By Mari-An Santos
I was sitting at a popular restaurant in Bucharest, having lunch with a Romanian friend, and taking in the beautiful surroundings. There were blondes. There were brunettes. There were so many foreigners—and then it dawned on me, I am the foreigner. With my brown skin, small eyes, and jet black hair, I stood out like a sore thumb in a sea of Caucasians.
I’ve lived in the Philippines all my life. And because I’ve only traveled to nearby Asian countries, “looking different” had never been an issue for me. Now that I’m living in a European city that is not quite cosmopolitan, I find myself “looking different.” There are only a handful of Asians at the student dormitory where I live. I’ve seen a couple of Chinese and Japanese citizens, but that’s about it. The Filipino population here, not counting me and my schoolmate, is a measly 11.
On any given day, it’s not unusual to be gawked at on the street. I’ll be walking down the street and get stared at by my fellow pedestrians. I’ll be riding my bike to class and be greeted by “Ni hao” or “Sayonara.”
The other day, I was asking a shop owner about their products when she tells me that some of the soaps she makes contain Chinese teas. I politely tell her that it’s nice to know and that I am not Chinese. She apologizes and asks where I’m from.
At first, I was appalled by such occurrences, especially after someone told me that we Asians look alike. I explained to him that I could actually tell the Koreans from the Japanese, the Chinese from the Filipino. But eventually, I began to see things his way. From where I’m standing, I wouldn’t be able to tell the Europeans apart either.
And that’s perfectly fine.
Studying in a foreign land has not only opened my eyes to the reality that I am a citizen of the world, it has made me appreciate my being Filipino all the more. Even as I learn about other peoples, cultures, and places, I have learned to value home even more.