I had heard about this phenomenon. I have to say, though, it was one of those things that I had to hear for myself to believe.
On Saturday, Chris and I were strolling through the streets of Taipei when we decided to stop in a restaurant and try out some of our newly learned Chinese vocabulary. We were getting our order across with more help from gestures and pointing to the menu than our language when it happened. The lady at the counter seemed very nice but she looked right at us and said, “Niggah…所有網頁 … niggah…所有網頁 ” (for those of you trying to figure out the Chinese characters, they are totally random, not actually what she said.) At first, we were taken aback and a little offended. Being caucasian ourselves, we thought that maybe she was confused about a new English insult she learned from HBO. As the ordering continued, so did the racial slurs. “Niggah… what would you like to drink?” “Is that for here… niggah… or to go?” We ate our meal in a fog of bewilderment determined to get to the bottom of this blatant (though misused) racism.
We asked our friends who have spent some time here as well as some native Chinese speakers what the root issue was causing such bigotry. However, as it turns out, this word is actually a voice stall in Chinese. They use it the same way that we would use “um” or “like” or “well” in English. That’s their story, anyway. Next time if they tell me that “cracker” is the word for “hello”… I am going to be a little suspicious.