Saturday, 14 January 2017

3 countries

So, in fact, there are many different ways in which a person can be 'Asian'.










To acknowledge and notice the nuances of the vast difference between the cultures of the East and the West, sometimes being born of one but thrown to the other can cause you to think, and think for your whole life.  As an Australian-born-Chinese, I've seen all the differences in food, attitudes, priorities.  I have seen what it is to belong and not belong, to feel unique and proud and frustrated.  A lot of my identity has been built around being 'Asian'.

But, you see, calling myself 'Asian' is already a somewhat misleading, broad term.  Asia is a continent.  Asia consists of India and Korea and the Middle East.  I may be from both China and Malaysia, but that's two countries out of 48.  And that's where I go wrong.  I call myself 'Asian' because in a predominantly white country, I'm of a rather large minority, and we label ourselves as 'Asian'.  'Asian' isn't a culture.  Chinese is a culture, but 'Asian' is many.

Two days ago I flew back from Malaysia, a country consisting of three major cultures: Malay, Chinese and Indian.  All are Asian.  There, my cousins and my uncles and aunties label themselves as Chinese.  Chinese people have their own stereotypes, as do the Malays and the Indians.  None of them call themselves 'Asians' because being Asian is a given.  While people from Vietnam, China, Japan and Korea may 'look the same' to people here, in Asia there is a wide distinction in culture, food and appearance - I say food because food is very important to most Asian cultures, as it should be.

But then, with internet and movies and Netflix taking over the world, pop culture in Malaysia has become quite westernised.  While girls my age do enjoy K-dramas and Animes, my Aunty has said that 'nobody tells anyone they watch K-dramas.  It's one of those things they want to sweep under the rug.'  They all enjoy looking 'tumblr' and eating at 'hipster cafes'.  They'd rather eat eggs benedict than roti canai.  As my cousin said, 'they're all trying to act white these days,' and as my uncle said, 'P A T H E T I C what does that spell?'

However, this is a huge generalisation.  Unlike the way she describes some of her school mates, my cousin dresses a lot more 'kawaii' as her friends put it.  With school-girl skirts, stockings, pastel colours, shiny miniature boots and pigtails, she is the picture of one of the Japanese school girls in her Animes, and I think that's cool.  Every day she uses a cushion foundation and lip creamer, all bought from Korean makeup shops, going for the dewy look rather than matte everything with wings as sharp as knives.

This seems to be the picture of beauty in Japan, where we visited for a week before the new year.  In advertisements all over subway stations and Shibuya Crossing, girls had perfect, moist-looking skin.  Their eyeliner was much more discrete than those I see here, and to my surprise, their wings were not turned up but rather finishing with a little straight flick.  Sometimes the wings would even be turned downwards.  This difference in beauty, which I thought was actually much more attractive, must be the manifestation of a thriving Asian culture, which, for the first time I'd ever seen, was not trying to be white.

In Japan, everyone walked fast and everyone was well dressed, including the boys.  Girls would wear pink and white long furry jackets, outrageously sparkly eyeshadow with blue eyeliner, or Moschino-style embroidered jackets or pants, and nobody would blink an eye.  It was rare to see a girl in simple jeans and a coat.  It was much more exciting.  Boys would have hair sitting perfectly, wearing bomber jackets and hipster glasses, somehow making their pristine Adidas sneakers look classy rather than basic.  Walk into a 10 story Forever 21 and you'll find that floor 5 upwards is men's clothing.  They have their own celebrities, pop culture, technology and language; and they're proud.  Now this is an 'Asian' I want to see more of.

But then, in some ways, while factoring in the westernisation, there has been a beautiful modernisation of the Chinese culture in Malaysia as well.  Walking into a cheongsam shop, the beautiful Chinese patterns, silks and collars have been fused into beautiful, plainer dresses fit for any Western girl trying to branch out, or printed on batik the same way Indonesians make their clothing.  While tossing the Yee Sang we add salmon, because it is both easy to find and tastier, and when eaten it tastes like a salad with balsamic vinegar dressing.  Pineapple tarts sit on kitchen counters alongside butter-cream cupcakes.  While this culture in itself is Chinese-Malaysian, and while they may not be as acquainted with western culture as people who have immigrated over, they still, in some ways, have the best of both worlds.

And, in my case, how can I truly be Chinese-Malaysian if I do not live in Malaysia and I have no memory of ever having celebrated a true Chinese New Year?  Being 'Asian' in a white country is an entirely new 'Asian' in itself.  While in Malaysia, my Aunty was telling me about her experiences going to high school in Australia at the age of 15.  She said that as a new immigrant, she realised that other Asians, those born in Australia, didn't want to be associated with her.  They were ashamed of their culture.  Back in that time, there weren't as many immigrants, and being non-white was an actual rarity, 1 in 100.
Watching Fresh off the Boat, set in a similar scenario in a slightly later time period, while the eldest son isn't ashamed of his culture, he is aware of the stereotypes and fights against them, saying to his younger brother on his first day of middle school,
'So you want to be what everyone thought I was when I walked in on the first day.  You want to undo all the work I've done over the past two years... I'm keeping them on their toes, blazing trails, breaking chains.  Then they see you coming with your violin and your camera, and we're back to where we started.'
And then there's second generation Asian immigrants today.  Stereotypes still exist and we make fun of them, but I can't tell whether we despise them or love them.  I can't tell whether we're fighting them or accepting them as predominantly true.  In an overly politically correct world, I think we are beginning to take pride in our culture while everyone else is afraid of being racist.  It's a newer, more multicultural world in which girls wear traditional clothing out to dinners and dances, and I'm glad to have been born in this time period where it is easy to be proud of being 'Asian'.

