This blog post is dedicated to Grandma Mei Nei.
In a world consumed with appearance, you taught us that the traits worth inheriting are not seen.
1937 - 2018
What are you? Let me guess…
After many years of speculation, I’m proud to finally and definitively clear the air surrounding my ethnicity. Here are a range of nationalities and the people guessing:
Chinese-Korean - most common, asked by everyone across the globe
Korean - asked by many Toronto locals, some of whom are Korean
Japanese - I don’t see this, but it’s often a first guess by kids under the age of 10
Eurasian - the default reason being that I, “just don’t look pure Chinese”
Chinese-Aboriginal - guessed by a few Sask locals during my “man-bun” phase
Chinese-Mexican - okay, maybe not a valid contender, because this guy was higher than a plastic bag caught in the wind
Wheel of Ethnicity
Okay, thanks for the pie chart, but where are you from?
I was born in Regina General Hospital. Regina is the capital of Saskatchewan, which is a Canadian province comprised of grasslands in the south and rugged rocks/forests in the north. In the prairies I remained until the life-altering move to Toronto in 2015 (one of two Canadian cities foreigners can name*). Since we’re on the topic: Toronto is NOT the capital of Canada - it’s Ottawa.
That makes me a proud Canadian - “Canuck” will also be accepted.
But where are you really from?
Sincerest apologies - my skull can be thicker than a pachycephalosaurus - here I am thinking that you’re interested in where I’m from! But what you really want to know is where my parents are from!
This question doesn’t grind my gears, as I understand human nature’s desire to categorize everything. It’s often asked by a well-meaning, and often curious, older generation; or by individuals lacking other means of starting conversations. Being offended in the moment doesn’t help the interaction, and shaming the individual won’t bring them any closer into understanding our perspective.
Alas, both parents were born and raised in Hong Kong.
But wait! This isn’t a true Doctor Ian article until we dive way too deep in a direction much too obscure! You ask me where I’m really from? Let me tell you where I’m really from…
Oh no… what have I started…
I have TWO parents, and each of my parents have TWO of their own parents. By my calculations, I therefore have… FOUR grandparents (that’s the full extent of my mathematical prowess, no more requests please). As it so happens, each is from a differing region of southeast China.
Grandpa Joseph - Father of mine Father - Zhejiang Province
Starting off our cultural dive is Zhejiang: eastern coastal province of China and birthplace of Grandpa Joe. It’s the northernmost province of all my grandparents - so, following the common trope of “northern Chinese people are generally taller than southern Chinese”, then it’s likely the source of my 187cm frame (6’ 1.5” for the imperial rogues).
Why is this? According to the 2010 General Information Archives, the average height of a 21 year old male from Beijing (north China) is 174.7cm (5’ 7.5'“) compared to their southern counterparts from Sichuan at 169.2cm (5’ 5.5”). This has been attributed to a combination of genetic and dietary influences. Milled wheat, the staple of north China, is generally higher in protein compared to the milled rice diet of their southern fellows. In addition, consumption of dairy was also much higher in the north, due to a nomadic history above the Huai River and Qin Mountains (both of which lay north of Zhejiang).
Take this genetic framework, place it on a gluttonous Canadian prairie diet consisting of growth hormone-infused beef, poutine, and maple syrup… and BAM - you have the perfect recipe for a tall Asian.
But I’ve inherited more than height from Zhejiang - my eyes are from there as well. I don’t mean in a “Minority-Report-wake-up-in-an-ice-bath” sort of way. Look at my eyelids… notice anything different between mine and my siblings? Like REALLY look… pinch and zoom… I’m here all day…
To the eagle eyed (or those with iPads), you’ll observe that I have “mono eyelids” whereas both Erich and Christine have what are called “double eyelids”. This means two things:
Double eyelids have an additional crease
I’m an abomination to South Korean beauty standards
I share this visual trait (pun!) with my father, as everyone on my mother’s side has double eyelids. And out of all grandparents, only Grandpa Joe lacks the fold - therefore tracing it back to Zhejiang.
