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[Can you spot the difference?][Can you spot the difference?]

   Daniel Rosario


People from the Orient all look the same. At least that's what I was told. Funny thing is, for as long as I can remember, I was always able to tell what their country of origin was. "Chinese? He's so obviously Japanese," I'd tell friends who assumed everyone at a Chinese restaurant was, well, Chinese.

And so there I was, confident about my gift of 'racial discernment', until I chanced upon All Look Same. It's a site that challenges users to look at 18 different pictures of people and match each with their country of origin.

Your score could be an eye opener. Mine certainly was.

It was created by a Japanese guy called Dyske Suematsu to test one's facial recognition ability. He says he did it after his girlfriend experienced difficulties telling Caucasians apart even though she was one herself. "I've always thought it was a myth that you can tell Asians apart", says Suematsu. "Some tell me I definitely look Japanese, while others think I don't at all. Some claim they can tell the difference, others admit they can't. This site is, therefore, a way of demystifying the issue."

He clarifies that he didn't want the test to take on political overtones: "The bottom line is I thought it was a funny idea, but it ended up initiating some interesting discussions." As a user who scored a lowly six on 18 admits: "We can't stereotype people or label them right off the bat".

Incidentally, the average score is a poor seven. One user was surprised with a worse score of three, but was also prompted to reflect on why he thought he'd do better considering that he, though Hispanic, couldn't tell the difference between other Latin Americans.

'I did a lot worse than I thought I would' is what most say. A woman calling herself Sisterchristian scored nine, and attributes it to one's inability to judge from pictures. Another visitor called Yi Yin agrees and feels that faces aren't enough; mannerisms should also be taken into account. Yet another suggests a video version of the test to raise the level of accuracy.

Suematsu points out that as nobody is familiar with everything, we cannot accuse others of unfamiliarity. Thanks to initial difficulties telling Caucasians apart while he was a student, he once spent half an hour in the wrong class, mistaking another teacher for his own: "Both had blond hair and moustaches."

He also states that as you get increasingly familiar with something, you are better equipped to make distinctions. Thus, merely being from one continent does not qualify you as an expert at differentiating countrymen from foreigners. Da Buzz, a user who took the test, agrees wholeheartedly: "I'm Chinese and my friend is Korean but, in Seoul, people think I'm Korean and he's Chinese."

Tatturtle, who scored just two says, "Maybe there should be a test evaluating white people. Would anyone get many right?" Mary, another visitor, points out that the test is "fun, but flawed. Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, while being very different ethnically, belong to a general 'type' as do Hispanics, Northern Europeans, Middle-Easterners, etc. Appearance is no indication of a country of origin." She attributes her high score of 14 to "lucky guessing".

People judge according to preconceived notions, and not everyone acknowledges the inability to decipher correctly. They offer several excuses, from the lame "the Chinese showed here are not typical Chinese" to the insightful -- "there are more differences among Caucasians, like hair and eye colour, while Asians all seem to have straight dark hair."

And as if it wasn't hard enough already, one user says, "I don't think Vietnamese or Filipinos are listed. I'm sure the Web master could mix them in"

Suematsu has the last word: "AllLookSame.com is ultimately a joke. However, it is also a celebration of the similarities and differences among Asians. And, to that I'm drinking Tsingtao, a Korean beer (or is it Chinese?) Well, whatever."

Yeah, Suematsu. Whatever.



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