Friday, December 04, 2009

“a terrible Chinese”

Paisley Rekdal has a mother of Chinese heritage and a father of Scandinavian. As with many multiracial people, new meets frequently try (& fail) to name her ethnicity. Rekdal spent a year abroad, teaching English in Korea. At the end of her trip she traveled in China. Though as a child she heard her grandparents speaking Cantonese, she never spoke it herself. On her trip she finds herself speaking in a muddle of English/Cantonese/Mandarin/Korean:

“[T]he language … bubbles up out of me. Guttural or singing, a swift collection of monosyllables I recognize as the roots of the Korean I’ve been studying, this language comes to me faster and more instinctively than I would have dreamed. But my rising and falling is more Cantonese than Mandarin; I am speaking a terrible Chinese triggered in a brain part only now unearthed, taught or reconstructed by these faceless teachers. Like a resuscitated grudge this language oozes and seethes from my throat with impoliteness and anger. No one can really understand me – I can barely understand myself – but somehow the Chinese pretend to believe what I am saying is Chinese. ‘Where are you from?’ they ask, and a few even look surprised to hear it’s America.”

source: The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: observations on not fitting in by Paisley Rekdal

4 comments:

David Lee said...

I've got this book!

Somewhere in storage.

Sigh.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Sadly, the title is just about all tease. Mom was working in a Chinese restaurant where Bruce Lee was briefly employed. Everybody thought he was kinda weird. /end anecdote.

That's, like, a 3-page bit at the front of the book.

In writing about her own experience Paisley doesn't spare herself. Which means she comes off as unpleasant more often than fun to be around.

It was clear to me early on that she was a poet - I recognized the strategies even though she was writing prose.

David Lee said...

I kind of figured that there wouldn't be much Bruce Lee in the book. I ended up with it during one of the regular purges of the last chance discount section of Half Price Books.

Today's word verification - goymeter

There's a joke there somewhere.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I have it for about the same reason. It spun on the nonfiction browsing paperbacks rack for a couple years. When I deleted it I decided to put it in my locker and maybe read it someday. Which I did. It wasn't bad.