Melbourne. It boasts a grid-shaped city with skyscrapers alongside narrow laneways lined with cafes. A city where I’ve lived for more than half my life, went to university and now work. A city that speaks to me the perks that come with being a part of the rat race in a first world country, and whispers to me the finer things in life.
The other day it was 4pm on a cloudy Sunday afternoon in June. The chilly winter wind whipped my face. I had two hours to kill in the city before catching up with someone. Standing at the Flinders Street Station intersection, cars whizzed by. As two trams rumbled past, the asphalt shook slightly beneath my feet.
There are times when we find certain names harder to pronounce than others. Maybe ethnic names, cultural names or names with more than a few syllables. Names we have never heard of that make us stop and wonder if we’ll ever get the pronunciation down pat.
I was born Mabel Kwong in Australia to Chinese-Malaysian migrant parents. Or Kwong Li Teng (lee ting/lìtíng, 丽婷), Mabel – that’s how my name is written on official documents in Malaysia and Singapore. While the first-middle-last-name convention is standard in the Western world, surname/cultural names usually come first before first names in Chinese culture – think last-first-name or first-last-middle-name conventions in a culture where family and seniority are esteemed.
Although I go by Mabel in professional and social settings, I’ve encountered numerous people who are convinced that that’s not my real name, lumping me in the same boat with those going by non-Anglo names. Sometimes these instances are annoying. Sometimes there is more to these instances than meets the eye.
These days taking photos is something a lot of us like to do. It’s intriguing how some of us like taking photos of ourselves, taking selfies. Intriguing how some of us like taking photos of what we see around us, such as that city building reaching for the clouds, the unmoving calm blue ocean, family, animals or the homeless man shaking his booty for a buck.
6am. My alarm goes off. I groan, squinting a sleepy eye at my buzzing handphone next to my pillow. Slapping a hand over it, the shrill sound cuts off. An hour earlier to rise before work to watch and snap photos of the sunrise along the iconic Yarra River. I groggily stumble out of bed, put on my corporate clothes, grab my bag that I packed a few hours earlier and shuffle to the tram stop.
Whether we’re an amateur, professional or hobbyist with the camera, we find fascination in the sights and people around us regardless the season. No two of us have the same life stories and perspectives so in retrospect each of us carries our camera for different reasons.
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.