By the end of the weekend I’d reached the stage where I was interspersing Chinese with English and switching between the two like some bilingual whizz kid, which, sadly, I am not. As we entered the lift, I noted the little girl with pigtails dancing in the corner and gave her a big smile. She reminded me of a little ‘me’, from years gone by. I turned back to my friend and continued to chat away animatedly in my newly-comfortable Chinese tongue. Halfway through our conversation, I felt a little tap on my back. I turned around and the little girl was beaming a wide, toothy grin back up at me.
“姐姐，我想問你一個問題” (Lady/Big Sister, I would like to ask you a question)
“好，你可以問“ (Sure, you can ask away)
“因為我跟我的爸爸一起聽你說中文, 我想問。。。你是外國人或是中國人？看起來，你是外國人，可是你說的時候，跟我一樣.”(Because my and my Dad heard you speaking Chinese, I want to ask…are you a foreigner or are you Chinese? It looks like you are a foreigner, but when you speak, you are the same as me.)
“那，你覺得呢？” (Well, what do you think?)
“我覺得你是中國人！！“ (I think you’re chinese!!)
With that, the lift had reached the ground floor and she slipped out of the doors with her chuckling father and ran into the sunshine.
I laughed. As someone who is no stranger to the continual “老外，老外“ (foreigner, foreigner) chant that ‘outsiders’ to this land face on a near daily basis, you eventually just learn to laugh it off and sooner or later it blends in with everything else, and becomes a natural part of your day.
This time however, my role in China was being challenged. What was I? An outsider or an insider? My tongue from Taiwan was deceiving these little ears and I could only take this as a compliment. It’s not often that a foreigner will be given such an exclusive role in such an inclusive society, and evidently this proved that my Chinese must have improved.
And after all the talk lately, of possibly having some smidgen of Chinese somewhere far back in the family tree- probably on the highest branch that fell to the tumbleweeds generations ago- perhaps her comment wasn’t so crazy after all.