Questions a Punky Asian-Australian Girl Hates

Shuk-Wah Chung, short punky looking Asian-Australian girl.

He comes bouncing up to me, like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.

“Hey did you like the movie?” says the tall pimply-faced boy.

The Sydney Film Festival was on and I had just seen Beijing Bubbles, a documentary about emerging punk bands in China.

I smile and nod my head, hands clasped, concentrating on keeping myself warm on a fiercely cold and rainy Sydney night. I was dressed in my finest and furriest wet weather gear: hand knitted turquoise beanie; scraggly pink gloves; cheap camel-coloured faded fake fur coat; baggy jeans; child’s sized vinyl ankle boots; and plastic rimmed glasses because the effort to put on my contacts would have frozen my eyeballs. If you didn’t know me you’d think I was a 15-year-old kid straight from the streets of Harajuku, the cute and quirky district in Tokyo where kids go crazy and creative with their hair, makeup and clothes.

“Are you from China?” he excitedly pipes up again.

Oh no, here we go, I think to myself. But hey, let’s see how far I can take this. I look up at him, squint and nod my head slightly to the left.

He stops bouncing. “ARE YOU FROM CHINA?” he says again.

Once again I try to look confused.

“ARRRRRE. YOOOOOU. FRRRRRROM. CHIIIIIINA?” but this time slower that if I had a remote control I could count the amount of pimples around his mouth and see the strings of saliva as he enunciates his words.

Another squint.

“WHAT. COUNTRY. ARE. YOU. FROM?” he says, now stooping down to my height.

“Oh I from Japan!” I say with a smile putting my hands on my cheeks and pulling the cutest face I can muster.

By this time a friend of his comes up to him, who coincidentally I know.

“Hey mate. How’s it goin’?” says the mutual friend.

“Yeah good. I was just talkin’ to your friend here. He thinks I’m from Japan, but don’t tell him the truth.”

And with that Pimply Faced Boy turns red.

I have many other stories like this, however they don’t always result in short Asian female publicly embarrassing tall white boy. When I was young, I recall being spat on by a driver as I was innocently making my way home from school; I remember walking around the city with my family and a drunken girl shouting out, “Go back to your own country”; and I also remember being 13 and arguing with the most popular, most rebellious and most handsome boy in school, and hearing him shout out across the basketball court, “Well at least I’m not Asian,” to which I replied, “Well at least I’m not racist.”

Thankfully, experiences such as this have been few. They haven’t affected me or turned me into a gangster ready to unleash my martial arts skills, although if I could wish for any “Asian power” it would be the ability to jump-kick.

“Hi-yah! Take that! That’ll teach you to call me ching chong!”

In fact, throw as many stereotypes at me and I can say that I don’t fit into any mould. I can’t play the piano, I’m absolutely terrible at maths, and I don’t know how to make “lucky” paper stars (though I must admit I learnt once. It was fun).

Seeing those “stereotypical Asian” people makes me quiver. “God, I’m so glad I’m not like THAT. They’re so… boring,” I’d say to my white friends, acting like the meanest bitch in the school.

“Look at those girls. Why do they hold hands and giggle all the time? And white frilly skirts. Do they think they’re dolls or something?”

And we’d laugh with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

But I can imagine what they’d say about me.

“Ai yah, she not China. Her skirt too short. Why she smoking for? Beer for boys. Ai yah.” And then they’d giggle and start talking about how to make their skin white.

Then again, I’ve always been accused for not being “Asian”. I remember my Auntie mocking me once and saying loudly to everyone at the dinner table, “Huh! She not Chinese. She not even like jook!” as I’d grimace every time I’d drink congee.

“Qoi ho yingmun-ah.” She’s so English she’d say, and I’d see my Por-Por – my grandmother on my mother’s side – smile and shake her head whilst I remained silent.

Then there were the questions, always from the aunties, uncles and family friends.

“Why you not speak Chinese?” they’d poke and ask.

“Um, cause my parents never taught me,” I’d meekly say.

And that’s the truth. My parent’s never taught me Chinese. It was always English to the kids and Chinese to each other – and more so whenever they were arguing (and they argued a lot). They never made me learn the piano or the violin. I never learnt mah jong and I wasn’t even taught much about my family history. In fact if there’s anything my parents taught me, it was “you must be good to your brother,” even after they’d pick on me and make me cry.

I never learnt my father’s famous phrase “No kissy kissy until you get married,” which for some reason he’d say at every given opportunity – even when I was young and had absolutely no desire to lose my virginity – and always close to my face with his finger pointing and waving at me. However, I did learn, “Eat all your food cause Buddha say so,” and I would because my mother was a brilliant cook. She was also good at sewing, cleaning, and gossipping – loudly. Yes, she was a typical housewife and as her only daughter, one of her favourite past-times – even up to my 20s – was to buy me clothes and accessories in Asian printed fabric, like as if another one of these skirts, bags, belts, mandarin collar tops or cheongsams would make me more “Asian”.

