Ni shi na guo ren?
Even if locals know that I am not Chinese, they tend to rattle off in the language anyway. I don’t always make out what they’re saying, but some things stand out.
"Ni shi na guo ren?" What country are you from?
I know they mean this in a very literal sense. Those who have never lived outside their own country are so curious about the rest of the world.
When I spoke with one old man, he asked me, "Is that far?"
Thank goodness for me, it is fairly easy to answer with the name of the country I was born in and hail from.
Because it’s a deeper question for me, really. And you may be able to relate. By asking “what country are you from,” do you mean the physical space my parents were living in at the time of my birth, or the country I was living in just prior to moving to Beijing?
Sometimes, the country we are from is the one we identify with the most. Or the first country we lived in. For, isn’t that where we did a lot of our growing up?
At our first home-away-from-home, it took a long time before we called it home. The place that was both exciting and frustrating, enjoyable and infuriating – which challenged everything we thought we knew, and pushed us beyond our comfort zone. If it was a country or city where the language was completely different from our own, then it was an even bigger push than we had to deal with.
My kids, of course, also have their own concepts of home and where they are from. Each move makes it difficult for them to keep old friends and old ways, but they have begun to see the blessings that moving brings as well.
When asked where they are from, it is clear: "I’m from the Philippines, but…"
My older son G says he is from Manila in the Philippines, but that he has also lived in Europe and now China. Once asked whether he liked moving, he said "I don’t really know what it is like not to."
My younger son P says he is from the Philippines, but he moved away when he was young. Now they know that moving around means meeting new people, seeing new sights, trying out new food, and living in different types of houses. And they like that, a lot.
For some of us, our first step out into the big, bad world was to Shunyi in Beijing. For others, there have been previous homes. They all become a part of who we are now.
So while my simple answer to the locals is: "I am from the Philippines." In my head, I know I am also from France, Switzerland, and now, China.
Photo from the free media repository of Wikimedia Commons
Dana is the beijingkids‘ Shunyi Correspondent. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Beijing via Europe in 2011 with her husband, two sons and Rusty the dog. She enjoys writing, photography, theater, visual arts, and trying new food. In her free time, she can be found exploring the city and driving along the mountains roads of Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu.