Celebrating Birthdays

I’ve never been one for celebrating my birthday. The last time I blew out candles on a cake and had Happy Birthday sung to me was in high school. It has been a few years.

Candles on a cake spell out the invisible letters 'Happy Birthday' | Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters.

Candles on a cake spell out the invisible letters ‘Happy Birthday’ | Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters.

When my birthday rolls around each year, I insist on having an ordinary day and my friends baulk at this. To them, birthdays should be a time when you have a good party. Or a time when you stick by fanfare-esque birthday traditions.

Both of these are quite alien to me. Have I lost touch with my Asian roots when it comes to birthday traditions and the spirit of celebration altogether?

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When Is It Okay To Wear Cultural Costumes?

A few months ago, I was wandering through Bourke Street Mall on a summer’s Saturday afternoon and spied some buskers wearing traditional cultural attire (photo).

I wondered if anyone saw this scene as racist.

I stopped to watch. It stuck me as odd that they were wearing sunglasses with their outfits.

Three buskers, three instruments and three Sri Lankan outfits. | Weekly Photo Challenge: Threes.

Three buskers, three instruments and three Sri Lankan outfits. | Weekly Photo Challenge: Threes.

There are two scenarios when it comes to wearing cultural clothing: us wearing our own culture’s traditional clothes and us wearing another culture’s traditional clothes.

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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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Asian Girls Linking Arms: A Cultural Thing?

Fact: many Asian girls link arms when they are out and about.

When I lived in Malaysia and Singapore, I saw Asian girls and women walking in pairs through shopping malls with arms linked around the elbows, touching skin-on-skin. Sometimes I saw them even holding hands, walking and chatting with one another. Today whenever I troop down to Melbourne’s Chinatown, my eye will never fail to spy similar scenes.

Holding hands 3

What does it mean when Asian girls link arms or hold hands? Drawing by Mabel Kwong.

Just what does it mean when Asian girls link arms, and why do they do it so frequently? Googling this trend, it seems Asian men in certain Asian countries do this as well.

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