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.
It’s no secret many of us Asians love eating instant noodles. Some of us call them two-minute noodles. Others ramen, instant ramen.
Living in Malaysia and Singapore as a kid, my mum made piping hot bowls of prawn-flavoured Maggi soup noodles for Saturday lunches. I licked every bowl clean. After nearly a decade living in Melbourne, my taste for instant noodles hasn’t waned one bit – I still eat Maggi noodles once a week for lunch most Saturdays.
Many of us Asians love eating instant noodles because it’s cheap. Asians are cheap. We can get a pack of Indomie Mi Goreng or Nissin noodles for 30 cents a packet in the Asian grocery shops in Melbourne. Perfect for Asian international students on a budget in Australia. Perfect for a twenty-something Chinese Australian like me on a budget, trying to secure a stable job in the local Caucasian-dominated, white-collar workforce so as to pay the bills.
I’m no stranger to racism in Melbourne. As an Asian Australian, racist encounters have been a part of my life here for as long as I can remember. But I don’t remember doing much about this.
Over the years, I learned there are different types of racism. I’ve had insults about my non-Aussie accent and yellow skin thrown verbally in my face by non-Asians. There have been times where I met new people who immediately assumed I wasn’t Australian and asked, “Where are you from?” That is, there is direct racism and casual/everyday racism, one of them more subtle than the other.
Queuing up. Lining up. Standing in line for something free, something new or something on discount. Most of the time we’ll see quite a few Asian faces in these lines. If not a few, then a lot.
I’ve been guilty of queuing on a few occasions. At one point while living in Singapore, I joined humongous Singaporean queues at McDonalds to collect all eight stuffed monkeys that came with McValue Meals during the Chinese New Year month. I did it, sometimes waiting half an hour to buy a meal. A few weeks ago, I saw a short queue in the Emporium shopping mall in the city. I joined it and after a five minute wait, got to the front and received a free macaron. I did notice there were some elderly Asian ladies in front of me, haggling at the top of their lungs for more than one sweet treat.
As an Asian Australian living in Australia, I get the question “Where are you from?” thrown at me quite a bit.
When I get asked this, I pause: it’s a confusing question. Where exactly is “from”? The place where we were born? Where we live? Our heritage? One of my favourite responses to this question is, “I’m from three countries. Guess” (I grew up in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore to Chinese-Malaysian parents; see previous post). It’s also an intrusive question that demands a very personal answer, maybe demanding that we give our life story away.
We usually feel the urge to ask the question when get the feeling the person we’re talking to has a different story than us, judging by the accent on the tip of their tongue, the colour of their skin, the way they dress.