Time and time again, some of us get the question, “Where are you from?” We might dislike this question, or we might not. It’s a matter of perspective, or rather how we’re feeling in a moment in time that we decide if we like or hate the question there and then.
Chances are if we’re migrants, immigrants, refugees, third culture kids, expats or find ourselves part of a cultural minority community (think an Asian Australian in Australia, an Asian American in the States, we’re much more likely to hear the question. So too if we’re some place where our skin colour, accent or hair style sticks out from the rest.
A while back I wrote a blog post on the different answers to this question. It’s a question carrying quite a few assumptions, a question I’ve been asked all my life as an Australian-born Chinese living in different countries such as Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Sometimes it rubs me the wrong way. Sometimes it amuses me.
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.
Long hair. Short hair. When it’s time for a haircut, there’s always the question of how much hair to chop off. For the guys, sometimes there’s also the dilemma of deciding how much facial hair to keep when it starts getting long – beards and moustaches go hand-in-hand with certain haircuts.
Long hair has always been my preference. My Chinese-Malaysian mum prefers otherwise on me. Each time I come back from the hairdressers with freshly layered hair reaching slightly below the shoulders, she remarks, “Still so long”. She isn’t a fan of facial hair either, bugging my brother to shave when lonely, stray hairs mushroom around his mouth.
When it’s time to get our hair cut, some of us think practical and go for a no-nonsense hairstyle. We opt for a hairstyle hoping it will fall into place when we stumble out of bed, one that feels a natural extension of ourselves – “the usual” that we may request at the hairdresser’s.
We all have our own ways of dressing, our different tastes in fashion and clothes. Every day wear, and formal cultural attire and costumes, come in different styles around the world.
Going to school in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore meant I had opportunities to shop for clothes regularly in three different countries. As a kid, my Chinese-Malaysian mum took me to malls in these cities twice a year during the sales and pointed out clothes she thought looked good on me.
When we’re comfortable with what we’re wearing, we’re confident. Model and businesswoman Heidi Klum | Forces of Nature.
Walking through clothing stores in Asia, we’re bound to see a sea of colourful clothes, be it colourful T-shirts with slogans or traditional sarees and cheongsams. That is, light coloured clothes usually outnumber the darker coloured ones. In Asian cultures, bright colours are auspicious. Red and yellow are symbolic of prosperity for the Chinese, the former signifying progress and the latter earth, farming and growth. During imperial eras, these colours were worn mainly by royalty, those with wealth and power.
Being naturally skinny and thin isn’t always a blessing. It’s usually far from it. Just like those on the heavier side, a number of us skinny people often get grief and discriminated over the way we look.
For my whole life as an Australian of Chinese heritage, I’ve been skinny and never had an eating disorder. At school in Melbourne (and later Malaysia and Singapore), I was always the thinnest among my classmates. Skinny bones, twiggy, stick, flat chested like a surfboard…I heard all those nicknames back then and felt like a walking freak show.
Today at twenty-something years of age, my collarbones protrude when I wear wide scoop neck T-shirts. When my arms are bent, my elbows look as sharp as the corners of a rectangular glass table. When I sit, my two kneecaps stick out on my chicken legs, looking like the tops of mushrooms. Only once in Australia have I met someone as skinny as me. According to a national health survey conducted in 2012, just 1.7% of the Australian population is underweight.