What Does It Mean To Be An Asian Australian Writer And Artist

For a long time I struggled to call myself a writer. A writer in Australia. A writer and artist who is Asian Australian.

Along this journey of self-discovery, I’ve realised it’s not easy for us of Asian heritage to stand out in the Australian arts scene and accept that it’s okay to be different.

Believing in ourselves and sharing with others are life's greatest rewards | Weekly Photo Challenge: Reward

Believing in ourselves and sharing with others are life’s greatest rewards | Weekly Photo Challenge: Reward.

Recently, I went to dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling’s show at The Forum Melbourne. She inspires me to write. Watching Lindsey play her violin and dance at the same time to electronic beats on stage complete with a funky, flaming red up-do on her head was a sight to behold. Anything’s possible no matter where we come from, and how we look. But at what price? How do we get there?

It’s not uncommon for Asian Australians to come from “privileged” migrant families. My well-to-do Chinese-Malaysian parents gave me a roof over my head and paid for my studies up until my postgraduate studies – hard not to feel guilty. As Asian Australians, on one hand we feel obligated to give back to our families when we’re working adults. On the other, we want to be independent like our Caucasian friends without filial piety ethics tying us down.

Each day I make time to write, even if it’s just fifteen minutes. Being Asian Australian, sometimes we have to go out of our way to do what we really love while putting up with being too Asian, too Australian. As Lindsey says, balance is hard to achieve:

It’s hard for everybody. No matter how busy we are or how crazy our life is, we’re not alone in this and I think we just have to continually remind ourselves…just continuously getting back on the horse, saying no, I’m going to do this.

Many of us slave away at monotonous jobs to make a living, and it’s no wonder artistic creativity comes hard to some of us. Coupled with being typically brought up to be reserved and let others speak, expressing emotion might be alien to us. Growing up, my dad always said to me, “No crying”, when I scraped my knee at the playground and my mum, “Keep quiet, listen to the teacher”, when she dropped me off at school – I grew up thinking showing emotion was dishonourable.

Writers put stories and feelings in words, more or less in black and white. When I first started writing many years ago, words didn’t comes naturally to me, my stories nothing but lifeless descriptions. But the more I kept focusing on making each sentence sing with feeling, the more I realised it wasn’t the end of the world putting my sentiments in words. Being Asian Australian, we have to forget about being Asian – or put behind what we’ve always known – for two seconds and just be a person to chase that creative dream of ours. On finding success, Lindsey offers:

[You’re] going to have to experience the downward slope and that’s the only way you’re going to be ready when the success comes. You have to go through those experiences and prove to yourself first that you believe in yourself and that you can make it.

Even if we’re outspoken and creativity comes naturally to us, we need to face the fact Anglo voices saturate Australian mainstream media while minority voices discriminated. There’s still the stereotype that if we’re non-Anglo, we’re familiar with nothing else but ethnic issues; it seems amazing prominent Asian Australian writers like Alice Pung and Benjamin Law are best known for their stories about their heritage.

Writing about multiculturalism a lot, I’ve pigeonholed myself into this stereotype. But I enjoy it: there’s so much to learn about cultures around us and stereotypes have their importance. As Asian Australian artists, we have to come to terms with living the best of being both stereotypically Asian and stereotypically Australian, in the face of naysayers.

We're all different with different talents. Roundtable Rival duel - keytar versus violin.

We’re all different with different talents. Roundtable Rival duel – keytar versus violin.

Sometimes we don’t get taken seriously for our craft and maybe ourselves struggle to take ourselves seriously as artists. These days I usually write about multiculturalism from lifestyle angles complete with personal anecdotes – the kind of writing many call “fluff” compared to similar-themed articles in the media heavily referencing research and interview snippets, written by notable figures. But no matter who we are, we all have something to contribute and being popular isn’t a means to an end (it has been nice getting a few comments from around the world on my blog, though). As Lindsey puts it:

Act in a way you would be proud of even if the whole world was watching, because your example could mean the world to just one person. It is the ‘small’ people who really do change the world.

As Asian Australian artists, we need to realise culture and society expectations needn’t be barriers to being successful at what we do. When I stopped comparing myself with my friends who are climbing the corporate ladder in science, it was when I felt comfortable with myself. The more we’re comfortable with who we are, the more we can make a difference. As Lindsey says:

You can’t love someone else unless you first love yourself. And that’s what makes life worth living – is being able to love other people.

