The Privilege I’ve Got

Author’s Cover Letter: This is Yaoyun Zhang from China. I started writing only earlier this year. I’m not a native English speaker. I do not even live in an English speaking country. But I enjoy reading in English, and I, too, like many writers, have many opinions. I tended to shut myself down in the real world, being mysterious and quiet. At some point the pain of not being able to express myself became suffocating. So I started writing. I choose to write in English to express my thoughts that otherwise can’t be expressed in my native language. English gives me a sense of ease. The ease of not being bound by certain values and standards. This is my first time submitting my work. Hopefully I will be able to connect with some fellow writers and literature lovers.


It’s like you open a book and instantly your brain recognises all the words. It’s written in English. A language of yours.

It’s like me, staring at my unshaved arms and knowing I am Asian. I pinch them and they repulse me by sending pain signals through my nerves. It’s my physicality. Undoubtedly. Unalterably.

No complaints.

You spot the same book in a library in Paris. You see the same cover design, the same author’s name. But upon opening it, you’ve noticed: the words, the same roman alphabet combinations, yet with some extra les, des, celles attached. It is, indeed, the same book, mais en Francais. Translating allows it to transform itself into another language with ease and fluidity. And now it is given a new identity, a new set of rights, being allowed to sit in a librairie in Paris. Above board.

There is something similar to this something else. The passport I am holding. On the cover it says Passport, like all the passports out there, albeit in different languages. When you open it, there is always a photo page, underneath the rectangular photo ID, you find your name and other personal info. Not much space for creativity. But this something similar to the something else lacks that ease and fluidity of a book.

Translating a passport into another language does not grant it a new identity, nor a set of rights. I noticed this too late. For some people, their passports are invitations to new possibilities, qualifications to become world trekkers. “Embrace globalism” is engraved on their little books. For me, and many other people from less favoured countries, a passport is a cage, or worse, a prison.

It follows me, watches me and reports my behaviour to the authorities, like those telescreens in 1984. It is a constant reminder that there is no peace in the world. Mega-wars may be over, political tensions never cease.

At first I thought I could deal with this issue like how publishers deal with a book of foreign origin: If I master English, receive an English-based education, I will open a crack and have some fluidity seep through my rigid passport. Maybe one day it will open a gate of opportunities for me to move around like those who call themselves “global citizens.” And that’s what I did. That’s why I am here, typing in a language that doesn’t belong to me.

Yet when I see my fellow Asian friend, holding a blue covered passport and flying into UK, while my shivering Asian arm is holding a letter rejecting my tourist visa. I see it. Fluidity does not exist in this political world. You’ve got to be born in the right place. Or you’ve got to be lucky. I got rejected because I forgot to submit one of my bank statements. The one with multiple digits. The officers are suspicious…of my financial stability… of my intention for visiting the country.

I am writing these words in English, a language I acquired later in life, about my being rejected by an English speaking country. And now I am taking a masters degree taught by an English institution.

The world is absurd. The passport is an official reminder of such absurdity. It is absurdity that restricts me not based on my humanity but my political identity. Freedom of movement is based on the number in my bank account, because my passport isn’t enough to demonstrate my status as a benevolent human. Nowadays those visa officers may also need to check if the money under my name is clean. More work. Poor them.

Sometimes I want to grumble about this. And my countrymen will remind me how privileged I am. How great my country is. How statesmen spoiled me so that I could dream high.

I am not allowed to complain.

I am allowed though, to work hard, master English, and another language, followed by another one. Allowed to get  a degree from a top-ranked English university with the money from my parents’ pocket. Buy a VIP service for the visa application letter for an extra one thousand  pounds, hearing back within three days about my tourist visa. I  am privileged, spoiled. I feel pity for those people who don’t have to go through this. Who travel around with their visa-free passports. Who attend universities for free and get grants from governments. They don’t have the privilege I enjoy.

The privilege of tasting a full course in life’s absurdity.