“Why didn’t you get full marks on the test?” “Why do you always come home so late?” “Why no discount on the chicken today?” These sentences are often the music to the average Asian kid’s ears, the average Asian kid who lives with Asian parents.
Truth be told, a lot of things Asian parents often say are weighed with negative undertones. It’s downright demoralising to chide a kid when they tried their best on a B-graded test, isn’t it? What’s wrong with buying a kilo of chicken when it’s not on sale? Nothing. At the same time, what Asian parents say can be rather humourous.
When I lived at home, I giggled at many of the pessimistic things my mum verbally spewed out (in Cantonese) about meals. Like many other Asian parents who want their children to be well-fed, she makes eating at home almost a chore and a rushed experience through such phrases:
Eat faster or your rice will get cold.
Eat faster. I want to wash the dishes.
Put an egg into your Maggi noodles. More nutritious.
My mum liked to cook for me at home But when she does, it’s evident in her choice of words that she is an Asian parent overtly keen on watching over their kids, full-fledged adults, like a hawk:
Do you want to eat the kai lan or the gwei lo broccoli?
You’re coming home? OK. I will fry more rice. #friedrice
Apart from criticising my eating habits, my mum also constantly found fault with my appearances and choices affecting my physical safety. It’s fair to say Asian parents arguably coerce their kids into being vain and self-centered individuals with not a care for those around them:
Pin your hair up. Your fringe is dripping down your face. That’s so ugly.
When you get on the tram, quickly grab a seat. When you’re standing and the tram moves, you will easily fall down.
Then there are the times when my mum doubts what I achieved and what I want to do. Maybe it’s because I’m an Asian girl. Or maybe it’s because cautious, typical Asian parents don’t usually want us to try new things but prefer us to stick to the tried and tested routine. As my mum bluntly says to me on many occasions:
You published an article (found a special coin, won a voucher etc.)? Show it to your brother.
Can you do it? You better not do it.
Many migrant parents living in Western countries hold their own opinions about Caucasians. Sometimes, they turn their noses down at those who are white. As my parents have said:
(With respect to ghost town, shut down Melbourne city over Easter and Christmas) The sei gwei lo. They really like to enjoy themselves.
Those gwei los. When they age and become old, they get fat.
It’s evident what my mum and what other typical Asian parents tend to say sounds brusque and callous. But what they say is usually straight to the point. And they do make valid points. For example, scoffing down piping hot meals devoid of MSG but made with love at home will give us the nutrients to become fat. Healthy. Looking out for ourselves and making sure we are physically and mentally-abled only means we’ll be more capable of helping others when the time arises. Practising piano or mental calculations repeatedly according to a schedule might be mundane, but such routines serve to drill into us that working hard is what we need to do to achieve anything.
Just as kids will be kids, parents will be parents. Asian parents who have sacrificed so much, saving every penny slaving away at low-paying jobs day-in and day-out in developing towns, just want the best for their naïve kids.
I suspect most of the time the things Asian parents say to their kids are greeted with silence. That is, we don’t talk back but keep quiet when our parents criticise us or tell us off. I do just this as I believe in listening and learning from everyone’s side of the story – even if their words hurt my feelings. No matter how disappointed our family are with us, they will always support us.