I learned at a very young age that I don’t fit the description of what an ‘Australian’ is supposed to look like.
I learned this in primary school, when my friends asked if they could touch my eyelids. They pulled their fingers back and forth with the innocent curiosity of nine-year-old girls, wondering why I didn’t have a crease there, like they did.
I learned this the first time I visited Sydney with my family, when the lifeguard at Bondi Beach assumed that I was a tourist from China, and not from a city just a few hundred kilometres down the coast. In drawn-out syllables, he instructed me to pinch the bridge of my bleeding nose, asking my mother to translate. ‘I can speak English,’ I insisted repeatedly, through a mountain of tissue.
I learned this in the middle of the Rainbow Village in Taichung, on the west coast of Taiwan, when a German backpacker asked me where I was from. He responded in polite bewilderment when I revealed that I was Australian: ‘You – ah … you look a little bit Asian, though?’ I held back a laugh. Sure, just a little.
So I’m Australian*, I guess. Australian, but there are caveats, because my features require justification. Australian, with strings attached: strings that tie me to another country, another culture.
Sometimes, they make me feel strangled, like I’m bound into a box. Luckily, I’ve taught myself to weave stories out of them instead.