Identity. Crisis?

Recently, I stepped into a small restaurant in Nanjing, China that specialized in Anhui cuisine.  Anhui is a landlocked province in central-eastern China most well-known for Huangshan and possibly this person.  I told the waiter that I didn’t eat meat, so he asked if I liked chicken.  I told him no, so his follow-up question was “are you Hui?”

The Hui are a mostly Sunni Muslim minority who trace their ancestry to Arabia and Persia from hundreds of years ago.  With the exception of adhering to some facets of Islam, the Hui have mostly assimilated into Han – the largest ethnic group in China – society.  Their first language is Chinese.

Oh, and they have no problems with eating chicken.

Now, if there’s any one ethnic group I’ve been confused for while in China, it is the Uyghur minorityThese folks who are better known lately for  anti-social behavior.  Their first language is Uyghur.

Nanjing - Waiguoren Hotel Stub

But then this hotel has to go ruin my day, stripping me of my nuanced Chinese identity and decorating my luggage tag with the word 外国人 (wài​guó​rén), or foreigner.  Descriptive!  If I ever stay there again, I’ll let you know just to see if they’d give you my bags.

Let’s suppose that the hotel above didn’t often host non-Chinese guests.  Even if that was the case, when I’d go to pick up the bags, employees could have changed shifts.  If I lost the luggage tag, how would “generic foreigner” be described?  Someone could verify it on the computer system too, but it sounds like a humorous gig for sketch artists.

Dublin - Hostel American Passport

Should I ever want to travel again from New York to Nanjing, Jakarta or Dublin, a passport would come in handy.

Why single out Dublin?  The hostel I stayed in there found it necessary to leave a note on top of the passport cover repeating what the covers already states.  Would having a note there make it stand out?  If they scribbled something for mine, why wouldn’t they have done the same for other passports?  Moreover, what if a gust of wind blew it away, or onto another passport?  Shucks, if I was able to choose any citizenship, it would either be Singaporean or Malaysian.

Who are you when you travel?


This entry was posted in China & Hong Kong, East & Southeast Asia, Europe, Human Nature and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Identity. Crisis?

  1. RBSB says:

    Ha! Funnily enough, in India someone took me for a Muslim (was wearing a knee-length tunic). Why did you leave your passport at a hotel??

    • That’s rich! The person who called you that and the three Cambodians who thought I was Japanese must be chewing the same betel nut…

      That hostel made me leave the passport. Believe you me, I protested.

  2. expatlingo says:

    Yeah, would’ve been cooler if they’d have written “I think this guy’s a spy.”

  3. Pingback: Wild Times with a US Passport « buildingmybento

  4. While I was in Germany, Germans took me for a fellow German. I think I’m fairly British looking, with my pink round face, clearly not having had very many days of sun in my years on earth. No one has ever taken me for an American.

  5. Pingback: History Standard Time at Oakland International Airport | buildingmybento


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