I got to meet Lindsey during the Meet-and-Greet before her show. When I walked up to her, she hugged me. “I forgot to tell you something the last time I met you. You inspire me to be a writer…I’m writing my first book. Thank you”. She asked, “Is it fiction?”, looking stunned. Artist to artist. Dreamer to dreamer.

No matter what our background, confidence comes from having self-worth, which comes from being positive. And being positive comes from accepting who we are.

What is your passion and do you do it today?

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232 thoughts on “What Does It Mean To Be An Asian Australian Writer And Artist

  1. You are a writer and also an author, Mabel.

    As you know I had this debate in my own post and at the end of it I came to the conclusion that we are all writers and authors. I now rejoice in the fact that I am both, so embrace it and enjoy the stardom it can bring. You do, after all , have many followers on this blog, and you would not get so many likes or comments had most of us not accepted that you are a very talent writer and author.

    Your blog is very successful because of you. You write in a style that attracts many readers.

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful photos. They were a joy to see, and I see lots of happiness in them. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • I really enjoyed your recent post on whether we’re writers or authors, and it generated such great discussion. You certainly know how to captivate an audience with words, Hugh. I won’t be surprised if you came out with a book tomorrow on the shelves – as a writer and author.

      Thank you for the very kind words. I have come to accept my writing style is different from most…usually a combination of everyday thoughts combined with ideas from the academic world. And I’ve come to accept the fact that the topics I write about are very sensitive and may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

      This is my favourite post I’ve written, so thank you for checking it out, and the photos too. Lindsey Stirling is such an inspiring artist 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good for you, Mabel! Resist being pigeonholed!

    I watched the fantasy author Blake Charlton give an amazing presentation at a convention a few years ago. He had funny childhood stories about “riding the short bus,” due to his dyslexia, a power point chart with the best insults hurled at him by other kids, and his eventual triumph when he graduated summa cum laude and went to med school. But the phrase that struck me the most was the quote that prompted him to try writing a fantasy series. He said, “Even bad art is still art.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a wonderful phrase. Thanks for sharing, Autumn. Art is very subjective. We all have different tastes so it’s hard to judge what is good art and bad art – it really depends on the individual. It’s probably one of the reasons why many artists are struggling artists tight on money.

      You are a good writer from what I’ve read on your blog. You fuse cultural issues seamlessly with humour, and I look forward to reading more from you soon 🙂


  3. The pictures are really gorgeous, especially in low light conditions ! I think you must have felt great to tell her that it was HER that inspired you. It mush be such a great compliment to receive. I don’t know this artist but it looks intriguing.

    I’ve read an article on a magazine not so long ago, and it was about the positive attitude. I think you have higher chance of success if you believe and if you see things in a positive way. In the article they were saying “don’t say you won’t succeed”, instead say that “it may take longer but I’ll get there, no matter what”.

    I also think that you are talented 🙂


    • Thanks, Gin. Lindsey looked very happy when I told her she inspired me to be a writer. I was shocked that the photos turned out fairly okay because it was my first time shooting in manual mode on my point-and-shoot, and half the time I was jumping up and down enjoying the show 🙂

      That is such a good motto in the article you read. A bit of hope and self-belief can go a long way, because with these feelings it’s only then we dare to dream, keep the dream alive and have the courage to go after our dreams.

      Haha! I think you’re more talented at me at photography. Love your close-ups and macros!


    • LOL. Your niece sounds like a performer in the making…she certainly knows what she likes to do!

      If you get the chance, you must go and see Lindsey Stirling! And tell her this blogger from Australia sent you 😉


  4. I agree with what you have mentioned here 🙂 I think you have talents as a writer, Mabel and a critical one as well 🙂 Now I can see you have talent to take awesome photos! Great images 🙂


    • Awww, thank you, Indah! I’ve only begun looking more closely at photos since the end of last year. One day I hope to take photos as good as yours. Love how you work your fisheye lens 🙂


  5. Dear Mabel
    This is a make people feel energetic performance! I think u should have enlightening.
    I think you must be courageous, determined to become a writer ,you are in a diverse environment, which is dominant characteristic blend of East and West, so you need to see more and listen and write, to their own the use of words to express the feelings in the heart.
    Haha:), I think I was standing in a oriental mother’s position, if my daughter had such thoughts, I think I would like to encourage her.


