Below is something I wrote a couple of months ago for my son, to help him prepare for his Japanese speech. The teacher presented a list of interview questions to me, which I replied in writing. I was organizing my files and came across it. I made slight editing to the original.
Why do I want to come to the US?
I don’t think I had real clear purpose when I decided to come to the US. Part of it is that a lot of people wants it. Part of it is America is believed to be such a powerful and prosperous country.
My brother, your uncle, came to the US first. He wrote back that America was really great, and encouraged me to come. I don’t think I would ever get here without his push and help. My life would have been much different then.
However, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t necessarily encourage people to come and stay in the US, blindly believe that they would be happier. There are a lot of misconceptions about the US. In my opinion, some of those misconceptions were caused by America’s own cultural and media export, since it is in such a dominant position. At the same time, a lot of immigrants, legal or illegal, don’t always give an accurate account of life in the US to people back home, mostly out of a false pride, worrying of being viewed as a loser back home. If one combines the false pride with the inability or unwillingness to learn and adopt, that is a recipe for an American nightmare. That is true for living in any country, even living in different region within one’s own country. (I should add that this applies to anybody, including Americans living abroad. Benjamin Ross has a great entry on this. The comments there are also very interesting.)
Having said that, I think it is great for people to visit foreign countries when they can. It is a great way to learn about, not only the foreign culture, but, maybe paradoxically, you own culture and yourself. It will be even better if one could live in the foreign country for a while. I highly, highly recommend it.
However, don’t even try to deny or suppress your own heritage and identity, though, just to be able to “fit in”. That is another great recipe for a miserable life.
What did you do when you missed Chinese food?
I go to a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. I am a lousy cook, therefore I cannot cook to satisfy my own cravings. I do make some futile attempts at it, though. Gradually over the years, I first learned to tolerate, and now enjoy cuisine from different culture and countries.
What else did you miss?
I miss my family and friends, my hometown, my university and university city. The people I miss most are my parents and my nephew and niece, your cousins in China. Like one report about Yao Ming I read awhile ago, I miss the familiarity associated with the environment where I grew up. The place I miss most is my university town, Xiamen City in Fujian province.
Were there any other funny stories?
I have mentioned the Christmas party story with my funny dress. Another story I mentioned was the poker game. Playing cards is translated into Chinese as pu ke pai (扑克牌). The first 2 Chinese characters sound very much like Poker, and the last character means card(s). This Chinese translation may have gotten its inspiration from the game poker, but I didn’t know that. So one Thanksgiving at friend’s house, I proposed that we play some poker. What I meant was that we play some card games, not the game poker where people bet money on it, which was the way my friends took. My friends are nice people and not the kind that would gamble with a poker game. So it made an awkward moment, which is funny in retrospect.
As I mentioned before, it is great to be different, as long as you have good attitude and good intentions. Don’t isolate yourself because you are different. Engage with people, appreciate and learn from their unique perspectives, and we all benefit as a result.