Love,
M

14 comments:

  1. This is such an interesting post! As my parents were immigrants from India, I can relate to a lot of what you said.

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  2. This is SUCH an interesting post, especially to me, a white person living in the United States. I do have one Chinese friend and one who is Vietmanese, but I'm still nowhere near as educated about non-Western cultures as I should be. I will admit I'm one of those people to whom most Asians look relatively similar (although I can pick out a few differences), but I hope that changes one day, and I want to try to make it.

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

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    1. Haha, don't worry about it. I get people of all races mixed up too, because sometimes facial recognition is just difficult in general. As long as you can tell your Asian friends apart from other Asians, that's all that's important. I mean, as long as the people who know you can pick your face from a crowd, that's good enough for most people.

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  3. Really interesting post, it reads like an article from a travel magazine! :)

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  4. What an insightful article my dear!
    But girl, I feel you. I'm a second generation Latina, and the struggle is real, lol. Because I'm Hispanic I can tell if a person is Mexican, Puerto Rican, Argentinian, etc. based on their features, accent, and sometimes personality. But I often feel I have to make a generalization and say Hispanic because a ton of people here don't know (or care) about the different cultures or haven't even heard of the different countries. Latinos occupy two huge continents and yet I still get called a "Spanish" person because of the language I speak although I am not a Spaniard from Spain lol. So maybe the problem is general obliviousness.
    In regards to the word "Asian", I confess I do use the term. However, I do have a bit more understanding of who's who because my family has always immersed itself into different Asian cultures. I can tell the difference between Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and Korean writing; and I can tell by a person's name what country they may be from. So let's say I know the last name of a person and it's a Japanese last name then I call them Japanese. But I can only do this because my parents took the time to teach me how to distinguish Asian names.

    ~Kristen GutiƩrrez

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    1. I am so glad you can relate, and I admire your connection and knowledge of your culture. To be honest, I kinda can't tell the difference between different Asian last names myself sometimes... and that's possibly because I live in a white country?

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  5. This is so fascinating! I don't know a ton about Asian culture, due to the fact that I live in a part of America that is predominately white, so I really enjoyed reading this. I'd love to visit Asia someday. It all sounds so colorful and exciting. :)

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  6. This is an interesting post and I like how you talk a bit about the cultural exchange that's happening in Malaysia. I also feel the struggle of trying to be Asian in a predominately white world, and that the struggle is always going to be there for the rest of my life. It also saddens me seeing how Asian-Americans (predominately certain Vietnamese Americans) would choose to try to pass as white because they're shamed of their culture in a way. However, no matter what people are going to see them as Asian and nothing but Asian. So, I feel it's better to embrace that part of yourself and try to rebel against certain oppressive thinking.

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    1. I don't think it's possible for people to see anyone as 'Asian and nothing but Asian.' I just think it's good for people to embrace their culture, no matter where they're raised and where they're from. And to be honest, I don't think there is much struggle to do that these days. The world is changing, and while it's not completely there, it's going at a good pace in my opinion.

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  7. It also depends on the type of struggle and where you're struggling in. For me since I'm from the United States, specifically Utah (a predominantly white state), I'm trying to show other non-Asians that hey, I'm a regular human being who likes America's Got Talent as much as the next person, not a perpetual foreigner who does kung fu, eats sushi all the time, and can't speak English well. While, when I'm with other Asian people (specifically the older generation), I'm trying to show them that hey, I may not speak my native tongue well but I could still speak and write it, and that I still do celebrate some of the holidays, and still eat the traditional food and stuff, that I'm not a "white person." But at the same time, I also want to see more representation within the media, books, music, and other places that Asians aren't normally found in, both on screen and behind the screen. And that's a bit of a struggle because here in the U.S. roughly half the people don't want that because they feel that it's a threat to their white privilege (it really isn't), hence why some of them might have voted for Trump.

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    1. Basically much what I'm saying is, since we have different backgrounds, we're experiencing different things that might occasionally look the same but isn't.

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  8. All great points. I think a lot of my non-Asians friends struggle with telling apart nationalities in people. I don't think anyone's guessed that I was Korean before. :') But to be honest, I think lifes imrpoved a lot for Asians in Western countries. We're much more open about our culture. I know when I was a kid I felt awkward brining Asian lunches, but that's all in the past now. Actually, I think K-pop is spreading too! It's great that representation keeps getting better, and more people are learning to embrace cultures they're apart of.

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    1. I totally agree! Honestly, while being Asian still obviously has its differences and immensely affects how we see ourselves in a white society, I have still never felt weird bringing Asian lunches or being Asian in general. It's just the fact that there are so many accounts of second generation immigrants in the past that have records of all the hardships and the alienation, and I'm very thankful that life has improved so much that we don't really have to feel that today.

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  9. Hello! I love your blog so much; you have a really beautiful design! This was so interesting to read as I don't really know much about Asian cultures(s), thank you for educating me! I have followed your blog because I think it’s so good!!! I would love it if you had a look at my blog; I’m a very passionate teenage blogger but I’m quite new and really need the support! Perhaps we could become friends? Thank you so much // Jeani xxx www.jeanithoughts.blogspot.co.uk

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