During my time in Salone, I’ve been called many names. Some people recognize me from my column in Awoko and will shout, “Through the Eyes of ‘U’!” when they see me walking in the streets. Those who have gotten to know me, especially around the hostel where I stay, will call me “Mister Yu.” Others, just by nature of my light skin, would even call me “White boy.” But the majority of the time, strangers will often refer to me as, “China,” or some derivation of it (China man, China boy, Chinese, etc).
Early on in my internship, I remember talking with an Awoko colleague, Ophaniel Gooding, about the fact that almost everyone thinks I’m Chinese.
“If you ask 100 Sierra Leoneans what nationality they think you are,” he said, “99 of them will say ‘Chinese.’”
99 out of 100? Are you kidding me? There’s no way that all but one percent of Sierra Leoneans would think all Asians are Chinese – I am half Japanese and half Vietnamese, by the way.
So for the past couple of days, I decided to keep track of how many times people call me “China” and at the same time occasionally approach people and ask what nationally they think I am.
The results? Quite interesting.
It’s surprising to see how many times people actually call me “China” when I’m actually keeping count. On my way home from work on Monday, five people called me by some version of “China.” And if the person who called me “China” was standing with at least a couple more people, I would engage the group and see if it was a universal opinion among them.
But there was one outlier that I noticed in my unofficial survey: When I’d approach a group and ask them what nationality they think I am, it was as if they would think, “Oh, he’s asking me about his nationality after I called him ‘China,’ he must not be Chinese,” and they would guess some other Asian nationality. So even if a person originally thought I was Chinese, they may have ended up guessing something else just by the nature of my questioning. Perhaps I could have gathered more accurate results if I brought along one of my Awoko colleagues and had him/her ask strangers the question.
Regardless, the numbers still showed that an overwhelming majority (over 85 percent) of the people I questioned initially guess that I was Chinese. Running a distant second was Korean, while Philippine also garnered some numbers. Much to my delight, there were two people who correctly guessed Japanese! Then there were some strange, seemingly out-of-nowhere guesses like Nepal and Portuguese (?)
Someone once asked me if I take offense to the fact that so many people think I’m Chinese. It doesn’t bother me too much, because I understand that there is a strong Chinese influence in Sierra Leone, and it’s even difficult for most people in the states to decipher between different Asian nationalities. Plus, it’s not as if I could tell the difference between a Sierra Leonean and, say, a Nigerian.
I’ll admit, though, that sometimes, after a long day of work, when someone yells “Hey! China boy!” it makes me want to shout back, “Heeey, bo! I’m not Chinese
By Yu Nakayama