As a Chinese person living in Australia, defining who I am as an Asian Australian has always been tough. If you come from a mixed family or have moved around quite a bit, you might feel this way too.
Growing up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, my fair-haired Caucasian classmates teased my brown eyes in the playground. These days, walking around Melbourne, I get asked “Where are you from?” a fair bit. And at home, I get nagged at by my parents for not having studied science or law at university. As Asian Australians, we ask ourselves: Where do we fit in? Where do we belong?
Yet I no longer hate myself for being “too white to be Asian and too Asian to be Australian”. Living in multicultural Melbourne for almost a decade, I realise there are signs telling us it’s okay not to fit in – because we’re all different.
There are lots of reasons to love a food festival. Whenever there’s one happening in Melbourne, I think about going.
A few weeks ago I went down to the Night Noodle Markets after work with my colleagues. An outdoor food festival at Birrarung Marr, a grassy patch at the edge of the city, serving up all kinds of Asian street food you can think of. When the eight of us twenty-somethings arrived at a quarter to six, a sea of people greeted our eyes. Tables packed. Queues in front of food stalls where chefs dished up food right before our eyes.
We go to food festivals because it’s a chance for us to give in to our love for food. A time to indulge our food cravings. We go to food festivals for the food, for our old favourite foods and the foods we’ve always wanted to try. As my colleagues and I made our way past the entrance, a dozen different gastronomic aromas hit us in the face left, right and centre. Vietnamese pho. Korean fried chicken. Chinese baos. Japanese ramen. Mouthwatering Asian street food. What shall I eat? Everything.
It’s a habit some of us have: being neat and tidy. A neat freak. That is, some of us like things to be in a certain order or place.
I’m one of these neat people, always making sure there’s no rubbish on my desks at work and at home, putting away things I don’t need for a while. My Asian colleague Mandy the Magician is a neat person too. The other afternoon she finished all her work for the day and decided to tidy our office – sorting a plastic tub full of paperclips, a plastic tub the size of your average rectangular pillow, sorting silver paperclips from the coloured ones.
Standing in front of a bunch of people you don’t know. Feeling like a million pairs of eyes locked on you. Forehead sweaty, palms shaky. Speaking to an audience we’ve never met, or even to a group of friends, can be scary if we’re not too confident at public speaking.
Recently I got interviewed on a radio podcast on SYN 90.7FM and talked about the Asian entertainment scene in Australia (radio is public speaking – talking to an audience you can’t see, but can feel…). Although this podcast was edited, I thought it didn’t go too bad as I did string coherent sentences together. But I was never this eloquent speech-wise. As a kid, I always stuttered when I gave presentations in front of the class.
When it comes to work, a lot of Asians are fast and efficient. Sometimes scarily fast and efficient (when compared to others). It’s like a super power that some of us have.
I’m a fast worker. Part of my job at work involves processing: I stamp application forms and divide them into batches of 100, which takes me around five minutes per batch. But that’s not as fast as my Asian colleague, and let’s call her Mandy. Watching Mandy grab a stack of papers, flick the papers up by their corners and count each one until the 100th one in a matter of twenty seconds is like watching a magic show – the papers flick up in a blur, actually disappearing for a second.
Maybe some of us Asians do things fast because we want to be first, first to cross the finish line. Coming out on top and getting titles and rewards is admired in Asian cultures. When I was younger, my parents nagged at me to finish all my homework as soon as I got home from school so I could start the next set of questions in the maths revision books. I did that, because back then I naively thought keeping ahead of the pack made us truly happy.