Oh no. Here she goes again.
(I made a video on this)-->youtu.be/l6hbZSgbjMQ
For those who weren't already aware, I have been in Manchester, England for the last month now spending time with the Japanese side of my family.
There was something quite relieving stepping onto the plane from Seattle, knowing I was going to get off the plane somewhere where a lot of the things plaguing my mind couldn't fully follow me. The mass continual issues around gun legislation and tragedies have been making me feel rather hopeless, so when my mother asked if I wanted to hop a plane and head to Manchester, my answer? I left two days later.
After arriving to England on arguably the most beautiful day I've seen in England to date, I felt at peace. Like I said, a lot of the things that bother me right now in the U.S. can't physically follow me.
What I didn't expect however was running into awkward, and generally rude comments by people here in Manchester.
*** Something to note about this area, there is a large Chinese population here. Much larger than the Japanese population. ***
One day, as I went to the neighborhood pub with my grandfather, he wanted to get his favorite whiskey. He has lived in the area for more than 40 years, so he knew exactly what it was he was getting before we even left our own home.
As he asked the bartender- in English- whether they had certain whiskey types, we had a great conversation with another man who made all kinds of helpful suggestions. Yet again, this entire conversation between bartender, my grandfather, the stranger at the bar, and myself, was in English.
As we were standing at the bar, a man who had been to our left approached me and my grandfather and said in poorly spoken Chinese, "Ni Hao". For a second I almost thought I was imagining it. I had never had a stranger back home in Seattle say Ni Hao to me, because generally speaking that is considered rude. I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable and simply told the man we are Japanese, so we say "Konnichiwa". After that I walked away.
A side note: I actually happen to speak some Chinese because many of my friends are from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. However, the stranger of course didn't know that.
My grandfather and I did eventually get our drinks sorted, him with whatever whiskey they had, and me with far too much gin in my gin and tonic. As we outside to sit and converse, I saw the same man who had said, "ni hao" to us, playing with his children, dog and wife, laughing happily in the garden. I thought to myself, "surely, he can't be... racist right? He seems like a well-spirited, happy family man". I asked my friends here in England what they thought, but none of them are Southeast Asian, so it was hard to know if their experiences could truly be compared to mine.
So, I started asking the tough questions to the people it really matters to, British Southeast Asians located right here in Manchester. Mostly after a few drinks, outside a pub, or on the sidewalks of Manchester, I've stopped complete strangers and asked them this one question.
Has a stranger ever come up to you in England and said, "Ni Hao".
I first asked a young girl who was half- southeast Asian like myself. She told me that she hd never had that experience in all of her time living in England, but she did also say that she doesn't necessarily look as Asian as I do, so she didn't know if it was fair to really compare. Fair enough.
After that night, I almost let it go entirely.
It wasn't until I went into the local TK Maxx (not TJ, it's TK in England), and had a cashier ask me if my signature was in Chinese, (it's a simple, "SR") that I really began to wonder; how implicit is racial ignorance in England?
So, I let myself continue asking the hard questions, and what I found didn't surprise me all that much. Of 10 Southeast Asian Manchester folk, 9 of them have told me something similar has happened to them in England. The only person who has not experienced this, was my fellow half-Asian friend I mentioned earlier.
What does all of this mean? Are people in England racist or simply ignorant?
Don't look to me for any answers, I'm only here to tell you what I and other Southeast Asians experience in England.