    • Lindsey Stirling did put on a very energetic performance. I didn’t want the show to end. You’re so encouraging, thank you, Meihsiu. Sometimes it’s hard to express feelings from the heart about Eastern and Western cultures because often people will judge and say things you don’t want to hear…but at the end of the day these stories need to be told because they are important.

      You sound like a very optimistic mother. I’m sure your daughter looks up to her creative mum who likes to take photographs 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the way you wrote this:

    confidence comes from having self-worth, which comes from being positive. And being positive comes from accepting who we are.

    yeah babay yea!!

    The collage of pics and opening photo also give us a feel for the talent she has – and I bet seeing the show live is moving,.

    anyhow, when I used to be in counseling – a major thing some of our ladies had to work through (in addition to anger and any baggage they carried – 😉 ) – well they had to do a “family of origin” workbook and it really helped them to learn more about their ways and their wants.

    nice post my friend 🙂


    • I love that part you quoted from the article. It’s my favourite part, yeah! 😀

      Her live show is sensational and leaves you speechless.

      That “family of origin” workbook sounds interesting. Never heard of such a thing before. Sort of like a diary or journal where you record feelings and aspirations from the sounds of it.

      Thanks for being so encouraging as always, Y 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • oooo – vip tix – now I see why the photos were so amazing too! 🙂
        and yes – the workbook was like that -it has sections for notes and responses…
        I cannot recall the publisher – but I do need to find out because they also had some grief workbooks that I wanted to get for my neighbors. in hindsight I see what an incredible tool those booklets were!
        ❤ ttys


  7. This is a great article, Mabel. Lindsey is my favourite violinist of the modern day, she stands out of others by her very own nature and well-trained musical talent. It might be hard to fit in and then it is extremely hard to be comfort with all the differences between ourselves and people around. However, I always keep Rihanna’s quote in mind “We all started somewhere. It’s where we end up, that count!” 🙂


    • You’re a Lindsey fan too. So nice to meet another Stirlingite! We are certainly all so different and a lot of the time I wonder why there’s so much pressure to conform and be a particular way. We all shine in our own ways at the end of the day.

      What a lovely quote by Rihanna ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi there Miss Mabel.
    My days are also consumed by a full-time desk job, but I find time for blogging (commenting) while I’m at work – in between the all hectic periods. Instead of going out for a cigarette like the smokers do, I use the quiet periods of the work day to socialize in the blog world.
    When I grew up my parents had a grocery shop and my mom really wanted me to take over the business, but I wasn’t interested at all. I told them that sort of life was their life and their choices, not mine. My father understood, but I think my mother was disappointed that I didn’t want to take over the “family business”.


    • You’re certainly using your time very wisely at work, Cardinal. Sometime ago I had a job that allowed me to comment on blogs too. That actually made me look forward to going to work (and it was a great job) and going home I had more time to write.

      Parents will always have certain expectations of their kids. Sometimes it’s a fine line being ourselves and being our parents if we take after them in certain ways. Glad you stood up for yourself to be who you are. It never is easy.


  9. Life is different when we move from our roots and align ourselves to a new surrounding and setup of different culture and expectations. Especially, going from east and balancing with the formation of the west. It is like oriental osmosis of occidental…there are factors common and there are factors so different that we find it difficult to adopt.

    Irrespective of where we are and what we do, what really matters is do we love ourselves, how much self-confidence we have developed, how much we have self-discovered and how much we are ready to learn and grow in life. Our confidence and our determination, a dogged persuasion of our passion can take us places and we all make a living out of passion, though never easy. The conflict we are always in and balancing between the profession and the passion, is keeps questioning our conscience…are we doing the right thing, should we change the course, is it time to move in life.

    Being a writer, is never easy. It is never sufficient to suffice your need and we all need our earning from our profession to supplement our living. Artists having a platform to show case their work and have the appreciation from the audience is important…so is the case for writers without the reader, the exercise seems to be futile.