“Hey look what I bought today,” she’d say. “It was on sale. Reduce from fifty dollar to ten dollar. Cheap you know. Try it on.”

Even though my mother’s English was reasonable – she was born and raised in Fiji after my grandparents and eldest uncle moved there from Guangdong, China – she still forgot to add pronouns and plurals to her sentences and had trouble saying words like “calendar” (“cal-in-der” she’d say) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Schwarz-a-nigger,” instead).

“Geez thanks,” I’d think to myself. Yet another outfit made by some white designer and mass-produced by Asian immigrants.

Shuk-Wah Chung.

I think this was my mother’s way to get me out of the grunge outfits I often wore instead. Flannel shirts, ripped stockings, band t-shirts and Doc Marten boots, channelling more Courtney Love than canto pop. In my effort to transcend my “Asian-ness” I also dyed my hair pink, red, green and blue (though not all at once of course), got a nose piercing and a labret, and bought an electric guitar and sang teenage angst songs.

So you can imagine how I’d feel at punk gigs. Whilst “dressing the part”, I didn’t “look the part” amongst all the big burly guys and loud Aussie blonde chicks. I was sometimes ignored and looked at like I didn’t belong and when I was noticed I was often asked, “Where are you from?”

Ah yes. The defining question of every non-white Australian’s life. The question I love to hate, hate to answer and when I’m in the mood, like to play around with, especially when asked at the most inappropriate times.

“Where are you from?” they ask at parties after I’ve pulled the best Steve Irwin impersonation.

“Where are you from?” strangers say when I’m waiting in line for the bathroom.

“Where are you from?” says the hospital nurse when I’m in pain.

“Where are you from? Where are you from? Where are you from? Are you from Japan?” says the conservative man during an interval at an Australian play.

Why is it that white people immediately assume that if you don’t sport blue eyes and blond hair that you’re from another country? I can only imagine what goes through their mind before they ask the dreaded question. Olive skin? Check. Slanted eyes? Check. Short and slim? Check. Ah, why of course she mustn’t be Awstralian!

There’s no escaping it either. In my travels overseas I’ve had heated arguments with fellow travellers who are shocked when I tell them I’m from Australia.

“No, where are you really from?” they say with a furrowed brow.

“Ah Sydney,” I reply.

“No no no. Where are you REALLY from?”

“Yeah Sydney. Y-know. Seen the Harbour Bridge?”

“But you don’t LOOK like you’re from Sydney.”

So if there’s anything about growing up as an Asian Australian it’s not about hating Pauline Hanson (although of course I do), or disliking chicken feet (which I also do), or trying to please my family (which I don’t), or being the target of a white man’s yellow fever (which I sometimes am). It’s about not being judged on the answer to “where are you from?” It’s about being accepted and respected on who I am as a person – as both a Chinese person proud of my culture, and now being older, discovering it out of my own interest; and as an Australian proud of where I’m living, the things I do, and what I believe in. So if you ever see me, a short, punky looking Asian Australian girl, don’t ask me. You already know the answer.

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  • Gaaad!!!

    Next time somebody ask you ‘Where are you REALLY from?’, ask them back ‘WHEN are they REALLY from?’.

  • cb4242

    I understand, but Australia doesn’t have a long history of Asians living there, so it is a bit strange at first hearing an Asian girl with an Aussie accent. In the U.S. they have been around since 1820 and Asians comprise about 4.8% of the total population. So that is a very long time, almost expected. Personally, I would do a double take myself if I heard a Chinese girl speaking Aussie English.

    • Riser

      cb4242, while you may have a point about the tenure of “Asians” living in America vs. Australia, your figure of 4.8% “Asians” for America is hardly a supporting point for your argument, as Australia has an even larger percentage*.

      *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Australia I’d hate to ask you to do some math, but if you check out the ancestry or languages sections, and add up the various Asian countries, you’d see there’s at least 5% “Asians” in Australia.

      • cb4242

        You are missing my point, historically, asians in particular Chinese and Japanese have been in America for years. You are skewing your numbers to see something is is quite a bit off. While on that point you are partially right, you seemed to overlook that as the largest speaking English nation with 300+ million people and not to mention if you ad UNDOCUMENTED Asians we get on a daily basis the numbers change quite significantly, then the numbers are higher.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Asian_Americans
        Especially when it comes to education, the U.S. for Chinese and Asians is still the number one destination. All I am just saying with that from a historical point, when we see Asians speaking American English and to a much lesser extent British English is nothing unusual, but Aussie English does create some stares, nothing wrong with it, just the way it is.

