It is deeply ironic that in an age of hyper-political correctness and racial sensitivity in North America, there have been unrelenting waves of anti-Asian violence, especially in the United States. Asian-looking people have been beaten , kicked, shouted at, spat on and called racist names. Homes and businesses have been vandalised. Some violent attacks have turned deadly. This wasn’t how I experienced America when I was a college student there in the second half of the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. As a pundit, I am highly critical of the American government, especially its foreign policy. But as a young student in the US many decades ago, most Americans and Canadians I met were friendly and generous, and intellectually exciting and challenging to be friends with. And that was all before the current culture of PC, “cancel culture”, micro-aggression and safe spaces that supposedly protect minorities and women. There were no “safe spaces” on the campuses of high schools, universities and colleges I attended or visited; the phrase didn’t even exist. But I always felt safe and mostly welcome. To be sure, some of those schools were close to inner-city slums where it was really dangerous to walk at night, but that was because they were high-crime areas. I have had my share of racially charged encounters over the years in North America. I have been shoved, refused service, offered poor service, called a Chink and a Jap. I once fought over a parking space outside a Costco in Toronto where the guy shouted, “You Chinese steal everything.” What, even parking spaces? But it strikes me that I have had many angry encounters in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangdong with other Chinese and Hongkongers over the years, too. A family of mainland tourists once called the police on me, at Times Square in Causeway Bay. Maybe they thought I was being “racist” to them! Maybe I am just a confrontational kind of guy. Racist question about Chinese culture at Texas school sees three teachers probed Sometimes, though, the anger and hostility arising from everyday conflicts among ordinary people might not have been racial to begin with, but when the two sides were of different ethnicities, race often became an extra-irritant. Back then, if anything, my being Chinese actually earned me preferential treatment throughout my school years. I attended a high school in Toronto where I wasn’t just a minority but the only Chinese. I was lonely and didn’t speak much English, at least at first. The school master made sure his oldest son became my friend, who drew me into his social circles and protected me from social embarrassment and other unfamiliar Canadian teenage rituals. In my senior year, when the school head realised I had an interest in the social sciences, he encouraged me to read Freud and Max Weber. I still have two of the books he gave me, The Sociological Tradition and Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History , a cult classic from the 1960s by the American classicist Norman O. Brown. He himself was an amateur James Joyce scholar and a friend of Marshall McLuhan, the University of Toronto media theorist and cultural guru. One on one, he let me drink alcohol with him while he pontificated on Irish literature, sometimes for hours. I was too drunk to pay attention. Today, many teachers in North America avoid being alone with a student for fear of being accused of inappropriate behaviour. I attended a small liberal arts college in the US. For four years, I never once experienced an unpleasant incident with a racial overtone. Perhaps it’s different now in the US, but back then, being a Chinese from Hong Kong, many young people on and off campus found me slightly exotic with my incomprehensible accent and weird manners. Some of them became good friends. In my first year, during a history of science class on a 19th century Italian discoverer of an atomic unit, Brady, who became my best friend, pulled me aside during breaks and said: “Alex, it’s pronounced Avoga-DRO, NOT avocado! You are embarrassing everyone in class.” The racism, trauma and humour of growing up in a Chinese takeaway In a Hollywood movie about college kids, everyone would be laughing at me in such a scenario. In my old college, everyone was pretending I was pronouncing correctly. No one ever made fun of my accent, at least not to my face. US college was the most fun period of my life. An ultra-right-wing, super-hawkish political science professor and self-styled cold warrior liked to call me his Chinese communist, but would offer me long, personal and erudite lessons on 20th century communism, perhaps to make sure I wouldn’t become a real Chinese communist. He failed badly on that one. Did I ever experience racial discrimination and poor treatment? Yes, but not in North America. All those unpleasant incidents and experiences – every single one – happened in Hong Kong, from expatriate people in positions of power and authority, whether in school or in the workplace. But hey, the city was a colony, after all. I write all this not to challenge or deny the terrible experience of Asian victims of hate crime and speech in the US, whether today or in the past. My experience speaks for no one else but me. But the Americans I knew and loved have been the greatest people I know – and yes, most of them were highly critical of their own government.