The eyes through which an ABC [Australian-born Chinese person] sees the world are unlike any other. To begin with, they seem to be surprisingly susceptible to short-sightedness. But thanks to spectacles and contacts, we’ve now pushed past this evolution-defying characteristic to find ourselves faced with a new crisis – our identity and how it shapes our experiences.
To many, regardless of cultural background, the experience of ‘yum-cha’ is simple enough. A bustling restaurant, the din of foreign conversation, and little carts laden with steaming bamboo boxes holding an exciting lottery of tempting delicacies alongside more suspect packages – usually prepared by chefs trained in the ancient Chinese art of maximising ingredient utilisation.
Not so for an ABC. For us, ‘yum-cha’ is a trial by cultural fire. Each teapot is a test of your filial piety and deference to 叔叔’s and 阿姨’s [uncles and aunties]. Each dish selection, a moment to re-evaluate the poor life decisions that led to your complete and utter dependence on your pointer finger and the words “这个” [this] and “那个” [that] – a painful reminder to your parents of how their proud cultural heritage has come to a sad and irreversible end. Even when your parents aren’t there (out of respect for their own dignity), a friend’s innocent question of “Hey, what does this mean?” while gesturing towards a cluster of unintelligible hieroglyphs on a sauce-stained menu is salt in the wounds of your kindergarten-level literacy.
And despite all this, we choose to go again and again. Because we may sit at the crossroads of two cultures, forever confused by how the magical opportunity to speak two languages with perfect accents spiralled into a disturbing combination of English sentences ending in “la” and Chinese phrases coloured by a distinct lack of respect for an ancient tonal structure. And we may be struggling to define our legacy as we try to embrace and reconcile the culture of our family and the cultures of our friends. But if there’s one thing that we know about who we are, it’s that we know we’re suckers for a good 虾饺 [prawn dumpling].