“I miss it,” I usually respond. I miss living abroad in Ghana and, heck even in Taiwan. I think that surprises people.
Living abroad, I felt I could start fresh. In 2011, Ghana seemed like a easy to understand place. Foreigners were allowed to start businesses or work for large corporations. As long as you had your resident and working permits, the government kept out of your business. (There is also a diplomatic and NGO corps that is always there.)
Socially and economically, foreigners keep to themselves. In a way, it can be lonely because you’re there alone with a small coterie of other like-minded people. Every summer, a new group people in their 20s come to help the world.
Since I’m Chinese-American, I was in a unique position. I’m American but people’s first assumption is that I’m Chinese and treat me accordingly. Ghanaians have different stereotypes of the Chinese than Americans. Some common opinions include: the Chinese keep to themselves; they are small in stature; they smell like garlic; they are shrewd business people who may be willing to cross the “line”, e.g. galamsey, selling goods at local markets; they are not afraid to do business in Africa; they are not afraid of hiring tens of Ghanaians to work in their factories; the Chinese government invests billions in Africa on terms favorable to the Chinese; the Chinese have money.
While I was in Ghana, I met many Chinese people doing different things. I met illegal Chinese working in restaurants, Chinese women who working in karaoke clubs, senior officials from Chinese and Singaporean trade delegations, business executives from large Singaporean investment companies, a Wenzhou entrepreneur in his 20s, a Singaporean working at a local bank, and a Chinese factory owner. I also met another Chinese-American doing his two-year Peace Corps stint in rural Ghana. (To be fair, for every Chinese person doing these things, I also met Indians and Lebanese doing similar jobs.)
I learned the first Chinese restaurant in Accra was established in 1962. Seriously! And it’s still there! It’s one of the more expensive restaurants. This suggests that the Chinese are adventurous and willing to go to Africa long before it was hip.
Lastly, I saw the likes of Jackie Chan and Jet Li on the TV. Kung fu!
I’ve been back in the States for almost a year now. I feel invisible. Being invisible comes from not seeing people who look like you in the media — film, TV — or people who write from your perspective at newspapers or online news outlets. Being invisible also comes from not seeing people like you on the corporate boards and in executive positions of companies’ websites. I’m not singling out any particular field but looking at leadership of companies that are not diverse makes me wonder why.
- Random construction company
- Random financial services company
- Random Media Conglomerate – better than most
- Random coffee company
- Random Conservative Newspaper
Well, not really, but in America I feel like I have to speak in code. I can understand how some people would say it’s the politically correct police’s fault. Unfortunately, people have a right to be afraid of public shaming. Let’s just say that having a “frank public discussion” about anything is nearly impossible.
One positive thing: Water
Returning to more positive aspects of living in America, I like how there is no water shortage in San Diego. Well, at least compared to Ghana. Recall that every week I had to get Mutala to find a water tanker to fill up my 1000 L container. When USPGA Torrey Pines Golf Course still looks like below then we, Californians, have a while to go before the end.
I’m glad to be back in the US. There’s just certain aspects of living in the US that take getting used to.