This extract is reproduced with permission:
It has been an intriguing experience traveling in China thus far, especially given my background as a Chinese Singaporean. In particular, traveling in Xi’an, renowned for its rich history, has stood out for me. … I found myself in an interesting position to question my identity here.
To Chinese nationals, I am clearly not a local… This fact is made even more obvious when I speak, whether in English or in my barely-there Mandarin. Yet, I do appear ethnically Chinese, which confuses many locals here.
This realisation of the peculiarity of my identity as a Chinese Singaporean is made even more profound when, as I browsed through the Shaanxi History Museum, I found myself relating to the other foreigners in the museum – foreigners who did not appear ethnically Chinese: Like them (or at least I assume) I was reading the English descriptions and information, and like them (again I assume) I had little background of Chinese history. Yet, I knew that they likely saw me as a mainland Chinese and would express surprise if I started speaking in English. Furthermore, I felt a certain sense of pride – which I believe the other foreigners would not have felt as personally – as I learnt about the flourishing of the Tang Dynasty and how the Chinese were already so ahead of the times thousands of years ago.
As a result, I am neither here nor there, and my identity as a Chinese Singaporean, often something I take for granted as “normal” given the Chinese majority in Singapore, is something peculiar and unusual to everyone else here. It feels odd to be in this predicament, and I cannot help but question myself: Why do I feel a sense of pride upon learning about Chinese history? Yet how can I at the same time feel more distant from the Chinese tourists here than from the other foreign tourists? What does this say about me?
Thus, traveling is an eye-opening experience not only for me to see and understand others – it is also an experience for me to see myself in a different light, to inform me about who I am. Ultimately, traveling makes me constantly re-evaluate the things I think I know about myself and dig deeper into the hows and whys of my own identity; for often, what I notice about others says more about me than about them.
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Credit: Yale-NUS College