21 October 2008

Ambiguously Asian

It's been awhile since I've had to sit in the middle seat on an airplane. I forgot how much it sucks.
As I lean down to store my bag under the seat in front of me, I see a set of hot pink toenails protruding into my personal air space -- just a few inches from my nose.

I sit back into my seat and look over at the owner of the hot pink toenails. She in turn looks at me with a curiously hopeful expression. "Vietnam," she chirps.

At this point, some people would probably be asking, "Vietnam? What does this middle aged woman with the heavy eyeliner mean? Is this plane going to Vietnam? Have you ever been to Vietnam? Do you speak Vietnamese?"

Don't worry. I got this. I know what she means to say : "Are you Vietnamese?"

I shake my head and reply, "Korean."
She instantly becomes disinterested in me, and resumes crunching on her apple.

I get that sort of question a lot from other Asians. I'm not sure what it is about my features, but many Asians always seem surprised when I tell them I'm Korean. I know that my last name often throws people off because "Log" isn't a common Korean surname, but I also encounter complete strangers who start speaking to me in Japanese, Mandarin, or Vietnamese.

Sometimes it seems that my Korean ethnicity is even less apparent in the Motherland. I remember one instance when I was walking down a street in Apgu when a man rolled down the taxi window and asked me for directions in Japanese.

On another occassion, while shopping in Seoul, Cyndi once overhead a woman say to her son with her hand pointed in my direction, "That's Japanese style." It's sort of funny that she considered my outfit "Japanese style" since everything I had been wearing was purchased in Korea.

I suppose my thin eyebrows and penchant for wearing flats or slippers are a dead give-away of my foreignness.

As long as I don't get any fake Chinese thrown at me (Ching chong chong ching) I am not offended by these misidentifications. I find it curious, is all.

One more note about my air-neigbhor from Vietnam-- as evidenced by her one word question, she barely knew any English. Hence, I was unexpextedly designated as her personal emissary. When she jiggled her cup of ice in front of my face, I knew that meant I was supposed to ask the flight attendant for more water. When she pointed vigorously at the lamp over my head, it meant that she wanted me to turn on the overhead light for her. When the flight attendant asked her, "Pasta or sandwich" she immediately turned to me. Unfortunatley, I didn't know how to explain "pasta" through gestures, but she figured it out by looking over at the gentleman across the aisle from her. On top of all that, the lady even got me to take down her baggage from the overhead compartment.

That lady sure is resourceful. Or, maybe I'm just a chump... We "Vietnam" got to stick together.


veronica said...

they always speak to me in japanese. myungdong, department stores, anywhere. .

i dont think i look japanese? -_-;

Anonymous said...

lol poor annalog. i hope on your return flight, you'll have a seat to yourself. see ya next week!

Les said...

My daughter is 1/2 Korean and goes to high school in the U.S. Every Asian kid there is "Chinese", even though they probably don't have one ethnically Chinese person in her school.

Angel4e said...

Great post!

You seem like a very calm personality! I can tell by myself, i'd probably do the same with the woman..lol.

I was surprised when I read that you found it just like a curiosity.
I recently read that on a blog that Asians actually can get offended by asking for their nationality just because you can see they're Asian.
The blogger seemed kinda frustrated by it, I guess.

This happened to me also, since I'm so curious about Asia and Asians.
When I was in Budapest, there's this huge market where Asians sell.
They're mostly Chinese, but there are some other nations too I guess.
I bought a necklace at a brother and a sister, and while paying I asked them: -Han gull?
They looked at me weirdly, so I said:-Korean? And they said Vietnamese.

I passed the rest of the day hoping they didn't get offended :)

InMySeoul.com said...

This is why you need to bank up some air miles so you can get exit row or at least aisle or window seat!

That is funny Annalog...I like your comment about "Log" not being a common Korean name...lol

I guess Im like you in that I don't get offended when people try to guess what nationality I am. Although, apparently I am "very" Korean looking, so anyone who is someone capable of knowing the differences usually don't have a problem with me. What is annoying is when you get someone who says the fake Chinese...thats just stupid. Even if I were Chinese would someone expect me to respond to them when they make fake "chinese" sounds?? lol