We are Asians… but we are NOT the same.

“NI HAO!”

“KONICHIWA!”

While it is cool that one can say hello in the language of the two most obvious Asian nations, it is not cool when you say it to someone who isn’t from either nations. I get that a lot. From cars passing by, people that walk by on the streets, even students on campus. I get it. I come from a relatively unknown country in South East Asia. But it really isn’t being smart if you just scream out one of the two greetings above to someone just because they look, how should I put this… oriental?

Bear with me here. For this is not a rant. I want to enlighten people.

Asia is the largest and most populous continent on the planet. It has a total of 48 countries and also home to about 4 billion people; 60% of the world’s population (give or take). But the most amazing part about Asia is that it has over 2,000 spoken languages. Yes, you read correctly, TWO THOUSAND.

Nearly every Asian nation has it’s own language, making it difficult to communicate among each other. That’s why we use English as the common ground. China alone has over 200 different dialects and India has over a 100. It is a crazy world over there in Asia. Even in Malaysia, being multiracial, we speak different languages. Malays, the majority race, speaks Malay. Indian-Malaysians speak Tamil, one of the Indian dialects. The tribes in Malaysia all have their own languages. Chinese-Malaysians, my people, speak at least three Chinese dialects in Malaysia. In Penang where I am from, we mostly speak Hokkien (Fujian in China) dialect. In other states, the Chinese speak Mandarin. Others speak Cantonese. I can speak in all three dialects, for the most part.

Crossing any border in Asia is like walking into an entirely different world. Asia is so diverse in culture, history and language that it makes it virtually impossible to group us under one umbrella. The fact that we are categorized as “Asians” is also not accurate. How do you group over 4 billion people into one little category? We are guilty of doing that to ourselves too.

Generally, when one mentions “Asian,” the image that will probably appear in your head is an image of a Chinese or Japanese man. Admit it, you are doing that right now.

The point I’m trying to make here is clear. Do not let ignorance make you look like someone who is insensitive. Surely it would seem ignorant if a foreigner came to America and screamed “HOWDY PARTNER” at every American? The same applies to Asians.

Fact of the matter is that we are all really different people. Asians are not all alike. And to be honest, not all Asians get along either.

So the next time you see someone who is of Asian heritage, refrain from screaming “NI HAO” or “KONICHIWA.” Instead, really get to know where they come from before trying something like that. Who knows? You might even learn a new way of saying “Hello” in a new Asian language. Now THAT would be cool.

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