Part 4: Acceptance: 我是张丽安, 我是 菲利宾人， 也是中国人。
Erasmus once said: “It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.”
My cousin has another version of this quote, which she said to me one night at dinner when I was questioning whether it was becoming for an adult to still go crazy over Chinese actors like 王一博 (Wang Yibo): “You are who you are, you like what you like, there is no shame.”
We come back full circle to acceptance, and this is what learning Mandarin has become for me in the year since I started studying it, a metaphor for acceptance, for being myself.
Lately, I’ve been more conscious of whether I’m doing something because I actually enjoy it or whether I do it because it makes me look cool, or because people I respect say I should. I get so obsessed with projecting an image sometimes, that there was a point when I felt like I didn’t know my own likes and dislikes, or at least I wasn’t owning up to them.
The truth is, on any given day or night, I would rather be having seafood noodles at Joy King Lau than having high tea at the Ritz. I like Game of Thrones, but I also really like Chinese dramas, with all its chaos and big emotions and silly misunderstandings.
I think Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans are hot, but I am genetically programmed to respond to and find Chinese guys handsome, and therefore I am not ashamed to say that I watch television every night whilst curled up with my 王一博 blanket, a birthday present from my friend Romelyn.
I like to supplement what I’ve learned at my lessons by listening to Mando-pop and trying to read and understand the meaning of the lyrics. I think Chinese lyrics are absolutely exquisite, much better than their English counterparts, even the ones that are written by the great Taylor Swift.
Okay, I take that back. No one can touch Tay-tay, but I have certainly found a whole new set of music and lyrics, in a totally different language, that I can use to caption my moody Instagram posts.
I have found another language with which I can express myself and with which I can convey my thoughts and feelings. For someone who fancies herself a writer, this is an unbelievably precious gift.
And what about that box that I was so afraid of? Those traditions and expectations that I have spent the majority of my adult life fighting against? Well, I guess I just realised that I am my own person, and that neither my nationality nor my upbringing can dictate my life choices. Those are and always will be my own.
By learning to accept all parts of me, the part that is Filipino, Chinese, and yes, (by virtue of my decade-long existence in London) British, by not allowing myself to be put in a box and bothered by labels or image, my world has gotten much bigger.
Overall, the past year of learning Mandarin has just been a real blast. I’ve enjoyed learning, I’ve enjoyed getting to know new people, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know me.
The real me. The me that blasts C-Pop and sometimes even K-Pop every now and then whilst getting ready to go to work. The me that obsesses over Street Dance of China and goes crazy when Wang Yibo does a dance move.
The me that likes Dickens and Austen as well as the occasional trashy romance novel. The me who will post romantic Chinese lyrics on Instagram and then write a 2000-word essay in English on why I love learning Chinese so much (does that even make sense).
I think I will always occasionally struggle with being myself, with all the contradictions that comes from being of a mixed race, whilst living in a country that is not the country of my birth, and where I am considered a minorit.
But that’s okay. I don’t think I’m alone in that, I’m just more open about it. I can also choose not to make it an issue and just get on with the business of living.
I just need to look at myself in the mirror every once in a while and take the time to reaffirm the part of me that I know to be true.
And at the end of the day, I am simply Angela. 我是张丽安，and that should be enough.