    Indeed the photos of Lindsay performance you have taken are superb, in manual mode, it needs the adjustment and the timing to go hand-in-hand…you have done so brilliantly. The last one you standing next to Lindsay is magical in its expression of emotion.

    kudos your great efforts and wonderful writing.


    • Nihar. This was such an insightful and poetic comment, certainly food for thought on the subjects of finding faith in our passion and the compromise between passion and reality.

      “what really matters is do we love ourselves” Interesting thought there. Often I wonder, can we really love ourselves if we don’t have the time to work on our passion or do what truly matters to us? I suppose the question here then becomes: “What defines us?” For us writers and artists, it’s our writing and our craft. Then again, the company we keep and how we choose to live our life also says volumes about us.

      Balancing profession and passion is certainly never easy. But then again, there’s something called time management. Sometimes even spending fifteen minutes a day doing what we love makes a difference – it gives us something to look forward to each day and teaches us the lessons of patience and dedication, two qualities that are essential to improving our writing or our craft.

      The Lindsey concert was absolutely brilliant. I got lucky with the shots, mainly sticking to a couple of manual mode settings that night. Not only did Lindsey’s performance inspire me to be a better writer, but also a better photographer that night 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are right we have one life and we have to do what we love and the question is about time and we all have learn the art of time management. Everything is possible and many things can be done simultaneously. The limitation is only in our mind, we change our mind and attitude, everything around us changes, there is no magic it is just mindset.
        We have love ourselves and starting doing what we love not forcefully love what we are doing, yes we do many times, devoid of options…but we can always take the challenge of pursuing our passion not distracting or deviating from facing the reality…life itself is a magic provided we know how to handle and present it to the world.

        The Lindsey concert seems was a lovely experience and the photography comes only with eye of light and you have done it brilliantly…

        cheers to the art of writing and beauty of photography, and hand in hand these tow task does add magic to our life…


        • Very well said. “Everything is possible and many things can be done simultaneously. The limitation is only in our mind”. With hope and confidence, anything is possible – and we have a choice to make time for what we love doing.

          The more we do something, the more we will get better at it. The more we do, the more we create our own luck. As the saying goes, you don’t know until you try. So why not challenge ourselves and do what we love.

          Lindsey is one unique performer and if you get the chance to get to see her, you should. I hope to watch her perform again someday 😀

          Liked by 1 person

          • You right, the challenge is in the mind otherwise the opportunities are aplenty, also in our perspective and the power of visualizing and imagining things…

            Yes, will try to see her performance, and always a pleasure and joy to watch live performance and performing art is never easy…
            take care…

            Liked by 1 person

  10. Mabel, when you begin to think of yourself as YOU with NO labels attached, that is when you will find the strength and courage to fly so high. Yet in order for you to do so, yes as Lindsey says, you will have to ride the low times in order for you to find that inner confidence you need to shine. Let no one take your dreams from you. No one. And let no one tell you that you cannot do something due to “race”. Phoowey! We all are the same in the inside no matter what color our skin is. I want you to really start believing in yourself, and really live LIFE for you. You are SO young, and OH if I could live my Life over again and BE young, having someone encourage me to BE ME, how different my Life would be today. As I was writing this, I saw you followed me. Well, the next thing I was planning on doing after I wrote this, was to follow you so I can watch you GROW. With LOVE and many (((HUGS))) Amy ❤


    • What an encouraging message, Amy. You are very kind. “let no one tell you that you cannot do something due to “race”. Spot on, well said, straight to the point and I couldn’t have said it better myself. Race and the colour of our skin are just two parts of us…our personality is usually what others remember us for. While it is important to remember our roots, heritage, culture and what our parents thought us, it is also equally important to recognise and build upon our own strengths and talents – and be the person who we want to be. The world is forever evolving, all of us as people are forever evolving too and the least we can do is appreciate each other for who we are.