        • Guy

          Jesus Christ where do some of you people live? Clearly not in Australia; for if you did you’d know that in the city centres of Sydney and Melbourne and even Brisbane it’s a sea of black hair and Asian faces.

          People of ethnic Chinese background speaking English with an Australian accent is as common as beer in Australia.

          • KM

            I’ve always thought that Australia had a significant Asian presence since at least the Victorian gold rushes in the mid 1800s. And that’s thinking only about East Asians, not people from the Indonesian archipelago, who’ve been visiting the northern part of Australia for thousands of years.

    • pervertt

      “Ballarat, 1858. The peak of the gold rush. Just under 10,000 Chinese had migrated to Ballarat and around a quarter of the men on the goldfield were Chinese, second only to the English in numbers.” (From “The Chinese in Ballarat” by Irene Scott)

      Ballarat is in Central Victoria, Australia. There were so many Chinese arriving in the goldfields that the Victorian government of the day actually imposed a tax on their arrival.

      It shouldn’t be strange to hear a Chinese looking person speak with an Australian accent. Or with any other accent for that matter. My father once told me, “Where you will find water, you will find Chinese.”

      • cb4242

        Actually, nowadays that is true. Hearing Chinese with a Jamaican accent…wow!

    • mr. weiner

      Chinese have been in Australia since the gold rushes in the 1850′s, folks just expect us all to be skips [WASPs] though.

  • http://www.tenzenmen.com shaun/tenzenmen

    hope you’ve managed to quit smoking!

  • Dawei

    Well the “Where are you really from” question is just as common in China and Hong Kong as it would appear to be in Australia. You are not permitted to be “Real Chinese” TM unless you have Chinese blood, grew up here and have stayed here all your life (so no running away to Canada or the US to study) even half half kids who are fluent have no chance. So relax.

    • Jay

      When people ask me the same question, I just answer them directly.

      Being rude and embarassing the pople who ask you won’t make them stop….

      It’ll just make them dislike you.

      That is not a winning strategy.

  • Kitty

    “I also remember being 13 and arguing with the most popular, most rebellious and most handsome boy in school, and hearing him shout out across the basketball court, “Well at least I’m not Asian,” to which I replied, “Well at least I’m not racist.””

    I’m so ashamed. You were much more mature and cleverer than I was. I was in a similar situation but it didn’t end like yours did. As soon as he said “Thank god I’m not a f*****g Chinese dog like you!”, I punched him in the face.

    His broken nose earned me a two-week suspension from school. Not one of my finest hours, but at least he and his pals didn’t mess with me again.

    • anon

      Wow, you’ve got a pretty mean punch. Other than a broken nose, did the other kid get any administrative punishment from the school?

      • Kitty

        No, he didn’t then. The school decided I didn’t appreciate his attempt to be friendly because he said he was only joshing and his friends backed him up. But there’s a happy ending. For me at least.
        A week after I returned to school, two good-hearted classmates filmed him and his friends calling me racist names, making sexually suggestive comments, and pushing me around all day on their cameras. They created a video and gave me a copy on a condition I wouldn’t name them. I took the video to the principal. The boy and his friends were suspended indefinitely, then formally expelled.
        It still doesn’t mean it was wise to punch him though! It was the stupidest thing I did. I think I was so tired of his “joshing” that I exploded at him.

      • Kitty

        I can’t edit my comment! To be clear, the two classmates gave me the video a week after I returned.

        • anon

          Your story is positively inspirational, that classmates came to your aid, and that the school didn’t turn a blind eye to clear evidence, even if their initial response was somewhat disappointing. They should’ve at least warned him that such “joshing” is inappropriate an unacceptable?

          I’m generally not one to resort to violence either, but we have to wonder. Had you not gotten fed up and lashed back, then gotten suspended, would your classmates have been prompted to help assemble evidence to ultimately achieve a measure of justice?

  • anon

    A very whimsical read! I enjoyed it a lot!

  • D

    I can understand you don’t like to hear the same question over and over again. But on the other hand, I can completely understand why people ask you where you’re from. I ask a lot of people where they’re from too, because I’m genuinely interested in that. You know what people always ask me? Aren’t you too young to…. ????
    I’m 23 (but I do have a baby face) and have been traveling by myself for over 6 years now and I’m lovin it. I don’t care that they ask me those kind of questions. How do you think it is living as a loawai in China? My god, you thought your life was hard :P

    Anyways, fighting against it won’t work. Accepting it will. Just like I accept I have a baby face and people will keep on asking me if I’m not too young to… (you fill it in) .

