So it’s been a really long time since I’ve blogged about my life here, and I almost don’t know where to start. But instead of trying to tackle it all in one post I thought I would break it up into little posts–posts about things that I love about Rio; things that suck; and my cultural observations about this city, its inhabitants, and life in general in Brazil. So here’s the first of many short posts about my experience being a Rio resident as an extranjeira (a foreigner).
My first topic is a rather hilarious one. One of the funniest things I’ve encountered about being in Brazil is that people here are obsessed with me being Asian. It’s as if I am the only one of my species that many of these people have ever seen before and they cannot possibly imagine that I am not Japanese (although to be fair, the neighboring state of Sao Paolo has a lot of Japanese). Let me paint a picture for you: I meet a Brazilian–be it the guy trying to sell me a beach chair, or a guy trying to pick me up in a bar, or the guy who stocks the grocery store I live next to, or my friend’s cleaning lady, or a soon-to-be Brazilian friend, or my English student–literally ANY Brazilian–and they see that, lo and behold, through some combination of the way my face looks and the color of my hair and the shape of my eyes, I am not Brazilian or “caucasian,” and they must comment on my being Asian. Several times I’ve just been walking on the street minding my own business when I’ve heard someone say, “Olha! Uma Japa!” (Look! A Japa!) Which is hilarious, because it sounds like “Look! A three-legged dog in a tutu!” or something that should be of more note than an Asian person. But apparently I’m a big deal here. Little girls love me. Babies love me. Perhaps I should start signing autographs.
Often I will be in conversation with a Brazilian that I’ve just met, and they will usually out of nowhere ask me (often paired with the action of pulling their eyes back at the outer corners and making “asian eyes”) “But you look like you are of Asian descent…?” It’s funny to me that they always phrase it this way, as if putting the observation into question form makes it more polite? CLEARLY, I am of Asian descent.
Another [truly hilarious… not] joke Brazilians love to play on me is whenever they see someone else who might be of Asian descent coming from a mile away, they always say, “Hey look, it’s your sister/brother/mother/father! Hahaha!” (depending on age and gender of the other Asian who usually looks nothing like me and is often times, not even actually Asian–honestly these people have some pretty bad racial recognition skills…).
Two times now, I’ve had Brazilians just assume I am Japanese, and start speaking to me in Japanese, which, is actually quite impressive since they know how to speak Japanese! But the problem is, I don’t. So… that isn’t helpful. I’ve also gotten lots of konichiwas and origatos while walking down the street.
And almost every time I correct someone and say that I am actually Taiwanese, no one understands it on the first go. Usually I am assumed to be Thai, and then they sometimes ask me if I like Thai food, or if I think the beaches there are prettier than in Brazil. And then I have to explain that no, actually I have no relatives from Thailand, my family is from the small island to the east of China called Taiwan. But yes, I love Thai food (and yes, unfortunately, I do think the beaches in Thailand are prettier).
When I first got here, it was certainly tiring, and quite frankly, annoying as f*ck. Now I’m just starting to take it in stride. No one means any harm by it. And sometimes people tell me my “asian eyes are pretty.” (Swoon. Best compliment ever!) I have a guy on my street who sells bootleg DVDs who says “Ni hao” every time I walk by. Hey, at least he knows I speak Chinese and not Japanese. I’m starting to get used to it. And recently, probably because my Portuguese is improving, I’ve had a lot of people ask if I’m Brazilian! (But that’s only after the first few words… apparently I can say “Tudo bem?” like a pro.)