      Love your photos and your loving spirit. I am looking forward to checking our your blog more ❤ 💖

      Liked by 1 person

      • It was my pleasure, Mabel, to write what I did. I really look forward in watching you grow, as I know you will. When you really KNOW yourself, you can and will accomplish anything you set your mind to! I also am very humbled that you are enjoying my work. Thank YOU! Love, Amy ❤


        • I feel that over the years I’ve become more comfortable with who I am. And now that I am currently writing my book, the journey continues and I’m enjoying every moment to it. Keep up the good photography, looking forward to visiting Petals for more ❤

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Ohhhh you are lucky to have met her!! 😀
    Nice that she inspires you… I think everyone of us has someone who inspires us.
    Ps: at the beginning, my words also didnt come so naturally as nowadays, and I also focused on improving my writing skills since I began writing my blog 😀
    Great, inspiring post Mabel!!


  12. Great piece again Mabel. Man you are inspirational – there is nothing ‘ fluff’ about your writing. It is honest and from the heart and it is relevant to all Australians, regardless of heritage. Keep up the good work 😊


  13. Super glad I read this post. It’s fabulous, Mabel. What I love about it is that you’ve opened yourself up to the world, willing to accept both good and bad, praise and censure. Identifying oneself is always going to be tough – for some it takes a lifetime, for others arrives early. There’s no dearth of creativity – what lacks is the courage to seek, fine-tune, apply and share. When we “share” with “courage” we have identified ourselves, are no longer seeking answers, are only accountable to ourselves.

    And the best part is – unbeknown to you – you’re inspiring many to share with courage. Best!


    • Sharing is always hard…because one doesn’t want across as someone hoarding the spotlight. At least that’s what I feel personally and I still struggle with that a lot. But I also feel that honesty goes a long way and at the end of the day, all of us have something different to share and learn from.

      You said it very well, ‘no dearth of creativity – what lacks is the courage to seek’. Thank you so much for the kindness and wishing you the best too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Honesty goes a long way…” – well said! Which I believe is the ultimate truth.

        And yes, all of us have something unique to share and through which, we not only assert our position but justify our evolving worldview. A friend of mine long ago said something that still lingers on in my mind. “He said each one of us ‘must’ offer something.”

        Breaking out of stereotype is tough as people – who interpret us – love holding on to their conditioned beliefs. But then who are these people. It takes enormous effort to know who we are – each minute spent toward this is worth it. What’s perhaps not worthy is our (even nuanced) attempt to change people’s interpretation of us.

        Aristotle said – “the antidote for fifty enemies is one friend” – I don’t know how this quote fits in here but I know that our best friend is the one within us.

        Thanks once again for writing a beautiful post 🙂


  14. Your article here is wonderful and full with information I didn´t know about, like the struggle Asian immigrants can have living in Australia and trying to bring these two worlds together. Also you photos are fab!! How wonderful that you got to meet Lindsay and tell her about your writing and that she inspired you to work on your first book!
    And I couldn’t agree more about how hard it can be to let that artistic side of you come out and play when there are so many other things or people who demand your attention. It´s a bit like walking on a rope, isn’t it? But I have a feeling you are brilliant at it! 😀 ❤


    • You are so kind, Sarah. Thank you for stopping by. I think there will be the eternal struggle for immigrants to find a happy space between their new home and their home that was once was. Haha, being artistic and creative almost always eclipses me, or comes at the most inconvenient times. Sometimes I wish I could hide away for a year and just be creative and write but that’s not how life goes lol… Maybe one day I will finish my book ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • I totally know what you mean about taking a year off and just be creative, Mabel! It would be so lovely not to have to worry about your income, paying bills… all that stuff that usually occupies our minds. To simply get up in the morning and do whatever it is you want to do and be happy with that… Well, we can dream, can´t we? 😉


  15. I can see why having added pressure from your family to make money and pursue a more traditional path could hamper creativity. It is difficult enough to stay disciplined and write or create even in the best of circumstances. In my American culture, when I was younger and expressed interest in certain career paths well-meaning adults would be quick to say things like, “Well, it is hard to make money doing that.”

    I realize this post is a few years old now. Do you feel more confident in your direction since writing this?


    • Pressure from family is always hard but sometimes they are the reality check that you need. Sounds like some people around you were looking out for you. With anything that we choose to do, there’s no telling we’ll succeed – could go either way.

      Do I feel more confident about my writing direction? Yeah, would say so. Looking back at this blog, my posts and also photography seemed to have evolved quite a bit. In terms of writing, I feel I’ve become more assertive but also more accepting of different viewpoints.


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