Growing up, I never really realised I was of a different race to everyone else until I was bullied for being Asian in Primary School around age 8/9. Silly I know, but I believe that kids don’t see race. That is taught. Today, I am still proud of my both my ethnicity (Chinese), as well as my nationality (British). Here are the top 10 things I learnt while growing up in an Asian family:
1. Being bilingual really helps when learning a different language at school
As your brain is already used to communicating in two different languages, picking up new ones were slightly easier for me when I first started learning French and Spanish at school. My friends at school used to find this switching between languages thing fascinating. Do you think and dream in different languages? That was one of the most common questions I was asked for some reason. And the answer is yes. But, it really depends on the situation I am in and those that are around me that determine the language that pops up in my head automatically. These days, being away from my family home and not using Cantonese everyday, English is the language I speak/think/dream in the most. I love being bilingual and I will forever be grateful to my family for giving me such a wonderful gift. It also makes talking about people that don’t speak the language a lot more fun, especially if you’re doing it in front of them.
2. Stereotypes are sometimes true
We all know the jokes about Asian parents being harsh on their kids until they’re a success. Except, sometimes it’s not entirely untrue. Growing up, my parents had a wish list of things they wanted me to be and lucky old me, could pick from the not-so-extensive list of: doctor, lawyer, accountant, architect or engineer – see? Stereotypes are sometimes true. And for a long time, I was set on being an architect. Right up until I rebelled the year before I applied to university and decided I wanted to be a web designer and was going to do a computer science degree. This was still relatively OK, because it sounded technical and was a science degree. Heaven forbid I’d do anything in the creative industry. Then I went on to do a Masters in Filmmaking and wanted to go into Film & TV. That did not go down so well. They’re really happy now, but at the time, it was a tough pill to swallow.
3. Dinner time is family time
No TV, no games, no books, no phones at the table. Dinner time is when we all stop whatever we’re doing and spend time as a family, chat about our day and learn about one another. I miss these times now, but cherish them all the more when I visit home occasionally, or when my parents come to stay with me. I think these little moments have made us much closer as a family, and built the foundation for the strong relationship we still have today.
4. Marry a Chinese boy, pop out some babies and do it soon – you’re getting old
Boys were off the cards when I was at secondary school. It didn’t stop me from dating my first boyfriend at 14 though – he was caucasian (gasp!). It turned out to be a serious relationship: we were together for 4 years and broke up right before I went to university. Now, in my late 20’s, my parents are seriously concerned that I’m going to be a lonely old maid. Despite having been in relationships since, they are anxious for grandchildren and now actively encourage me to go out, meet men and find someone as soon as possible. Oh, and if they could be Chinese then even better. My parents believe that being with a Chinese guy will make my life easier: they will understand our heritage and culture, speak our language so we can communicate better and share the same commitment and values. And being a typical rebellious British-born daughter (I’m already not a doctor!), I don’t date Asian men. Perhaps one will come along that will change my mind, or at least my parents hope, but until then…sorry mum and dad!
5. Telling someone they are fat/ugly is a form of affection (apparently!)
The Chinese have not always been known for their tact. This one is one that I myself am still not used to – Chinese face, British manners. However, it is not uncommon to have your family members tell you that you’ve put on a lot of weight, or that your skin is bad, or that you look haggard. And they will compare you to so-and-so’s daughter that is looking so much thinner and prettier these days. Charming right? They are just direct and though this does hurt your feelings from time to time, you’ve got to shrug it off because it happens a lot. They say they are merely being observational and don’t mean to hurt your feelings. Too late.
6. Having ‘tiger parents’ really instills a strong work ethic that you don’t appreciate until you’re an adult
While all the other kids were allowed to go play outside, or go to sleepovers, or have weekends free, my brother and I were always doing something extra curricular. More homework, Chinese school, violin lessons, piano lessons, dance classes, badminton, swimming. These were some of the activities that filled my days outside of school. I used to resent the fact that I wasn’t allowed as much free time as my peers, but now, I look back and realise I am incredibly grateful for the work ethic and drive my parents have taught me. We weren’t cooped up all the time doing work, work, work. Far from it. But, we were encouraged to never waste our time and to ensure we were using our free time wisely. This is what has gotten me to where I am today. And it’s also what’s going to keep me motivated and hardworking. Nothing is free in this life, you get out of it what you put in. A lesson I will never forget.
7. You will become Tech Support
We’re living in an age where technology is expanding at an exponential rate and there are more and more ways we can use it to improve our daily lives. However, with upgrades happening left, right and centre, our parents are finding it hard to keep up. That new iPhone you got them so you can keep in touch? Don’t expect to just hand over the box. They will not read the manual. They will not look up tutorials online. Why is there a need when you are at the end of the phone and can walk them through it step by step? I have had many occasions where I’ve been genuinely close to ripping my own hair out and eating it because my parents just didn’t know how to set up their Apple ID and were not getting what I was saying down the phone. Is it frustrating? Yes. Would I rather be plucking my eyelashes out with kitchen tongs? Probably. But, I figure if they could put up with all my crap for 28 years, I could probably grit through another hour or two of showing them how to use emojis in WhatsApp.
8. A rice cooker is the best gift you can get when leaving home
Nothing, and I really mean NOTHING can make rice like a rice cooker. It comes out perfect every. Single. Time. None of this boiling it in a saucepan and it looking like gloop rubbish. No Asian kid should ever leave home without a rice cooker. It’s a mark of coming of age. The rice cooker may take a little longer to get you your rice, but boy is it worth it. And that’s a lesson that can also be applied to many other things in life. Patience sure is a virtue. But, you still have to put in the work: measure it all out, wash the rice thoroughly, select the right settings. Remember, nothing in this life is free. Except this rice cooker from your parents. Their child going without properly cooked rice is just too much for them to handle.
9. You will be expected to greet every distant relative at family functions
This is your second great-aunt, twice removed on your dad’s side, say hello! Who is this person?? You’ve probably never seen this person in your life. They most likely met you when you were 3 weeks old, but somehow you’re expected to know who this person is and exactly how to greet them by their formal relative title – the Chinese have a name for every member of the family, no matter how distant. Family reunions and gatherings are especially painful for this reason. Chinese weddings and banquets are the worst. There are so many people! Everyone, their mother and their dog breeder has to be invited, or someone gets offended and there’s a huge tiff that goes on for generations. Most likely these people are related/linked to your parents and/or your grandparents somehow. But, learning everyone by face and name is harder than trying to land a job with NASA when your only work experience is as a children’s party clown.
10. I wouldn’t change any of it for the world
My life hasn’t been easy sailing from childhood to adulthood for sure. But, it also hasn’t been one of solitude and hardship either that many non-Asians often think just because of the stereotype. My whole family are incredibly generous and loving people and I am a better person because of the important values they have brought me up on. I am a very lucky person and I don’t take for granted how good I have had it for one second. No one’s life is perfect, and anyone that claims to have had a perfect life is 100% lying. Asian or not, every good and every bad moment has shaped the exact person you have become today. There are no regrets for me. And yes, they may drive you really crazy at times, but you can’t choose your family. And even if you could, I won’t be swapping mine thank you. Not today anyway.
Keep exploring friends!