  • AQ

    As a fellow Australia born Chinese i can completely relate to your experiences. i had a similar story in primary school, I punched this older white boy cuz he called a Chingchong and told go back to China. I told him his ancestor were convicts, dont think he understood it tho. I’m proud of being an Aussie but as much as i hate to say it, the stereotypical Australian bogan can be stupidly racists.

    • Chris

      I get that question and response too. Dad was born in HK, but mum’s gread grandma was out here in the 1870s or something. So on one side of the family I’m the 4 generation to be born here.

      Some people (inevitably about 95% of such persons are of European descent), I’m afraid, are only comfortable with their prejudices and pre conceived notions. An “Asian looking” person is, by default, Chinese, and my Aussie accent really confuses some people. Though in Japan they were confused too.

      Some Anglo moron recently told me that I was “lucky to be in this country”, to which I told him he was a moron and that my great grandma was born here. He then said that I “didn’t act like us”, to which I said “no, I don’t act like an idiot like you”.

  • Eileen

    omg same, im from aussie n a abc and its so annoying answering other ppls questions… its like “WHERE ARE YOU FROM” and im like you tard. im from australia? where else?

    and i work at kfc and people seriously think i cant speak proper english so i need to practically “shout” at customers to let them know im 90% aussie…. 10% with the chinese language part…

    • Jeffli

      Well My neighbours boy was born in Sydney, he speaks fluent English, Shanghainese and Greek. yep Greek! the lonely old Greek Aunty down the road used (still does abit for afterschool) to babysit him (her kids grown up no grandchildren) so he was like her part-time son! so cool.
      He is well known and loved in the Greek community and he even goes to Greek orthodox church school! the Greek background kids (under 8y/o) Its us adults that do the labeling. – I say “Save the labels for tins of peas” “don’t wrap them round human beans!”
      [unfortunately not everyone thinks like me]

      also don’t forget Australia had the “white australia policy” from 1903?(about? correct me please) until ~1975.
      So yeah Asian and Australian born Asians are special! Just like all our other multibackground brothers and sisters WELCOME!

      Not all whiteys are bad (most but not all…lol) Every country has its issues. You think theres none here in China? come over and tell everyone you’re Japanese see the reaction, hell I see differentiation between darker skin and lighter skin Chinese. north vs. south, rich vs. poor, educational snoboberry, govt families vs. the “laobaixing” (common people). then what they call fat here? ni hen pang ah! said to an anorexic local ( 170cm and 45 Kgs after a mac attack) hmmmf!
      And then we had some tall African background visitors ….another story there.
      People will differentiate get used to it
      rantings from an almost “naturalized” GuiLao :-) lao nei?

  • Rene Donaldson

    I know a chinese girl with an Aussie accent. It is super cool. I wouldn’t consider Shuk-Wah-Chung Chinese; girl’s as Western as you can get. lol. She’s totally Australian.

  • Hank

    “Where are you from?” when asked does not mean they want to know where YOU are from but your ancesters!!! I grew up going through the same drivel. Now that I’m older & wiser, I respond by saying “China, BUT I was born here!”.

  • Tim

    I can only imagine what it is like. I’d like to say its an Australian trait, but I think Australians are just more upfront/rude about how they go about it.

    Look I am white, but as soon as I open my mouth I get the same question as I was born and raised in Canada. My advice, make a joke of it, tell them you are from Alice broooo or whatever you come up with. I get tired of being asked where in America I am from so I just say the 51st state. Inevitably they apologise, and then have a laugh and move on.

    It really sucks, but you are not the only one. I can imagine it makes you feel alien, I know it does that to me at times when I least expect it, but it is not going away. Then again, as you already know, sometimes its useful to play dumb…. ;)

  • respect

    I think that maybe sometimes the question of ‘Where are you from?’ is really meant to mean ‘What race are you?’. As you may know for some whiteys, telling the difference between a Japanese, Korean or Chinese person can be hard, this goes double for Indonesians, Malaysians, Thai or Filipinos. Personally being a white Australian I remember asking an Uzbek guy and his dad ‘Where are you from?” The son replied with a smug ‘We’re from Australia’, I thought well that doesn’t really answer my question so I said ‘Oh I mean what ethnicity are you?’ He didn’t seem offended at all and told me. Another time I asked a Thai man and his family “Where are you from?’ and he answered rather quickly with a tone of indignation ‘Seattle Washington’, again as a fall back I said rather meekly ‘Oh I mean what ethnicity are you?’ His daughter immediately caught on to what I mean’t and frowned at him, he seemed slightly annoyed and said we’re originally from Thailand, I said ‘Oh I don’t know much of the Thai language yet’. Again these are just some examples of a general interest that some white Australians may have in your culture and background, it’s just the wording that can be difficult. But again for every one person with genuine interest, respect and appreciation there would be many that are ignorant, stupid and possibly racist. I hope the next ‘Where are you from?’ question you get is the from someone in the former group not the latter. Take it easy on us whiteys, ok :)

