The Curiosity Of Asking Someone’s Ethnicity

Culture

Curiosity is often one of the main reasons someone asks about a person’s ethnicity. Where are you from? is a common question that many people are asked throughout their life. When I was younger, I would respond with ‘I’m from Auckland.’ As I got older, I began to respond with ‘I was born and raised in New Zealand, but my parents are from Taiwan.’ which would save time with questions such as ‘Where are your parents from?’ ‘Are you an immigrant?’ and ‘Were you born in New Zealand?’. Often it can become a bit of a guessing game where someone may try to guess what your ethnicity is.

Depending on the person’s intention, asking about someone’s ethnicity can bring about certain stereotypes. There are times it can create a sense of judgment when it’s the first question someone asks. There are other times when people have good intentions and are asking out of genuine curiosity. It’s a difficult question to answer because it’s also asking someone where is home? Taiwan is home to me but New Zealand is my natural response since I grew up here. It’s great to be interested in someone’s culture but I’d advise not to ask it as the first question when you meet someone for the first time.

The question also asks where do you belong? What’s your history? What’s your culture? Why do you look the way you do? and an endless array of questions that can really go deeper into one’s background. Stereotypes, assumptions, and generalizations are sadly often drawn from ethnicity. Growing up, I’m grateful to have been brought up in a home where Taiwanese and Chinese culture were a significant part of my life. Speaking Mandarin at home, eating Chinese food, reading Chinese books, and watching television in Mandarin.  

I was reading Mabel’s post on Reasons Why The Question “Where Are You From?” Is Offensive. And Not Offensive here and she writes “No matter how polite the conversation, when we get asked, “Where are you from?”, often there comes a case of mistaken identity, a case of “othering” in the sense of “Us” and “Them”. It can often lead to a lot of questions for example in my experience ‘Why did your parents move here?’ and ‘Your English is very good’ or ‘Do they speak Taiwanese in Taiwan?’ and other interesting questions.

In The Guardian it states “People move an average of 12 times during their life. The notion of a ‘hometown’ or culture can be complex.” It can be a personal question that we may be more comfortable in sharing with those we feel close with or once we’ve opened up and had deeper conversations. Nowadays I’m upfront about expressing my cultural identity, which has taken time as I felt a lot of shame during my teenage years. As you get older you realise those differences you perceived growing up that made you feel left out are an important special part of your identity.

The article says “We seem to want to put people in boxes, to size them up quickly.” When we are asked the question predominantly because of the way we appear, it can make one wonder about the intentions behind the question. It takes the focus away from who we are as a person and our personality. It causes those aspects to be tied to our ethnicity. Perhaps, if you ever want to know someone’s ethnicity, ask once you have talked to them more, shared about your own background, and be sensitive, curious, and interested.

We’re all visual creatures, and when we see someone we may become intrigued by their features, appearances, and the way they speak. Those are all the external aspects we can see and hear. When you’re living in a multicultural society it’s common that these curiosities will happen frequently. It’s natural that we want to know, but it’s important to think before you ask, why you want to know. Sometimes we might be interested to know what other languages they might speak or understand more about their culture. Our stories are ultimately what connects us with one another.

I recommend reading these articles:

What’s Wrong with Asking “Where Are You From?”

How To Politely Ask Someone About Their Ethnicity

‘Where are you really from?’ How to navigate this question of race and identity

Photography by Leslie Zhang

What I Love About Taiwan

Culture

Taiwan was once known as Formosa, which means beautiful island. If you ever have the chance to travel and explore the island, you will see its beauty in nature, culture, and people. It is really somewhere you need to come to see and experience for yourself. When I was younger, when I said my family is from Taiwan, there was often a response of you’re from Thailand? When I was in Taiwan as a child, some people weren’t sure where NZ was on the map or would think New Zealand is a place in Australia or part of Australia.

New Zealand is definitely far more well known now among tourists. I really really hope Taiwan can be more and more well known among tourist destinations in Asia. There is definitely a significant lack of knowledge about the country, compared to say Korea or Japan. It is a hidden treasure for many, as I really feel that it’s not quite so well known globally as it could be. This has been the longest period of time I’ve stayed in Taiwan, and I would definitely love to live here someday.

1.Friendly people. Taiwanese are some of the most friendliest, helpful and polite people in the world.

2. Convenience. It is one of the most convenient places to live, especially if you are living in one of the cities.

3. Transport. Similarly, the transport is incredibly convenient and efficient. For example, in Taipei, you can use the MRT, Bus, Bike, Taxi or Drive.

4. Recycling. The sorting of rubbish here is taken seriously, as the rubbish is sorted into food, plastic, paper, etc.

5. Food. You haven’t had the full experience in Taiwan if you haven’t tasted the food.

6. Busy but also not. Taiwan is pretty slow paced in many places, and even in the larger cities such as Taipei and Kaohsiung, it is more slow-paced compared to cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

7. Biking. It is a wonderful place to bike, and you can actually travel the whole island by bike!

8. Efficiency. Food is usually delivered quickly to your table and even when I got my wisdom teeth removed, I made a last minute booking on the day and got it pulled out.

9. Safety. I never feel unsafe in Taipei if I ever happen to walk on the streets after 11pm.

10. Nightlife. From night markets, cafes, bars, parties, arcade, movies, events, exhibitions and so on, there’s always something happening.

11. Mountains. It doesn’t take too long to travel to beautiful mountains and go hiking. The nature in Taiwan is breathtaking.

12. Fruits and Vegetables. It is one of the best places to be vegetarian or vegan. There is a plethora of options.

13. Cafes. Most cafes have their own personality and vibe. There is usually a certain feeling or theme.

14. Cute things. There is definitely a lot of Japanese influence. But, if you love cute things, Taiwan has a lot of cute things!

15. Cinemas. If you love watching movies, there are different kinds of cinemas in Taiwan. You can also go to ones where you can watch several films in one day.

16. Tea Culture. If you love tea, there is no shortage of tea in Taiwan.

17. Bookstores. I feel like you can spend hours sitting in a bookstore in Taiwan, just reading.

18. Random things. I was biking to the grocery store today and biked past a park where an owner was walking her cat on a leash.

19. Insects. I love creepy crawlies, and when I go hiking up the mountains, if I look around there are caterpillars, butterflies, dragonflies, and other beautiful insects.

20. Chinese Culture and Taiwanese Culture. The Aboriginal Taiwanese culture and Chinese culture.

21. Hotsprings. Winter is my favourite season, and it’s the perfect time to go to the hot springs.

22. Walking. As someone who walks most of the time in Auckland, for me, anywhere that’s walking distance within 30 minutes is very close.

23. Creativity and arts. There are so many activities in Taiwan to do from crafts and workshops.

24. Natural beauty. It’s truly one of the most beautiful places. I think it’s always good to go out of a city to really see a countries natural beauty.

25. Internet. There are many areas with Free wifi and the internet is fast.

26. Umbrella. This is something I really like because I like to use an umbrella in NZ when it’s sunny which still gets a few stares, but in Taiwan, it is a norm.

27. 7/11.You can do so much at 7/11 from buying food, paying your bills, ATM machine or sending parcels. Plus It’s opened 24/7.

There is definitely more than 100 things I love about Taiwan, but there are also areas I hope that will improve. Every country has its pros and cons. Some areas I hope will improve include the economy, politics, architecture, traffic, driving, pollution, education system, tourism, the number of scooters, low paid jobs and the number of stray dogs.