This week’s book chapter reminded me of my experience in China. I recalled how I was treated differently just because of my noticeable accent.
In China, some people tend to have the stereotype that people who come from certain cities, namely Beijing and Shanghai, are more likely to enjoy privileges than people in other parts of the country. These people hold the view that people who are from Beijing and Shanghai are situating on the top of the class ladder. Unfortunately, born and raised in a middle-class family in Beijing, when I went to university in Nanjing, the southern part of China, I got the stereotype due to the recognizable feature, which further led me to more trouble concerning social class. They stated that I enjoyed the privilege.
Going to Nanjing was my first time leaving home. In Beijing, I was surrounded by my local community, where people around me were talking in the similar, if not, the same way. It was in Nanjing that I first realized that I was “discriminated” by people who were not from the same place. I felt isolated finding that I did not belong to there. For example, I inevitably pronounced words with “r” sound, and I could distinguish well between “s” and “sh”, which were very different from the way people spoke in the south. Many people laughed at my pronunciation and mimicked my way of speaking. I was sad. Was there anything wrong in pronouncing each word correctly even though it was different?
I remembered there was a time when my university was looking for a commencement speaker. I was one of the two candidates who still left after three rounds of the try-out. However, at the final phase of the try-out, when I was given tests, one of the judges asked me, “Were you from Beijing”? I said yes. He pointed out that I pronounced one word wrong. However, I was not wrong. I pronounced in a standard way. It was simply because people in the south never pronounced it in the way it was supposed to be pronounced. The next thing I knew, was that I failed to get the position of commencement speaker. Instead, the other girl who were from the south was the speaker. That was the second time that I realized where I was from and how I talked were problematic.
Since then, in Nanjing, when I talked to people, I learned how to avoid my Beijing accent. For example, I hid the “r” sound most of the times. I tried to not let others figure out where I was from. Otherwise, they would start the same conversation such as, “You were from Beijing? Beijing was much better than here. Why came to our city? You enjoyed the privilege and came here to belittle us?” Those mean words stung me until today. I did not know what I did wrong. I was happened to born in the capital of the country. I happened to have the “r” sound, which people from the south thought it was the mark of being “privileged” and I thought it was cute. It is my identity and who I am. I do not want to hide my way of speech.
My four years in Nanjing was a nightmare. I did not realize that Beijing was where I belonged to until I stayed in Nanjing. I never knew that social class and stereotype would cause trouble and I was one of the victims because of it. There are so many things that I do not know. However, there is one thing that I am sure about: I am proud of my identity and the way I speak. I respect the way I speak, and I wish everybody would eliminate the stereotype and respect the difference in other people’s speech.