  • Smh

    @Respect
    And had you more knowledge about the Thai culture/ language, would you have tried to engage him in a conversation about the topic? Of course you would’ve. Did you even care enough to ask for his name? You seem to be missing the fundamental point here–Asian-Australians, Asian-Americans, and Asian-Canadians alike hate being assumed foreigners and equally despise being expected to serve as representatives of their ancestors’ cultures. Is that too difficult to comprehend? I understand your intentions are pure but think about the nature of the “Where are you from?” question. It insinuates that the individual being questioned is indeed a foreigner. And if it’s only a matter of semantics as you claim then why on Earth didn’t you phrase your question differently after the Uzbek guy incident? How is it even remotely difficult?Again, it doesnt matter how the question is phrased becuse the implication remain the same. Good grief.

    • respect

      Well to be honest I already knew the guys name, as I was checking him in for travel. And technically since the guy was from America he *is* a foreigner, furthermore I never expected him to be a representative for his ancestors culture, I usually ask all passengers (even white Australians) that travel where they are from to be polite and make small talk. Most people are pleased that you take an interest in their background and are genuinely flattered if you know some of their language and culture. I have about 2 minutes to make a good impression for the company and for the city where I live. Australia has a poor reputation among some people as being racist. I think I can be forgiven for asking ‘Where are you from?’ because most people are from another country and culture and I’d like to learn more about them. I guess I missed out some critical information about the circumstances where these things happen, it’s not like I’m just talking to randoms in the street!! ‘good grief’ ?

  • burntmetal

    I didn’t finish reading the article but looks like the writer is a self-hating Chinese, griping against stereotypes while perpetuating them at the same time.

    • shaun/tenzenmen

      i didn’t finish reading this single sentence comment because but it looks like the writer is too lazy to read the complete article and jumps to immediate conclusions that support their pre-conceived assumptions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexyli Alex

    From my experience also as a chinese australian, times have changed alot since the early 90s when there was still a lot of racism about. Most white aussies are just more upfront and easy going about the topic and they definitely dont ask the question in a rude manner.

    I can definitely relate to the “I was sometimes ignored and looked at like I didn’t belong” part as I work with the ADF and travel to alot of regional Australia where there are far less asian australians when compared to big cities.

    Times are definitely different now though, no one in big cities will ask the question and not believe that you are an ABC with all the different ethnicities that now reside in our capitals.

  • Smh

    @Respect
    Just out of curiosity, do you usually ask for the ethnic background of your white customers too? Or are they just not as interesting? If you’re going to say something along the lines of “Well, only if they had an ethnic-sounding name”, well then would you ask for the ethnic background of an Asian-looking person with a name like Sarah Johnson?

  • Smh

    Additionally, you say you like learning about other peoples’ country/culture. But when the Thai man told you he was from Washington(he is hence an American, really) you wouldn’t accept this answer. You wanted one that fit your own preconceived notions about who he is. I understand that many people of Asian descent in Western countries are first or second generation and embrace their ethnic heritage. However, when an Asian looking person tells you he is American or Australian or whatever (especially in an indignant tone) please take his word for it. Otherwise, you’re implying that they are foreign to said country.

    • respect

      ok so now you are really putting words into my mouth, I would agree that yes my white customers aren’t that interesting to me, I still ask where they’re from though. Names don’t mean anything to me a name is a name. Don’t sit back and say I have preconceived notions about anything, I don’t think you can judge by a few comments on a forum…. As for the American guy, I asked where he was from before he said anything, so had I waited and heard him say something in an American accent I would have known he was American and not asked ‘where are you from’? So the order of events were, 1. He walked up to the desk. 2. I said Hi, can I see your tickets please? , (he handed them over without a word)3. Oh so where are you from?.

      He looked South East Asian, I thought he might have been Indonesian, I can speak Indonesian and I thought that I could speak Indonesian to him for fun, to help me learn more, to seem more friendly etc.

      Really by assuming so much about me you are the one with preconceived notions. P.S And what is with the condescending tone? “please take his word” the “good grief” the “why on earth” of your earlier posts. Seems to me you are dramatizing things abit…….

  • Smh

    @In which ways am I putting words in your mouth, exactly? And who’s assuming what? In your first comment, you explicitly stated that you asked a customer where he was from, which I now understand is a perfectly innocuous question considering that you ask everyone. But when he replied that he was American you said, “I meant what nationality are you?”. So it strikes me as a bit odd that you say now that you wouldn’t have asked where he was from had you first heard his American accent. Same goes for the Uzbek guy. You asked where he was from and upon receiving your answer you thought, “That doesn’t answer my question”. But it DOES answer your question! That’s the heart of the issue that’s being addressed here. You can’t use the “Where are you from” question to learn the ethnic background of an Asian person and then ask for a revised answer upon receiving the name of a Western country. Hence the whole bit about preconceived notions.

