Every year when December rolls around, I get on a plane and fly to Malaysia with my parents for a couple of weeks. They insist. This trip has sort of become an annual pilgrimage to my parents’ homeland, an occasion where we spend time with one another and rush around making the most of the time we have here visiting relatives, shopping and eating.
Shot of the skies and clouds stretching over Melbourne, taken on a plane ride back from Malaysia earlier this year. Photo: Mabel Kwong
I always feel agitated a few weeks before each trip because going overseas during this time of the year means missing out on a number of things in Melbourne for me: New Year festivities with my friends, turning down that hard-to-come-by office summer job I was offered, quietly reading the book I want to finish and so on.
This year, for a number of reasons work and health related, I won’t be making the yearly trip back to Malaysia. And you know what? I feel sad.
As an Asian Australian who speaks with a slightly tinged Singaporean-Malaysian accent, quite often here in Melbourne people ask me when we’re mid-conversation, “Where are you from?”.
This question is an ambiguous one. As Melissa Loh has discussed, it can mean: Which city I live in? Which country I was born in? Where I grew up? Which planet? Where my ancestors come from? Which languages I speak?
Each pair of shoes travels far and wide. Where are you from? Photo: Mabel Kwong
Pretty sure a lot of the time, many who ask me this question want to know where I call home and expect a simple, straightforward answer. Also, they are those whom I’ve met not too long ago and perceive as strangers.
We all speak English differently. Some of us speak “Singlish”, “Chinglish”, “Manglish”, “Konglish”, “Frenglish” or “Spanglish”, variations of the language incorporating a mish-mash of non-English words.
I am no stranger to flitting around with the overseas crowd here in Melbourne. Whenever I latch onto one of the, say, Singaporean or Malaysian cliques, I hear them spout one of these colloquial forms of English among themselves non-stop.
English is spoken differently by different people of different backgrounds. Photo: Mabel Kwong
Funnily enough, on many occasions when a Caucasian friend or acquaintance joins us, I hear them drop their usual accent and immediately put on a Westernised English one. When the white person toddles off, they revert back to their normal way of talking.