Fighting over paying the bill for meals is something some of us are guilty of. If we’re the stereotypical Asian eating with other stereotypical Asians, coming out on tops to pay for a meal is often a big battle, sort of a sport in itself.
This is the case with my Chinese family. When I was a kid living in Malaysia, we had countless family gatherings with extended relatives. We’d have dinner at air-conditioned Chinese restaurants where waiters gave us clean plates after each serving. These nights always ended with lots of yelling, relatives arguing at the top of their lungs as to who would pay for the ten-course meals in cash.
In Chinese culture (and other Asian cultures), offering to pay the bill at the end of a meal out is regarded as polite. This goes for family and business-related dining affairs, and no matter the occasion, bill fights are usually amusing.
There are times when cultural stereotypes hold us back from going after our dreams and creative passions. As an Asian Australian of Chinese descent, I’ve often felt this way. But then there are also times when we somehow find the strength and spark of courage to challenge expectations that we have of ourselves, and the expectations others have of us.
For a long time, I struggled to call myself a writer. My migrant Malaysian parents encouraged me to pay more attention to maths and science subjects at school – and I did and was much better at them than English. Two years ago, stringing words together for posts on this blog was a struggle. Today, I’ve written a draft of a book.
When it comes to talking about Australia’s media, the topic of racism is bound to come up. It’s no secret white, Western faces and voices are what we usually see and hear in this industry, ironically in a culturally diverse country.
Growing up, I wanted to be a radio presenter or producer. Live talkback and pre-recorded infotainment radio programs fascinated me – voices over the airwaves nimbly informing and entertaining at the same time. At university, I took communications subjects, learning about the Gutenberg press and the ins-and-outs of writing for online publications.
Sometimes we look at the media and wonder why we are seeing what we are seeing | Weekly Photo Challenge: From Every Angle.
As part of my tertiary studies, I also completed a month-long internship as a journalist at SBS Radio (SBS is Australia’s largest public broadcaster providing multicultural and multilingual media services to Australians). But when I graduated from university, the last thing I wanted to do was work in a newsroom.
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.
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?
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.