Choosing and giving someone a gift can be hard. It could be a thank you gift, something for someone at their wedding, a parting present for someone on their last day at work or a birthday gift. To some of Chinese background, some gifts might be better than others.
Next week is my birthday. About a month ago, my Chinese-Malaysian parents asked me what I want for my birthday this year. That annoyed me – I don’t celebrate my birthday and don’t like attention. But I suppose they want to, and they know I’m a fussy person.
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.
As an Asian Australian girl who has lived Melbourne for nearly a decade, I’ve had quite a few local Caucasian guys hit on me.
These encounters are amusing and annoying. They give me the impression some Caucasian guys are attracted to me because of my ethnicity (maybe some have yellow fever). These moments also remind me of what it means to be Asian Australian, an Asian person living in Australia.
On a recent winter’s weekday afternoon, I had one of those random encounters in the city. Two hands plunged in the pockets of my grey Target jacket, I settled down on one of the empty benches along the glass panelled sky bridge linking the Melbourne Central and Emporium shopping malls. Tired from window shopping, I gazed at the traffic on the roads below, and sensed someone sit down beside me on the bench.
I grew up in a traditional-minded Chinese Malaysian household and am no stranger to Asian superstitions. My mum is a big believer in them, believing there are lucky Chinese numbers and that keeping pet turtles slows down fortunes, for instance. I always wonder why.
As Asians, many of us are respectful. We believe in the spiritual, believe fate controls our destiny: anger ghosts or spirits floating around and they may curse a dose of bad luck upon us. My parents pray at temples for luck at the start of every Chinese New Year. My relatives have small shrines in their homes, and and never fail to put an even number of mandarins – usually lucky eight mandarins – at the front as offerings to the gods.
Asian girl and Caucasian guy. Hand in hand walking down the street. It’s a sight that’s becoming more and more common in public these days.
Sometimes these are scenes of true love. Sometimes these two people of different heritage are attracted to each other purely because of the “exotic cultural difference aura” hanging in the air between them.
Love is complex. Inter-racial love is perhaps even more complex. Photo: Mabel Kwong
Just how do both these kinds of Asian-girl-white-guy relationships work?
I was recently invited to give a talk at Kurunjang Secondary College on what it means to be “different”, an Asian Australian living in a predominantly white Australia.
As I gingerly stumbled to the front of the Year 12 class on a crisp winter morning, I noticed about twenty odd Caucasian and Asian students staring back at me from behind their desks. Some of them had Melbourne lawyer/writer Alice Pung’s Growing Up Asian In Australia in front of them, one of the texts they were studying for their upcoming final high school English exams.
Me talking to a Year 12 class at Kurunjang Secondary College. Such bright students who know a lot about multiculturalism. Photo: Emma
The teacher shook my hand and I introduced myself to the class. I launched into a story about how as a kid living in the eastern suburbs, I rarely felt part of a group; all my Caucasian classmates refused to share their Shapes with me during lunch and my mum refused to buy these biscuits for me as I, according to her, was supposed to “eat Asian food”.