    • respect

      I asked the guy what “Ethnicity are you? not nationality I knew his nationality from his accent, you are putting words into my mouth really you are looking for something that isn’t there. Scroll up and read the comment again, I asked him “where are you from” before he opened his mouth, had he said something beforehand I wouldn’t have asked ‘where are you from’ due to his accent, I wanted to know his ethnicity and I would have still asked him. You know there is a difference between the two, ethnicity and nationality. And again with the Uzbek guy It DIDN’T answer my question, I wanted to know what race/ethnicity he was, I wanted to learn more and possibly some of his language. He looked like he was from some place near Afghanistan. I now know that I cant use the ‘where are you from’ question to learn the ethnic background of anyone really not just Asian people. I learned that lesson 4+ years ago, really you are looking for some kind of predisposed attitude towards Asian people in me. You go searching for something hard enough you start seeing it in places its not there. I don’t see someone and go ‘Oh they’re not white so therefore they’re not from a western country’ That’s your preconceived notion about me. Really its about “Hey what can I learn from this person” or “I wonder if they can speak another language” or “Geez im tired of checking in bogan after bogan after bogan I need someone interesting to talk to”.

  • Jeffli

    after being born fifty years ago in australia ( imported parts but “assembled in Australia” haha ), someone reads my name and retorts “where are you from?”
    SFW?
    big deal, change my name to John/Jill Smith? – no way!(thank you)

    just get over it, aren’t there bigger issues in life? Let us fix those first.

  • Anon

    I’m a white guy, no family history outside of the UK as far as I am aware, who was born and raised in Australia. I might surprise you by saying that the “Where are you from?” question isn’t just thrown at non-whites.

    Last time I was down under, I used to get it … not regularly, but it wasn’t rare either. My accent is about as Australian as you can get (if you ignore the recent changes to that “norm” afforded by mass-consumption of US-sitcoms in the youth). I wouldn’t say I dressed in a punk style, but definitely an alternative style. I clearly do not subscribe to the belief that thongs and a blue wife-beater are things you’d wear in public, nor that a man’s hairy knees should be visible in the CBD, so perhaps that’s it? Or the lack of blue eyes. Not sure what you could take from this, but its a datapoint nonetheless.

    Perhaps you’re too just stylish for the neighbourhood. XD

  • Smh

    You’re right. You did say ethnicity, not nationality–and that was my mistake. It was a simple slip-up, I DO know the difference and I do apologize for accidentally putting words in your mouth.

    However, you still miss the point, sir. HIS language is Australian English and he is FROM Australia. He(or his son) volunteered this information to you with their own free will and it was wrong for you to counter that with “Oh I MEANT what ethnicity are you?”. Really, that conversation should have ended when they told you that they were Australians. Had they thought their being ethnically Thai or Uzbek was any of your business then they would have included that information in there on their own accord. In all honesty, none of those people appeared to be offended because they’re so used to being treated like this. Often, when someone sees an Asian looking person the first thing they’ll ask is “Where are you from?” or “What are you?”. As if we’re these exotic cultural artifacts as opposed to normal American human beings just like them. It’s honestly so uncomfortable and so degrading to know that people see me as an Asian before anything else. So you need to understand where people like me and the author are coming from. You think of questions like, “Hey what can I learn from this person” or “I wonder if they can speak another language” because you DO have a pre-conceived notions that they are somehow tied to a foreign culture. And it IS based on their appearance. This is the bold-faced truth and not my imagination.

    • respect

      Really the conversation ends when some crazy guy comes up and starts talking about internet radiation. Just because I see someone different and am interested in them, does that make me somehow a racist or some kind of bad person, if you really feel so uncomfortable about being seen as Asian, then the hangup is yours not mine, I treat everyone with the same respect whatever their race is, just because I’m interested in their race/culture/ethnicity doesn’t make me a bad person. I don’t automatically think they are tied to a foreign culture based on their race, it takes accent, clothing, demeanour and other things to put that together. Basically you can look at a person whether they’re white or otherwise and see that they’re foreign this is not based on race either. Anyone can spot a tourist in their home city, I see plenty of other people around who aren’t white and I can tell they aren’t foreigners…..
      once again I was working in a travel centre people go through from all over the world its natural to want to talk to travellers about where they’re from. You’re acting like if i see someone in the street who isn’t white I automatically assume that they’re not Australian, you are pushing this view that I’m some kind of bigoted redneck :(
      You need to take into account where I’am and what I’m doing at the time.

