"Are you from China?"
"Then, are you from Korea?"
"Hmm.... Taiwan or Hong Kong?"
"Too bad! I'm from Malaysia hah!"
Well, my ancestors did came from mainland China, but I'm originated from Malaysia.
It's a simple question indeed, and most of the time they ask harmlessly, mainly out of curiosity.
Whenever I told them I'm from Malaysia, their attitude and expression changed drastically. Luckily, most Japanese have good impression about Malaysia so most of the time I managed to shake off the situation pretty easily.
For the Japanese, stereotype still exists for foreigners, but not all the time on the negative sides. They may not hurl abusive racial taunts openly, but if you observe carefully, you can notice the difference in treatment and attitude towards different groups of people.
And among the foreigners, unfortunately Japan's closest neighbours, China & Korea (North & South) suffered from least-desirable reputation. From my observation, South East Asians enjoyed better reception compared to those East Asia nations.
So.... why would the Japanese ask me such question?
1 NameFirst, the clue lies within my name.
In Japan I either use my name in alphabet or in katakana, but I don't really use my Chinese name. Naturally, the name is pronounced and sounded like Chinese, due to my Chinese heritage obviously.
In order to fix that, I'd try to introduce myself a more westernized name, as Cliff (クリフ).
Not only it makes my name shorter, but it's also easier to remember than my full name, which can be confusing for the Japanese.
And by adopting a westernized name, I'm trying to avoid being stereotyped like typical foreigner.
2 AppearanceSecondly.... my appearance does resemble Chinese (why of course!) .
For those who're unfamiliar with this issue, actually Malaysian Chinese looks slightly different than those from mainland.
I used to have trouble to differentiate Japanese, Chinese & Korean, but nowadays I can more or less able to differentiate them.
Although East Asians share a lot of common facial features, there are still some distinctive traits that separate one from each others. But sometimes the observation can be futile when the subject applied layers of make-ups.
Interestingly, or ironically, back in Malaysia I was being told that I somewhat started to resemble Japanese a little. Heck, even a few vendors at KL's Central Market (Pasar Seni) greeted me "Konnichiwa!" instead of "Welcome" or "Selamat datang" when I visited there earlier this year.
3 Intonation & SlangThirdly.... the intonation and slang perhaps?
It's easy to tell whether you're foreigner by the moment you start to speak the Japanese language. Even for someone who'd spent close to a decade living in Japan, there're still faint traces of the mother tongue mixed in the language.
Generally speaking, Malaysian Chinese's intonation slightly resembles those from Taiwan and southern China, therefore we don't show the characteristic "Rrrr~~~~" sound by those who speak the more proper Chinese Mandarin, eg the Beijing style. In fact, some of us have problem to pronounce "R" properly!
As for Malaysians, we would unconsciously mixed a few words from other languages into our conversation. It's not uncommon for our conversations contain at least 3 or 4 different languages.
Like from my own example, nowadays when I speak to fellow Malaysian friends, we would mix English, Malay & Japanese together. For some we'd throw in some dialects to make it even more confusing, and yet miraculously can be deciphered by another Malaysian without much effort.
(refer Bahasa Rojak on Wikipedia)
Well these 3 facts are based on my observations so far....
Personally, I may have something to say about Chinese from mainland, but I'll try to keep it in a more neutral tone.
It's not just in Japan, in fact even in Malaysia and other countries, Chinese from the mainland don't really enjoy glittering reputation and reception, for certain reasons that I believe need to be written here.
Not sure whether is it because influenced by staying here for some time, I find it slightly insecure when surrounded by bunch of Chinese students here. Although they spoke a familiar and common language, however I find myself tensed up at times. Internally, there's this struggle of trying to distance myself from them.
One of the reason would be the tough competition among foreign students, as Chinese students made up more than 60% of the entire international students population in Japan. Competition for scholarships, job opportunities, etc....
However, all these are just psychological self-protection mechanism cast by myself. In other word, paranoid lol. In reality, it wasn't that bad at all!
So far the few Chinese students I knew personally are quite nice & friendly.
I guess it's really a matter that one might think unfavourably of others without trying to get to understand them.
But nevertheless, I'd still advise to be careful of them.
It's OK to be nice to others, but don't let others take advantage on your kindness.
End of the line, I for one, proud to be a Malaysian as ever & trying to broaden up the mind beyond the local ethnic Chinese's mindset.