Long hair. Short hair. When it’s time for a haircut, there’s always the question of how much hair to chop off. For the guys, sometimes there’s also the dilemma of deciding how much facial hair to keep when it starts getting long – beards and moustaches go hand-in-hand with certain haircuts.
Long hair has always been my preference. My Chinese-Malaysian mum prefers otherwise on me. Each time I come back from the hairdressers with freshly layered hair reaching slightly below the shoulders, she remarks, “Still so long”. She isn’t a fan of facial hair either, bugging my brother to shave when lonely, stray hairs mushroom around his mouth.
When it’s time to get our hair cut, some of us think practical and go for a no-nonsense hairstyle. We opt for a hairstyle hoping it will fall into place when we stumble out of bed, one that feels a natural extension of ourselves – “the usual” that we may request at the hairdresser’s.
We all have our own ways of dressing, our different tastes in fashion and clothes. Every day wear, and formal cultural attire and costumes, come in different styles around the world.
Going to school in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore meant I had opportunities to shop for clothes regularly in three different countries. As a kid, my Chinese-Malaysian mum took me to malls in these cities twice a year during the sales and pointed out clothes she thought looked good on me.
When we’re comfortable with what we’re wearing, we’re confident. Model and businesswoman Heidi Klum | Forces of Nature.
Walking through clothing stores in Asia, we’re bound to see a sea of colourful clothes, be it colourful T-shirts with slogans or traditional sarees and cheongsams. That is, light coloured clothes usually outnumber the darker coloured ones. In Asian cultures, bright colours are auspicious. Red and yellow are symbolic of prosperity for the Chinese, the former signifying progress and the latter earth, farming and growth. During imperial eras, these colours were worn mainly by royalty, those with wealth and power.
Being naturally skinny and thin isn’t always a blessing. It’s usually far from it. Just like those on the heavier side, a number of us skinny people often get grief and discriminated over the way we look.
For my whole life as an Australian of Chinese heritage, I’ve been skinny and never had an eating disorder. At school in Melbourne (and later Malaysia and Singapore), I was always the thinnest among my classmates. Skinny bones, twiggy, stick, flat chested like a surfboard…I heard all those nicknames back then and felt like a walking freak show.
Today at twenty-something years of age, my collarbones protrude when I wear wide scoop neck T-shirts. When my arms are bent, my elbows look as sharp as the corners of a rectangular glass table. When I sit, my two kneecaps stick out on my chicken legs, looking like the tops of mushrooms. Only once in Australia have I met someone as skinny as me. According to a national health survey conducted in 2012, just 1.7% of the Australian population is underweight.
When we’re the birthday person, having people sing Happy Birthday to us is usually an awkward affair. No matter what language the song is sung to us in, we struggle to compose ourselves during the tune: do we stare at the cake with candles, then at the singing well-wishers, and then stare at the cake again?
It’s my birthday next week and I’m quite certain I won’t have to deal with Happy Birthday being sung to me. I’m not big on celebrating birthdays and have never thrown myself a birthday party; this year is no exception. Each time my friends suggest they throw me a birthday bash, I insist I won’t turn up to it. However, in the past I’ve had to put up with a few surprise birthday parties and of course, that song.
When Happy Birthday is sung to us, we can be respectful, polite and show our appreciation to the singers and so-called singers. After all, they’ve obviously took some trouble to show up and bring a cake with candles to us, be it store bought or homemade. The least we can do is sit and stare at the candles until the song is over.
Talking about language is confusing. Mother tongue, first language, native language and so on, we all define these phrases differently. And each of these definitions aren’t wrong at all since each phrase holds different meanings for each of us.
The other weekend I thought about this as I walked through the shopping centre near my place. Walking briskly, I passed by the stall selling organic beauty products, passed right in front of a middle-aged-looking Caucasian female stall attendant.
“Ni hao!” she exclaimed. I slowed my walking speed. What? She’s assuming I understand Chinese. Assuming that Mandarin is my mother tongue, which isn’t. It’s Cantonese. No, wait. My family speak Chinese too…so it’s also my mother tongue…