First Tutor Meeting – 03/04/2015
I met with the young woman who will be my Chinese tutor this semester. She is a post-doctoral student and seems nice thus far. This first meeting, however, was very awkward and unexpectedly personal.
In reference to both English and Chinese names, one of the first get-to-know you questions was, “Who named you? What does your name mean, and what does it mean to you?” My tutor asked the question, and immediately a surge of discomfort filled my body as I decided how much of my story I wanted to share. I decided that she would be someone I would get to know well, so I answered honestly. Unlike most of my American peers who had been given Chinese names mostly void of meaning besides that it sounds somewhat similar their English names, the Nanjing Social Welfare Institute had named me when I was two years old.
My tutor apologized and remarked that the origin of my Chinese name was sad. The personal questions kept coming as we talked about who we would invite to dinner out of anyone in the world. She asked if I had been to Nanjing before and what my first experience was like in the city and why I back for this semester. My adoption has profoundly impacted my life and decision to study here. It’s incredibly frustrating that I can pass for a Chinese person until I open my mouth. I wish there was one place in the world I wasn’t “the other.”
My usual conversation explaining myself:
Me: 我是美国人。/I am an American.
Chinese Person: 哦，你看起来中国人。我以为你是中国人。你的父母是中国人吗？ /Oh, you look like a Chinese person, so I thought you were Chinese. Are your parents Chinese?
Chinese Person: 哦?。。[quizzical look] 你的祖父母是中国人吗？/Oh? Are your grandparents Chinese?
Me: 我在南京出生，在美国长大得。我父母收养了我 。/I was born in Nanjing but grew up in America. My parents adopted me.
Chinese Person: 哦，[insert a whole slew of questions.]