‘I love you’. Just three words. But three words some typical Asians like those of Chinese heritage find hard to say out loud when it comes to dating and romantic relationships.
There’s this common stereotype: Asians are reserved about expressing romantic sentiments towards each other. In a progressive world where traditional and modern perspectives collide, sometimes this is still true, and sometimes not.
There are different degrees of love, physical and emotional. Different ways of expressing romantic love during different moments – depending on our personality, the ways we are actually comfortable expressing it and what we believe in. Personally, I’m reserved about my love life and won’t be sharing my serious relationships here; it isn’t the whole world’s business.
For some of us stereotypical Asians, showing physical affection and love doesn’t come easy. For some of us stereotypical Asians, expressing one-on-one intimacy like holding hands, hugging and kissing someone who matters to us feels hard or doesn’t cross our minds often.
All throughout school in Malaysia and Singapore, my Chinese-Malaysian parents wagged the finger at dating and romantic escapades. Physical contact with any classmate whom I fancied was frowned upon. Part of me resented this, part of me didn’t.
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.
All around the world, a good number of us are obsessed with stuffed animals and toys. If you’re Asian or have been to Asia, chances are cute, kawaii-looking toys are something you might be familiar with. Maybe even love.
I love stuffed animals, especially stuffed monkeys. In my apartment I have a shelf full of them collected over the years. I’m particularly fond of this one that I call Mr Wobbles: knitted with light brown wool, long skinny arms and legs, fat belly, sans tail. One of the more odd-looking toys around.
We might be obsessed with teddy bears. Or obsessed with stuffed lions or penguins. Hello Kitty, Sanrio and Rilakkuma plushes are ever so popular in Asia. But no matter the toys we’re fond of, usually the stories of our past, and our desire to find our place in this world, play a part in why these inanimate objects often matter to us a great deal.
To trust or not to trust? That’s the question we often ask ourselves when we meet someone for the first time or encounter strangers. Trust: it’s about believing others, taking their word and seeing the best in them.
I’m not one who trusts easily. The number of friends whom I hang out with regularly can be counted on one hand. Generally, I avoid talking to people I don’t know outside of work, be it at social occasions or on the streets. It takes a while for me to warm to someone.
Trust. It’s embedded within the unconscious rituals of everyday life: walking to work, we trust passer-bys won’t stab us. We trust shopkeepers will give us the correct change at the cashier. We trust no chef spat into food we ordered. Trust. It’s about going forwards: we trust and travel to get on with our lives. And whether we trust others usually depends on where we’ve been and where we’re from.
There’s the stereotype that Asians are smart at school, always doing very well and coming in top of the class. There’s the stereotype that Asians get straight A’s on their exams and are academically gifted.
Not to brag but I was one of these students in high school and university. While doing the O’Levels in Singapore, I brought home trophies for the best student in English across my cohort and getting six distinctions in my final year of schooling there. So I well and truly fit this stereotype.