The inconspicuous foreigner
"I've been a foreigner all my life," I told the audience at the Chinese Mandarin school in London in July. "The way to fit in is through music, for music is the universal language."
While cycling in the flatlands of the low lands, I feel as inconspicuous as the birds and the bees ---- until I open my mouth to speak. Today I went shopping at the the weekly farmer's market. All I know is how to say thank you. The rest is a matter of pointing and speaking English very slowly and loudly.
I once told a good friend that I like to be inconspicuous and camouflage myself as a local person when I visit another country. While it is hardly possible in places like Africa and the Middle East, it is common in multi-racial societies of certain European countries to see oriental faces. But the minute I try to communicate, I give myself away. I'm a "bloody foreigner" after all.
Even when I lived in Singapore, I felt like a foreigner, for I had no Chinese connection. As a single woman, I should have been living at home with my family. But home was a one-bedroom apartment. Nor did I speak English and Chinese the way local Singaporeans did. Luckily my Malaysian neighbours empathised with my situation and welcomed me to their circle of friends.
My brother says I'm the biggest foreigner in America. While I might speak English with an American accent, I don't show any of the mannerisms or gestures. Yet in England where I feel most at home, no one pays attention to what I say but tries to figure out which part of America I come from.
So now, I feel even more of a foreigner in a country of blue-eyed blondes who speak a language that is incomprehensible and inarticulatable. If home is where the heart is, I can but make my home here, for here is where I will make my music.
4 September 2003 Thursday