There are some times when I’m happier being amongst my Third Culture Kid crowd than I am amongst the Asian American crowd. Having grown up in Manila and Hong Kong, spent extended time in Bangkok and Singapore, and now currently working in Jakarta, every time I head over to a bar or hear an American accent, I usually turn my head in their direction. If it comes from an Asian American (after confirming they aren’t fellow TCKs), I take extra care to make sure they don’t fit into one of the five types of Asian American Assholes in Asia I want to avoid.
I’m not saying that all Asian Americans act this way, having friends both local and expat in the above cities, we all ended up having frighteningly parallel descriptions of the types of Americans we’ve encountered in Asia whom we just can’t stand. I may be American, but I’m happy that I look ambiguous enough to pass off as a local anywhere in Southeast Asia (aside from my hair), and a hell of a lot happier when I’m the only American in a group because the usual impression they have of other Americans is negative, a sentiment shared by most of the world (often rightly so).
Granted, a lot of this negative behavior isn’t distinctly Asian American (let alone American), but there is an extra layer of negativity that people have because they see a face that looks like them acting like an idiot and presuming impunity for being foreigners who can hide their foreignness because they look like the locals. Other expats have reputations for doing similar things too, but what the hell: if we can avoid being idiots, then we can distinguish ourselves in a more positive light.
Compiled from e-mails, MSN Messenger conversation archives, bar counter rants, and airplane conversations, the following is a list of the types of Asian Americans in Asia that you should avoid being like.
The Hedonist in Heat: This is known as the international version of the “what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas” attitude that inspires fear and loathing amongst locals. In Bangkok, Manila, or Bali, you can drink enough to make your liver hate you until the day you die. The Hedonists in Heat gather in an orgy of decadence and depravity, drinking from dusk till dawn, looking for the next shag, and may even embark on psychedelic drug trips because the wide availability of LSD makes the sunsets in Bali explode into a rainbow whale carcass dancing on the ocean horizon. Most of these are guys, but girls are notorious for getting drunk and yelling in the streets looking for fellow expats to sleep with after vomiting on the dance floor. Not distinctly Asian American, and definitely not just Americans, but Asian Americans should avoid being the Hedonist in Heat because of the audacity of assumed impunity for being able to hide a lot more easily than non-Asian-looking foreigners is as tasteful as bile in your esophagus. Usually found in bars and clubs, though not necessarily conscious.
The Self-Righteous and Self-Important Sanctimonious Turd: Typically a college student who took a course or two in ethnic studies and has this “I see things as they really are but nobody else does” self-important bullshit attitude. Typically goes to developing countries, lectures expats about their ignorance, wants to make a documentary about issues that they don’t have a clue about how much they still don’t know, and writes about how everyone is ignorant in their blogs. Usually categorizes everyone else who doesn’t share his or her worldview as being the Hedonist in Heat. Unsurprisingly, the Sanctimonious Turd sees the world only in black and white. Best quote from one of the turds we met: “I have more life experience than most people and I got it all in high school”. Usually found in Internet cafes sulking about the injustice of life when not in the company of friends (they have none).
The Burning Sphincter of Stupidity: The whole “white on the inside, yellow or brown on the outside” description doesn’t even begin to describe this breed of moron. How they reproduce is a mystery, but we suspect they must spawn from the putrid fetor found in the toilets of such places like Bangkok’s Soi 11 and various squat pits. They hate their own race and pretend not to speak the language, especially if in the country of their ethnic heritage. The Burning Sphincter of Stupidity says classy things like “Don’t talk to me in that language, I’m American and I speak English!” which is why they are sphincters, because nothing but horse shit comes out of these assholes’ gaping maws. Usually found looking in the direction of the nearest airport and counting down days to when they get out.
The Expat Bubble Airhead: though not overtly negative and offensive to locals as the previous three, the denizens typically stay amongst other expats and go to foreign hangouts; usually bars, beaches, clubs, restaurants, and malls; prefer to go to Starbucks and TGI Fridays, and complain about not having many friends due to the transitory nature of expats. In other words, they don’t have any local friends, and they only look for fellow English-speaking expats, oftentimes those of the same nationality. Might not have the closest relationship with locals, but there’s a noticeable distance they keep from them. They are likely to be e-mailing Australian surfers they meet during a weekend excursion than someone whom they work with all summer during an internship who’s local. Basically no different than someone who reads or watches National Geographic and Discovery Channel because of the distance they keep between themselves and local cultures. Usually found in McDonald’s, Starbucks and other similar international venues, because they see it as the last bastion of the familiarity and comfort of home.
The Quisling Exile: This is the type of Asian American who snaps and says “To hell with America!” and falls in love with life in Asia, whether or not it’s the country of their ethnic heritage, and tries to live there while completely distancing themselves from America. Though they may get along fine with locals and might even be considered an honorary one, the Quisling usually is embarrassing because of their animosity at their fellow compatriots. Spends his or her time decrying the stupidity of their previous country while failing to realize that they still live differently than a true local in their current country of residence due to their expat privilege. Usually found when you’re not looking for them.
[Photo courtesy of here.]