Do I know Kung-fu? Other Asian Misconceptions in South America and China

“Do you know kung fu?”

It was an innocuous question. The Chilean taxi driver looked at me nervously.

This must be what’s running in his mind.

Asian face = Jet Li protégé = Kung-fu Panda

Never mind, I’m 5’0 and can barely lift a table. In his imagination, I was as skilled as a Shaolin monk and could capture a fly with a snap of my chopsticks.

I told him no.

I’m Filipino. I wasn’t raised in a monastery in Henan province.

But I should’ve said yes. Because he scammed me. What happened was he took me for a 15 minute joyride and I had to pay $10 for what should have been a $5 cab fee.

Times like this, Drunk-Eagle-Monkey-Panda combination would’ve come handy.

The joys of going to a country that doesn’t know much about other cultures. A country where I can count with one hand how many Asians I see in a day.

See, I’ve been bowed at by Chileans here. I’m not Japanese.

Yelled at, “Viva China!” I’m not Chinese.

Greeted, “Anyonghaseyo!” I’m not Korean.


The other strange thing was that some Chileans have asked me if I’m either from Peru or Brazil. That’s a first. I thought I blended in before I realized those were the two biggest South American countries that receive an influx of Asian invasion immigration.

 my friend Cade, demonstrating his “Asian-ness”

In China, I’m often mistaken as Chinese. Fair enough. But when the Chinese start probing where I’m from, it takes them awhile.

First we go through East Asia. Japanese, Korean.

Then my accent. American. Canadian.

And then finally we go through Southeast Asia. Bingo! Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore…..

Then we finally hit the sweet jackpot. Philippines.

And trust the Chinese to ask me, “So how come you’re not black?”

*Slaps forehead*

It’s not racist. It’s just that most Filipinos have a nice bronze color whereas I’m as yellow as a banana. This is the part where I explain I’m half Chinese and half Filipino.

Mixed blood is not a common concept among isolated Chinese whose society largely remains purist Han.

Hence the blank stares from my answer.

Mr Park demonstrating ‘Korean Pride’ in a Mexican restaurant in Chile. Walking down the streets, he’d yell, “I’m Koreano!” to the amusement of the Chileans. Yes, that’s PSY on the flat screen. 


I’ve noticed everywhere I go people are often confused and they can’t place me. That makes them scared. Because there is something out there that sticks out in their ordinary world. I’m that splash of orange on Mona Lisa’s face.

But that’s the fun part.

In class, one American girl asked me, “I’m quite confused. So you have worked in China and have traveled to all these Asian countries. You speak excellent English. Are you Mexican?”

Well, there’s always a first. 😀

Photos courtesy  of Wikipedia,


6 thoughts on “Do I know Kung-fu? Other Asian Misconceptions in South America and China

  1. Sara says:

    Welcome to the Ambiguously Ethnic Club. It’s where no one knows where you are from ever. I am not a member, but my Filipino ex was, and my husband is. Outside of Chile, no one knows where my husband is from. Mexico? Peru? Uh…Portugal? Really? It’s not Mexico? *sigh* And in Chile, everyone thought my ex was Peruvian or Cuban. Even though he spoke very little Spanish. That’s why I thought you might get those.

  2. Victoria says:

    Fun observation, and funny story! I suppose the next best thing, besides enjoying the confusion, is somehow sharing the hilarity with the person having the confusion. I think the one question I have, even as a Chinese-American, is when I see someone who doesn’t fit in a distinctly clear category, how to ask “what are you?” when your curiosity is genuine, and you think you could make an interesting connection, but don’t want to offend the person you’re asking. I suppose just be as nice and respectful as possible…

    • Kate says:

      I feel the same way. I want to ask those type of questions too yet at the same time, I also receive them. Luckily, I’m amused by those but not many people are. I guess the best way to approach it is to say beforehand, “I don’t mean to offend you and I’m just showing my ignorance here, do you mind if I ask you something?” Normally the person would be grateful if you say this first. Then say that it looks as if they come from an interesting background and then ask them where they’re from. This works better than if you burst out, “Hey, what are you??”. Then be afraid, be very afraid. 😀

  3. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for sharing! This doesn’t surprise me one bit about your experience in Chile. I’ve lived here for five years and when my Asian friend visited me from the U.S. (Her parents are Taiwanese but she was born in the U.S. and only speaks English) everyone stared at her and said ‘ah mira la china’ . There is a severe lack of diversity in Chile. Santiago is ‘diverse’ in comparison to the rest of the country, which is not saying much. I’m going to share this with some of my Chilean friends. I like to remind them that it is Asian not Chinese when you refer to someone of Asian ethnicity but you don’t know where they are from. Nice article

    • Kate says:

      Jennifer, that’s true. Chile severely lacks diversity. Period. Yes, a lot of their ancestors were immigrants but they don’t practice their previous culture. They don’t bother learning French or German or cooking their . It’s all one culture.

      Just today when my Chinese friend and I were walking down the street, one man jumped in front of us and said, “ah mira la china!” and made squinty eyes. It really bothered my Chinese friend because no one does that in China. I’m sort of more used to it. When my host mom and I were having dinner, she said there were a lot of Chinese during the Korean concert. I said they were probably Koreans. She said that according to the Chileans all Asians are Chinese. I said, “Does that mean all South Americans are Mexicans?”

      However, the whole world does stereotype. That’s why travel is so important as an education or sharing cultural articles. 😉 . Thanks for showing this to your Chilean amigas Jennifer!

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