I’m Jaderani. I recently took a trip to Vietnam with my two sisters, Jamuna and Sarada. We planned to visit the ancient town of Hoi An and the more bustling city Hanoi. As a half/half Filipino-American, who grew up mostly in California and Hawaii, I have never felt very “Asian”, nor would I even know how to accurately describe Asian. I moved back to Manila three years ago. Am I Asian now? Maybe more so. Maybe I have adopted more of an accent when speaking to certain people; maybe I have learned that “making beso” (kissing everyone you meet on the cheek hello and goodbye), enshrines you into the family or social scene. People know you, people respect you, this demonstrates that. But, you can hardly say people know you, if they make beso without knowing who the other person is; half as often as I do. So really it’s respect, it’s courteous, it’s manners, it’s social decorum, it’s polite. Does that make me more Asian, specifically Filipina? Kinda… What makes you a local if not the local customs? Some days I’m Filipino when I’m here, some days I’m a foreigner. At times, I will be spoken to in rapid fire Tagalog, other times, people will speak Tagalog to me as if I can’t understand them (I can).
I digress, a bit, I was talking about Vietnam… I went to Vietnam with my two sisters. It’s the most beautiful and charming place I’ve ever seen. Hoi An specifically stole my heart. Fresh off the boat, as they say, we were scenic star struck. iPhones clicking photos at every mossy, faded yellow wall with cobalt blue shutters. I am a tourist, I am not local. I feel this in every part of my being, I am in awe. It takes us one day to figure out the town, find the best coffee, find all the vegetarian/vegan places, understand how much street food should cost.
there’s an ebb and flow to every town, and locals feel it
On day two, there is a noticeable transition, transformation; Suddenly, I feel at home. In mid ‘pho’ slurp, a street vendor asks me if I’m Vietnamese. Later at dinner, I’m asked again (I spent a lot of time eating). I have olive-Ish skin color, my eyes are light hazel, my hair is dark – dyed black. I guess I could look Vietnamese… I think this plays a role in being mistaken for a local, in part anyway. But feeling comfortable in a foreign city, adapting fast and venturing into the local kitchens off the beaten path, probably helps also. I feel the difference in myself after one day. The next thing I know I’m unconsciously spotting the “day-oners” and the people who are local even if they’re clearly not Vietnamese.
Growing up as a halfie and moving around a lot, I learned to adapt fast, learn local customs and find the cool spots. There’s an ebb and flow to every town and locals feel it; if you start to feel it too, you have integrated. Some cities speak to me more than others, so maybe in some cities, I feel more local, comfortable, at home.