What Is “Asian”? How Do We Define “Asian”?

Asian. It is a word we see and hear a lot in Australia when someone refers to a person with black hair, small eyes and yellow skin and their Chinese/Malay/Indian/Indonesian etc. heritage.

Asian. It is also a word that has segregational connotations.

A word that means different things to different people as well.

The word "Asian" has positive and negative connotations. Photo: Mabel Kwong

The word “Asian” has positive and negative connotations. Photo: Mabel Kwong

When I was studying in Malaysia and Singapore, very rarely did I hear anyone calling one another “Asian”. The exception was of course in newspaper stories discussing regional relations, stories explaining how countries in the “Asian region” could benefit from international trade. My classmates and I referred to one another as “Chinese”, “Malay”, “Indian”, “Eurasian” etc.. “Asian” was pretty much a foreign term to us.

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The Outdated “Australian Dream” In A Multicultural Australia

The “Australian dream” is a longstanding marker that has always been used to describe the so-called successful Australian person.

An Australian is said to live the “Australian dream” or the “Great Australian Dream” if they own a house with a backyard in the suburbs. Such a person who lives this dream is deemed a respected person. A respected person who most likely speaks with the Australian accent. A respected person who most likely grew up in a predominantly Anglo suburb and went to public school. A respected person who is a middle-aged Caucasian adult holding a stable job in a company run by high-paying Caucasian executives so as to support the family and pay off the mortgage.

Some living the Australian dream like to model their houses after traditional architectural styles. A miniature house in 'Tudor Village' in Melbourne's Fitzroy Gardens. Photo: Mabel Kwong

Some living the Australian dream like to model their houses after traditional architectural styles. A miniature house in ‘Tudor Village’ in Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens. Photo: Mabel Kwong

There’s seems to be an air of “whiteness” associated with the “Australian dream” and that’s why I don’t favour the phrase too much.

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Why Some Of Us Wear Shoes At Home

Recently, I fleshed out a few reasons why many Asians tend to leave their shoes at the door and go barefoot at home.

In reality, some of us don’t share this love of taking our shoes off before going indoors. Some of us especially in the Western world don’t recoil in horror at the thought of stamping around our bedrooms and kitchens with our shoes on.

Me wearing shoes at home...at a mock home setting in IKEA. Photo: Mabel Kwong

Me wearing shoes at home…at a mock home setting in IKEA. Photo: Mabel Kwong

There are legitimate reasons that explain why wearing shoes at home is perfectly normal behaviour for some. The notion that it is a cultural thing is probably the most believable one. Choosing to wear shoes at home is akin to just another everyday life choice or custom: some of us eat with chopsticks while some with forks and spoons. Some of us eat chicken feet and some of us don’t.

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We’re All Different, But Don’t Forget We’re All The Same Too

I stood waiting for the tram at the corner of Bourke and Swanston streets, smack in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD. The electronic tramTracker guide propped up on a nearby pole signaled that the next one was two minutes away.

I was just done with a routine, annoying appointment and had stepped out into the cold to head home. Melbourne was putting on its typical winter weekday afternoon show – slivers of light blue peeking through the white clouded sky and glimmers of sunshine squeezing between high-rise buildings, gently caressing the smooth concrete, tiled city pavements. Working professionals hurrying left to right and right to left dressed in somber black and grey office attire.

Looking around, I saw a fair few people – Asians, Caucasians, Indians, Middle-Easterners – waiting for the tram as well. Many of them wore sullen faces. Maybe they’re cold. The weekend’s three days away, maybe that’s why. How I longed for Saturday to be here.

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Hi, I’m Asian. Come In, Leave Your Shoes On. Or Not

When an odd job or two needs to be done around our place, my mum welcomes the likes of contractors, plumbers and furniture delivery men into our Melbourne flat.

When she opens the door, these Caucasian handymen and tradesmen always politely ask, “Do we take our shoes off?”

And to my utter surprise and disbelief, each time my mum cheerily says, “No, no, no! It’s OK! Come in! Leave your shoes on!”

I cannot fathom how I can wear shoes on my bed or in my room. I really do not want to get my belongings dirty. Photo: Mabel Kwong

I cannot fathom how I can wear shoes on my bed or in my room. I really do not want to get my belongings dirty. Photo: Mabel Kwong

This is because if I came home and stampeded around the house in my sneakers or slippers, my mum would give me an earful.

It is customary in many Asian cultures, and Middle Eastern, Indian and African cultures as well, to remove footwear before entering the house. Very seldom will you hear an Asian person telling you to leave your shoes outside before stepping into their house. I guess my mum is a bizarre exception, at least towards our visiting Caucasian acquaintances, and I will explain later.

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Do Asians Secretly Prefer Eating Western Over Asian Food?

These days it seems many people of Asian ethnicity all around the world have impeccably strong palates for Western foods.

McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and various other Western restaurants are frequently packed during meal times in Asian countries. “Potato parties” have recently become a fad in Japan and South Korea, so-called parties where groups of young people order obscene amounts of fries and eat them all in one sitting at fast-food joints. Much love for fries.

A ray of sunlight falls over an egg tart. Who doesn't like a good, sweet egg tart? Photo: Sue C.

Many Asian international students and Asian-Australians here in Australia also seem to possess Westernised palates. It is not uncommon to see them ordering fancy smoked salmon and poached eggs on multigrain toast or bircher muesli along with their coffee at upmarket cafes for Saturday brunch and kebabs for dinner later. What happened to having yum cha or sitting at round tables dining at Asian restaurants?

And not many have acknowledged this.

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