MEET: Michelle Choi – The Chinese Gwei-Mui

The Chinese “Gwei-Mui” – Cantonese for: “White Woman”

I never felt like I belonged anywhere…I don’t even belong with my own people. IF THIS ISN’T TC, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS!

I never felt like I belonged anywhere…

As a Hong Kong girl, I went to local and international schools, then left at 13 for America.  When it came to meeting Americans, it felt like everyone had to point out that I was Asian.  People had good intensions, but I always felt an annoyance bubbling inside of me, because: Why do I need to constantly talk about me being Asian?  Can you please just see me as another human-being?

A decade later, I came back to Hong Kong and made lots of new expat friends, but my connection to the local community was through work, where I had to talk (and type!) in Chinese. Now, I would call myself fluent, but my Chinese is like an un-built house with just the foundation and no building blocks, meaning that I have limited vocabulary. But despite the fact that Chinese words are coming out of my Chinese face all day, I earned the reputation of a “guai mui” in the office (the white girl). I would listen to my co-workers talk about local celebrities and Asian snacks that I know nothing about, and make jokes that go right over my head. I don’t even belong with my own people. IF THIS ISN’T TC, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS!

I realized that it comes down to what I make of a situation. Among my coworkers, I learned how to have fun with my unique position as the office “guai mui.” I would teach them an English word of the day, and in turn, my team would teach me a Chinese word of the day. Being our immature selves, we covered all the Canto swear words quickly, and there have been so many times when I’ve laughed so hard my sides hurt. Now, writing this makes me miss working with that team so much.

Wisdom comes with age

It used to get me down, this feeling I have like I don’t belong anywhere. But as I got older, I realized that a lot of people feel the same way that I do. Over the years, I’ve learned to see the strength of being multi-cultural, to take myself less seriously, and to always laugh with others. Now, I look to connect with people through similar interests and lifestyle. For me, I immediately fall in love with people who love comedy, film, and hip-hop, but I find that food and travel are the easiest things to engage on. You like food? Oh my gosh, no way, I like food too! What food do you like?

Although I can’t avoid asking, “where are you from?” when I meet someone new, I find that asking “what do you like?” makes for a much more interesting convo.

Although I can’t avoid asking, “where are you from?” when I meet someone new, I find that asking “what do you like?” makes for a much more interesting convo. And thankfully, my chameleon self can always manage to find something I can connect with in other people.

Home is… nowhere and everywhere.

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