As a kid I always resented my parents for insisting I speak Cantonese at home and making me go to Chinese school every Saturday. While all my friends went to netball or swimming practice, I was stuck in a classroom reciting an ancient Chinese poem (lame, or so I thought).
During high school, I found myself constantly brushing aside my background and even defending my family for being Chinese. “No, my parents are pretty cool for Asian parents” — I would tell friends before they came over.
At university, I sat in a group listening to a friend skillfully describe how she served “a typical Chinese customer” — pointing out their naivety and stinginess, while the group laughed. When I failed to join in as expected, my friend turned to me, chuckled and said, “Oh sorry, I forgot you’re Asian — don’t worry, you don’t count!”
I used to take this type of comment as a compliment, and a sign of how well I fit in. However, as I grew older, this bothered me. Had I been so caught up in making others “forget” I was Asian, that I myself had forgotten?
Recently, I booked a one-way flight to China. While my primary motive was not to reconnect with my roots, admittedly it has been a big part of my experience. Now, when Didi drivers ask me where I’m from — I now apologise for my foreign-accent and tell them “I’m Chinese” but explain I was raised in Australia.
Ironically, I even find myself asking my Chinese teacher to teach me those ancient poems I once snubbed as a kid!