  • Smh

    For fuck’s sake, you honestly don’t understand do you? First off, enough with the strawmen? I never once called you a racist or a bad person. That’s your own deluded imagination.

    Second, I NEVER ONCE SAID I was uncomfortable being Asian or being seen as an Asian. I am however, very uncomfortable with being treated as a cultural object or as an Asian before anything else. Why the hell do all you culture-fetishists never understand that distinction? I can be proud of my Asian heritage and still feel annoyed at being treated like I’m some freakin’ encyclopedia about China or some shit. Do you honestly have trouble with reading comprehension??? You sure as hell seem to. I’m not objecting that you saw these obvious foreigners and asked where thy were from in your workplace. I’m objecting that because they were Asian you felt that American or Australian wasn’t the correct answer.

    Honestly, instead of trying feverishly to defend your self proclaimed “white” ass and justify to yourself how you’re still a great person, why don’t you fucking listen to people like me, or this author, or the Uzbek, or the Thai. You know, the people you’re affecting? We’re all pissed for a reason. Why do we need to cater to your ignorance?

  • Smh

    We’ve been taking it easy on you “whiteys” for quite some time now. It’s high time you learn how to treat us right. Instead of trying to correct us Asians who are mysteriously getting so pissed at you why don’t you correct yourself?

  • Smh

    So let me leave you with these points:

    1. You work in a travel center and are interested in foreign cultures. I FUCKING GET IT. Because you just cant seem to get this in your damn head
    I’m not objecting that you treated these foriegners like foreigners. I’m objecting that you thought American or Canadian or Australian wasn’t the correct response from these particular foreigners because they looked Asian. Do you understand? If they tell you that American is their culture, then that’s their culture. If they tell tell you straightaway that Thai is their culture then that’s their culture.

    2. You have some damn nerve to claim I’m the one with the hang up because I might be tired of a million different bozos feeling entitled to use me as a cultural artifact and expecting me to answer all their questions about my ethnic background. If theyre so damn culturally curious, they can utilize google or find spaces where people freely volunteer such things instead of strangers. So how dare you accuse me of feeling uncomfortable of being Asian.

    3. I’m a minority. I get it. That being said, I don’t walk around existing to entertain the majority. Just because I’m superficially different it doesn’t mean I want to be treated as such all the fucking time.

    Again, stop being so self-centered and actually listen to Asians if you love us so damn much.

  • Smh

    And why is it that whenever a Westerner of Asian decent speaks out against the racism or ignorance they encounter in their countries, a bunch of idiots feel the need to condescendingly one up them with, ” Oh yeah? Think that’s bad? China/Korea/Thailand etc. is even worse! Get over it!” Newsflash: ignorance that’s understandable in China s

    • respect

      Ok so. Obviously I’ve offended you with that ‘uncomfortable being Asian comment’ and I’m sorry for that. I guess that I should take what you’ve written and pass judgements on it, you said “It’s honestly so uncomfortable and so degrading to know that people see me as an Asian before anything else” you wrote that, its not my deluded imagination. I know you haven’t actually called me a racist or a bad person but the subtext of your comments certainly points in that direction. I actually have very good reading comprehension I immediately picked up on your slightly snide and condescending tone in the first comments you made.

      Secondly you are great at reading my mind (/sarcasm) because you are certainly making assumptions on what I think, feel and believe. I don’t think because they’ve said they’re Australian or American that it’s somehow a ‘wrong’ answer. I’m not trying to correct anyone, you are flying off the handle at some petty crap. All I wanted to know was about their race/ethnicity, I didn’t ask about their culture, rituals or how to arrange my furniture.

      Thirdly you need not swear, I’ve tried to keep this conversation light hearted, humorous even, I know you’re exasperated at my ‘ignorance’ but please keep it civil, there is no need for insults. You are dramatizing things more than need be.

      It’s easy for you to say I have assumptions and have preconceived notions, you have assumptions and preconceived notions too, somehow I’ve given off the vibe that I assume anyone who isn’t white is somehow foreign and not really Australian or that they are a cultural object. All I wrote was TWO count em TWO experiences I had while working in a travel centre, I certainly put my foot in my mouth when they happened, Now your preconceived notions and assumptions on those TWO experiences have led you to insult me and assume that everyone I see is somehow a cultural object and needs to be studied and understood. If you ‘FUCKING GET IT’ that I worked in a travel centre and are interested in foreign cultures then stop assuming I treat every person like that. I’ve learned my lesson from those experiences I don’t need you to reiterate it over and over. Seriously judging on what you have written I think you are the one who is self-centred, but I dismiss this immediately because it’s a damn internet forum and I don’t know you personally.