Behold, a photo illustrating three generations of mono eyelid goodness:
Grandma Rose - Mother of mine Father - Guangdong Province
Introducing Guangdong, China’s most populous province (as of 2005), and birthplace of Grandma Rose. It’s staggering how the population of her birth province, at 108,500,000, absolutely dwarfs the 1,098,000 in Saskatchewan - yay for the little guy.
Unfortunately, I never got to know Grandma Rose well, as she passed while I was very young. But from what I’ve heard, her innate qualities were all worthy of inheriting.
Grandpa Ling Kwong - Father of mine Mother - Fujian Province
Sandwiched between the previous two provinces is the birthplace of Grandpa Ling Kwong**: Fujian province. Formerly known as Foken/Fouken/Fukien/Hokkien, this identity-crisis of a region has the reputation for being the most linguistically and culturally diverse province in China. More importantly, their fried rice is a favourite at any Chinese restaurant worth their weight in soy sauce…
“Give me some FUKIEN fried rice!”
…barked the man-child
But in terms of genetics, it’s Grandpa Ling Kwong’s ears that I’ve likely inherited. The argument can be made in favour of either grandparent from my mom’s side, as both exhibit the genetic sequence for detached earlobes (jury still out on the inheritance pattern). So the tie-breaker comes down to the extent in which said lobes swing free.
Grandma Mei Nei - Mother of mine Mother - Guangxi Province
Rounding off our southeast genetic tour of China is the province of-
Sorry, what’s that? …what do you mean Guangxi isn’t a province?
Since when? …1958, eh?
Ah… well then… let’s try this again…
I introduce to you the area officially known as the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region - rolls right off the tongue. Famous for the Li River, a cat-shaped mountain, and for supplying 85% of the world’s star anise***, it is also the birthplace of Grandma Mei Nei.
Aside from unbridled ego, my arguably defining facial feature is my nose. The source of bullying and way-ward criticism from childhood to adult, it’s something I’ve grown to accept. It’s always fun hearing fashion industry professionals describe my appearance on the phone, as I sit across the table:
“Yeah, we have Ian here. He’s an Asian… athletic build… and uh… [shoots a quick glance]… a strong profile”
Even in dental school, when taking clinical notes on a patient’s facial traits, we are taught to categorize the nose into three sizes (it’s amazing how far PC culture has reached):
Seriously, it was difficult tracing the origins of my medium-plus nose, as nobody in my nuclear family shares this trait. Looking through family albums I notice that my uncle (mom’s brother) shares the schnoz - funny that he, too, is a dentist.
In the following photo, you see me sandwiched between Grandma Mei Nei and Uncle Raymond.
Grandma Mei Nei has a slightly broader nose bridge, which may be the answer to our search. Grandpa Ling Kwong is ruled out, because his downturned and flared nares simply don’t fit the bill (I’m bloody hilarious).
Therefore, the autonomous region of Guangxi is the nasal origin story to the larger cinematic universe that is my face.
Based on phenotype and conducted with absolutely no scientific method whatsoever, we can gather the following data:
Zhejiang: height, eyes, eyebrows, upper lip, forehead, caries risk (6 pts)
Guangdong: widow’s peak, fashion sense (2 pts)
Fujian: ears, metabolism, complexion, thick skull (4 pts)
Guangxi: nose, lacking body hair, lower lip, small teeth, indescribable qualities (5 pts)
Compiling our methodically-collected knowledge into the following graph:
Very Scientific Graph
Through this exhaustively researched case-study, where I’m really from is uncovered. Endless hours, countless tears, and an untold number of Starbucks Chunky Mango Yoghurt Parfaits later... the truth is revealed.
Graph of Obvious Proportions
TL;DR - I’m Pangaean****
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