By: Ting Ooi
am a banana who was born in London and raised by Malaysian Chinese parents. I dealt with the wonderful world that is prejudice and bullying and still have to deal with it in this day and age.
I cringe over the stereotypes I encounter and the assumptions made by non-Chinese on how I should behave. How could you deal with the Ching Chong and Bruce Lee shouts? How could you deal with strict relatives who judged you because you weren't Chinese enough? How could you try to fit in with Westerners when you were still considered a foreigner because you were a person of colour or a model minority who was expected to be a certain characteristic?
I have been called out for being a fat Chinese person by relatives (even when they claim they don't mean harm. You have to love Asian bluntness). I had the worst kind of ignorance thrown at me during my school years – assumed to be a clever geek who allowed people to copy my homework, steal my stationery, be asked how to say something in Cantonese or Mandarin when I barely knew the languages well enough. I definitely acknowledged the fact I was bad at sports. In fact I hated it.
I have been continuously judged because I didn't talk loud like most native Chinese due to the ongoing shy, introverted nature I developed from a young age. It didn't matter if I was surrounded by Chinese or Westerners. I didn't change. I was still a stranger to everyone and hidden amongst the cool crowd of glamour pusses or intelligent career-driven natives who came to the UK to make money, study or start a new life.
I've been on a self-hating trip since forever...
That is until I discovered Japanese and Korean music. Had it not been for these pop cultures I would hate myself for being Chinese for the rest of my life. In some way these things did what my ethnic background failed to do and that was appreciate my yellow skin.
Just when I was about to conclude my intended escapism routes would eventually focus on Korean or Japanese things and that I'd dabble in Taiwanese or Chinese pop culture once in a blue moon, along comes a then twelve member Korean Chinese group who debuted under a Korean music giant.
I did not get pulled into EXO straight away but they had been on my radar since they first appeared. Fast forward maybe seven months into their debut year and being mind-blown by their performance at Mnet Asian Music Awards 2012, one of the members speaks in three languages to express the group's thanks in winning an award. He goes from Korean to Cantonese and then Mandarin.
My ears peeked up when I heard Cantonese and I was delighted my knowledge in this language wasn't entirely dead.
Who was this boy? I wondered.
It took me months to find out who he was and when the group came back with their first full-length album in the summer I started to get pulled in even more. It was that young man again. I knew him as the Cantonese speaker and was surprised he could speak English after seeing video updates on EXO's Line account. Who was this linguistic boy? Why was he pulling me into his web?
Born in Guangzhou but spending many years in Canada before moving to Korea to start trainee life, Kris Wu Yifan was the name of the Chinese Kpop idol who would eventually win my heart in the summer of 2013. What I originally thought was a simple 'play safe' observation to young, fresh-faced idols in a large boy group soon became deeper fascination. Constant research in the form of watching interviews or performances lead me to my sudden realisation that Wu Yifan had done something to me.
Of all the things that hit me with inspiration and making me accept my Chinese ethnicity I found it in non-Korean Asian idols. It wasn't a relative who had a wise man complex and could give me old life stories to learn from. It wasn't a megastar rock musician which people would probably assume due to my metal and rock music influences. It was an Asian pop idol. Yes it's crazy and I will probably have daggers thrown at me for having such a trivial type of figure to turn to for inspiration and faith in myself.
On the whole, EXO's Chinese members were the first (Chinese / East Asian) stars to make me appreciate being Chinese deep down. It was like a light bulb had appeared above my head when I made this discovery. Sure I was fond of a few Chinese film stars or artists who made a mark in showbiz but I didn't go deep with research like I did with EXO's Chinese members. It was as though I finally found inspiration that managed to reach the core of my soul. Within my three decades of living I finally found something to motivate me to go back to learning the Chinese language and perhaps pay more attention to the Chinese culture.
So why do I like Wu Yifan? He has a charm that goes beyond being tall and handsome which many believe is all he has and is rather useless next to the other members. Yifan reaches out to the international fans across the world. He always acknowledged Cantonese and Mandarin speakers at special events and is capable of pulling off a professional, composed manner against cynical people (e.g. politely correcting the presenters on a Chinese variety show who assumed the sub group EXO-M were all Korean when in fact that was not true).
Contrary to his cold, urban image often seen on screen, Wu Yifan appreciates his fans and when he shows random gestures of warmth it is touching. At the airports when the huge crowd of fans wait for him to appear, he will put on a brave smile or a nod of acknowledgement. He even told fans to be careful when somebody tripped and hit the ground as everyone followed him to his car like how paparazzi do when famous people are in the eyes of the public.
I like how Wu Yifan is not perfect and still strives to achieve his dreams, even with the many obstacles he had to pound through to get to where he is now. What he may lack in rapping, dancing and singing compared to the other members, his strength lied in linguistic ability, leadership and being an older brother type. When he performed his version of the theme tune for Tiny Times 3 “Time Boils The Rain”, it just resonated so well with his up and down situation regarding his former company. How he expressed the lyrics was like a hidden message to his band mates and was almost a reminder of my own friendship failings from the past.
I wouldn't go as far as to brag on finally being proud of my Chinese ethnicity but Wu Yifan and EXO's “China Line” have definitely made me comfortable about myself skin deep and that is a personally huge first.
How so? Listening to Japanese and Korean music over the years has given me the “it's okay to be Asian” vibe and occasionally assisted in relating so well with my deepest feelings that I barely exposed in public but it felt more personal with Wu Yifan and EXO. Exposing myself to their interviews I have learnt to become more aware of my ethnic identity and perhaps acquire a bit more faith in myself into believing I could tackle some of my own personal demons.
I feel this emphasised admiration is also down to the fact I wanted to see the challenges they faced as non-Korean Asian MALE idols in another Asian country, tackling the strength of the Hallyu Wave. Yes I've seen Asians try to break into the Western film or music market but what of other Asian countries? There are still just as many obstacles. So this was a refreshing sight.
Wu Yifan I know we will never meet in person and I know you and EXO have had many predicaments happen this year but my support for you all has not faltered one bit. From one Chinese person to another you shaped my thinking so much and I thank you for helping me believe in myself.BW
"I'm a late-blooming but aspiring British Born Chinese writer who first caught the writing bug at the age of 18 before turning to blogging about the quirky, fascinating world of Japanese, Korean and Chinese pop culture. My escape routes from the busy world of reality usually involve listening to a diverse range of music, watching cult TV and reading comics or the odd novel. Dissecting my ethnic identity has been my long term goal and I hope that through writing I will be able to work on understanding myself and expressing it well."