A Day to Be Remembered

A Day to Be Remembered


Sasho Yang

06th of March, 2020

Travel Journal

Despite the third day we have talked to the kids, we are already saying goodbye to some of them. As confusing as it might sound, a group of kids in San Cristóbal have classes until 6 p.m. every Thursday and Friday, thus unable to come to the community center tomorrow or the day after.
Among this group, there was one girl that could not stop asking me to speak Chinese to her and then translate. Since she could not understand me, I would just say something random as fast as possible, trying so hard to impress her. However, I would always regret talking like that as the translating process was usually what killed me.
I could not exactly tell what her impression of Chinese people was; I could conclude, though, that she did not have a correct, or rather, thorough understanding of us. She asked me what “ching chong” meant, trying to search for this phrase when I was speaking as well. The only good reaction that I could come up with was to pretend that I did not understand what she said. Fortunately enough, we soon switched topics and went on to talk about her school life, and hopefully, she was able to get the message that “ching chong” could not describe the Chinese language and people at all. However, she said that she loved hearing me speak Chinese and wanted to learn some simple words, too.
Yes, she did call me “chino”. It is not considered offensive here on the island but rather an objective term to describe a certain ethnicity; I still felt uncomfortable hearing it. I told her that we Chinese had unique names too, and generalization was usually very frustrating to us; I later learned that she called me that only because she could not pronounce my name well. Struggling to make the “sh” sound, she tried saying my name at least ten times but did not get even close even after my repeated attempt to teach her. It was clearly not her fault, but I really, I mean, really hoped that she could say it right, so that “chino” would no longer appear in our conversations.
I sure will miss her though, despite the complexity of everything, I thought to myself, as she looked right into my eyes when she was talking. In her eyes, I saw her desire to know more; I saw her determination to be able to communicate with more people; I saw her curiosity, most importantly, as that’s my proudest quality of myself. Not a word would be accurate enough to describe how I felt — confused yet hopeful, misunderstood yet relieved? I don’t even know. I could only say that I’m glad we had a long conversation. I mean, she was not the only one with misconceptions — some kids asked me if I ate dogs after learning I’m from China. It was the fact that she wanted to know more about me that set her apart from any other kid.
Today started off rough. Breakfast was at 8:30 instead of 8, which made us get up too late and thus have to rush through the morning. I felt so exhausted that I did not appreciate enough the beautiful bat-cave or the boat ride in the creek. If it weren’t for the sudden changing of weather happening to be in our favor, I could have been completely soaked in the Caribbean rain.
Today ended rough, too. I realized how little everybody in Panama, and even in the US, actually knows about racist terms against Chinese. Awareness still needs to be spread.
Nonetheless, today has been the best day so far for me. The kids loved the lacrosse stuff we brought in; I actually had enough courage to tell them not to call me “chino” anymore; the girl that I’ve been really close to painted a portrait of me, I of her as well; we actually had a long meeting about our positions here and our aspirations in the future. I am very inspired by the fact that we are all slowly yet steadily working towards understanding each other. This is a day to be remembered.



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