Yellow Asians Vs Brown Asians

Yellow Asians Vs Brown Asians[1]

Imagine a hall with a ceiling as high as 20 feet, with an intricate network of over-head water pipes ( I have restricted my imagination to water only), as wide as a small tennis field with wooden tables and narrow wooden benches placed carefully all over. Now imagine on one end of the hall there are seven to eight people cooking food, traditional ‘home cooked’ Guangdong food. Imagine these people are Asians.

What comes to your mind?

Yes, yes, it is a cafeteria. What comes to mind when I say Asian?

It depends on where you are from. Half the earth’s continents- let me correct myself. All of the world’s continents with the exception of one, are home to those of us who conjure up images of rice bowls and cone hats when they hear the word ‘Asian’. If you note, I am careful not to say half the world’s population. If you know what I mean?[2]

Let us go back to the cafeteria. It is a school canteen actually. The school is actually a university. The university is one of the few ‘English medium’ universities in China. There is one big table, a blonde, blue eyed German couple in their early twenties sit at the center of the table across each other. Right next to the German girl sits another, a head full of luscious brown hair cropped short, big beautiful eyes, an endearing smile and fiery spirit of a Mexican war-lord, a round faced, tall teddy bear Indonesian boy is right next to her, thick rimmed glasses, animatedly relaying the day’s events so delightfully that one would think he is secretly chewing some yummy candy. An American- born Chinese boy, in a T-shit three times his size, built of an athlete nimble on his feet fiddles with his bottle of coke, sits across the table from me. Our Chinese classmate joins us with a bottle of Tsing- Tao[3] seeming a bit nervous and constantly glancing at the TV screen. There is no important game or news on the TV. He is watching out for his order number. A ticker flashes across the TV screen, lighting up when someone’s order is ready for collection. Soon, he gets up and brings a huge bowl of ‘knife noodle’ to the table. The rest of us are done eating and munch on sunflower seeds (popular snack in Beijing Da Xue[4] atleast). This is his second dinner.

We all know someone who eats like a pig and has nothing to show for it but skin and bones. We can also secretly admit that we die a little inside when we see them eat. We may also be jealous of their metabolism and sometimes it results in a benign racism of sorts.

“Ben (an adopted English name), how lucky you are. You can eat anything anytime and still not gain weight. I wish I had Asian genes”, remarked one of the girls.

I am look at my Indonesian friend then at the American-born Chinese and observe they both shift in their seats. Maybe they feel correcting a white-skinned woman would bring forth the wrath of feminism so they stay quite. The group dynamics are such that I am ordained the role of the ‘kill joy’. My face is aghast with a bit too visible shock.

“Umm, excuse me? I weigh seventy kilograms and I am five feet six inches, I cannot eat whatever I like, I have to watch out portion sizes or else my weight can reach dangerously high limits and guess what I am Asian.”

“Oh, no no no. I meant the Chinese type of Asian”

“Well Asia is a rather big place and that includes central Asia which includes her”- *points at a classmate from Uzbekistan who nods her head vigorously*

“Oh you know what I mean”

Half exasperated at the comment and the extrapolation of how the conversation will end if I get into the technical details ( already infamous for being a kill joy) I shrug my shoulders and proceed to speak my mind.

“Oh you mean the yellow Asians can eat whatever they want?”

Flabbergasted faces on all over the table.

“Umm, yes. I mean the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans”

“Oh, so you mean the South- East Asians”

“Yeah yeah. Not the brown ones. I mean I know people from India, Pakistan are very much like us in their metabolism”

I suddenly feel the warmth of an embrace with these words. Ah, I am not alien but very similar to the people from other continents.

And yet the difference could not have been starker elsewhere in the world.

Flashback to London. A different table, a different cafeteria, a different university, a different set of nationalities represented there. The same ethnic diversity. The same forthrightness characteristic of young people all over, the same propensity to overcome differences and make fun of one’s own biases and stereotypes.

“You applying for jobs, Komal?”

“Yeah, a couple”

“Want to settle here in London”

“No. Not really. If I find something I like I will, but mostly I want to go to China”

“What? China? Why?”

“Stay here and find work”

“It is hard to get a work permit these days”

“Oh yeah! You don’t have an EU or American Passport. Right!!!” *dejected tone*

“Yeah it is hard for Asians to get jobs in the UK these days?”

“Yeah? But I hear from the career center that these big 4’s are hiring Chinese and Koreans left right, center.”

“Oh yeah yeah. I am sorry I meant, you know Indians and Pakistanis, especially Pakistanis”

“Ahan. Yes. I have been getting a lot of interviews and somehow it does not translate into a job when they find out I need a work permit”

“Hmm. Yeah it is getting harder for the Asians I tell you.”

Facepalm. Which Asians? Who are you talking about? The yellow Asians, the white skinned ones with European origins, the ones that are a bit of both? The brown Asians. Which ones, dammit?


[1] The dialogues attributed to characters in this account are fictional but the content and characters are real

[2] India and China make up roughly 40% of the world population. Throw in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Srilanka and you have half the world’s population, who can differentiate between yellow and brown.

[3] A type of Chinese beer

[4] Mandarin for Beijing University


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