Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Double Take

My wife is Chinese, I am English.  My son has subtly oriental eyes so is noticeably mixed to careful observers.
Whenever I attend toddlers' events or playgroups in London I naturally seek out Chinese parents, as I'm interested in whether they are teaching their children Mandarin and English jointly, as we are.

So at my regular Tuesday play session, a few weeks ago I got chatting to a lovely Chinese lady called Qing (pronounced something like "Ching" to my western ears).  Anyway the next week I glanced up from playing with my son and saw her again.  I said "Hello Qing, good to see you again" and, while her reply was friendly, a flicker of confusion showed in her smile.

I looked down at her child, trying to remember her name, but drew a complete blank with the girl's face.  That's not unheard of, but I do tend to have a good memory for faces - if not 100% with the dozens of mothers and children I meet every week.

After another few minutes of chatting it dawned on me that this was not Qing.  And it dawned on her that I thought she was someone else.  Mortifying for my pride at embracing the Chinese culture, falling foul of the old cliche that "they all look the same".

But then the lady pointed to her friend, Qing, who had appeared just behind her.  "This is my friend, Qing: my name is Xing."  Ah.  We shared an embarrassed chuckle in which I nervously said "Oh yes, Xing, it means Star in Mandarin."  And then couldn't stop myself from saying "And also Orang Utan."  Excellent work.

I bowed my head in disgrace and when I looked up Xing and Qing were both talking to each other.  One was slim with long straight black hair and DKNY glasses.  The other was, er, slim with long straight black hair and DKNY glasses.   At this point I made a hasty retreat to mingle elsewhere until I could speak to one of them alone.

A minute later, still disorientated I look up from my boy again and see a bowed head covered in long straight black hair.  I make up my mind to start talking to her and only mid-sentence do I realise this lady is neither Qing nor Xing.  She turns out to be Thai, called Jah.  I am rarely this dizzy.

I make my excuses and lead my son back to the bouncy castle while I remove both feet from my mouth.

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