      Your final comment seems to be cut-off or something because it just stops suddenly. The feeling of being treated like a cultural object can happen to westerners who visit other countries as well, it’s not just you. I’ve felt the same in other countries too, the stares, people talking about you as you walk past. Like somehow its impossible for me to learn a few words of another language. I’m not going to say It’s worse because I cannot judge that, you’ll encounter racism and ignorance in every place you go, it’s not just you who can feel that way. So since you’ve passed this all encompassing judgement on me based on my comments on an internet forum I feel I can do the same for you.

      You write well so you’re obviously educated, maybe second or third year University? I can bet you are studying something somehow related to this topic, based on your tone of certainty in your posts. You are obviously female, hence the dramatisation of what’s being discussed. You probably have lived in an area with little racial diversity and probably had some very bad experiences and treatment because of that. Am I right or nowhere close? It Doesn’t feel good having people making assumptions or having preconceived notions about you based on a few comments on an internet forum right?
      Thank you despite what you may believe I have learned something from this and am a better person for it, I just hope you have learned as well because otherwise we have both been wasting our precious precious time. ;-)

      • respect

        **(EDIT) I guess that I **shouldn’t** take what you’ve written and pass judgements on it,

  • nico

    LOL, I must be female because I dramatize this? I’m going to ignore the blatantly sexist comment and the rest of your baseless assumptions. No, it’s a deeply personal and passionate subject for me because I live it. It’s fun and humorous for you because it’s not a part of your every day. Honestly, you spend a great deal of time bitching about my being condescending but that’s essentially the tone of your entire message to me, especially with the last bit. Again, I’m not trying to imply ANYTHING about you’re character. I can’t possibly know whether you’re racist or not from a bunch of damn comments and I honestly dont care. Please stop making this about you. I’m just calling you out on all the behaviors you claim to engage in and how that affects Asians. PERIOD. That’s the only thing I was interested in doing from the beginning.

    I’m also going to ignore your whole shpeal about Westerners being treated as cultural objects in foreign countries and how it’s essentially the same damn thing. You had the choice to leave your home. I did not. I recieve the same treatment in my first-world, racially and culturally diverse nation with a rich history of immigration that you do in an ethnically homogenous second or third world nation. Think about that. Sorry for holding better developed and more historically diverse nations to slightly higher standards. You know damn well the things that happen to me in my home does not happen to you in yours. Also, I don’t understand why you decided to take this against another judgment/assumption/pre-concieved notion of YOU. This wasn’t a topic addressing you- did you do the one-upping shit I was tall peaking of ? Well, now you sorta have. You don’t think it’s obvious to me that racism and ignorance is everywhere?

    And frankly, I’m just wondering why you see “different” people from you and feel entitled to learn of their ethnic background, regardless of setting. Whether or not you actually see Asians as cultural objects or representatives of their ancestors’ cultures you sorta are treating them as if they were if you’re doing exactly what you say you’re doing. Thats been my damn point from the beginning. I’m not assuming you do/feel/think ANYTHING- I’m just calling you out on the things YOU claim to do. Honestly, this would be as if you post a thread claiming to spit on homeless people on the street. And when I call you out on it and draw the conclusion that you hate the homeless, you quickly pull a “HEY! I also donate to them! You’re just making assumptions about me based on one comment” Well, I’m sorry that I misunderstood you based on the only details youve cared to include to represent yourself.

    Additionally, you claim to try to practice your language skills on some of these people to help you learn better etc. This is why I’ve been railing on you so hard. Asians don’t exist for YOU. Honestly, you know that these peole have probably been made to feel alienated and fetishized all their lives but you’d contribute to it just because of your own curiosity and because you’re coming from a good place. And that IS what you’re doing, btw.Thats not my assumption. For that moment, they’re made to feel like their ethnic background is the only thing worth learning from them.Yeah….you don’t think it gets old for these people? That’s what I meant by self-centered.

    I have learned something from this experience. You don’t actually respect Asians enough to listen to one. Honestly, in engaging you on this, don’t you think I’m the one with everything on the line? Nothing will happen if You stop asking random Asian people at your workplace for their ethnic background. You have nothing to lose from this because it’s not about you. However, I’ll be subject to the “my-white-ass-knows-better” attitude that you’ve been flaunting throughout this convo. Learn something from the people actually affected by this treatment. See how they feel about it instead of trying to justify to them and yourself that it’s just innocent curiosity so it should just be accepted. Do you understand what I’m saying?

  • nico

    Again, I’m not attacking YOU as a person. I’m calling out some of the behaviors YOU claim to engage in. I know nothing of who you are as a person or what you actually believe and neither do you for me. Youre the only condescending individual here making weird guesses about subjects unrelated to our conversation. But honestly, I still would take you rather than the YouTube imbecile who claims there’s a monolithic “oriental” culture and that we should own up to our “peasant preferences” of eating dogs, rats, and cats. You have to choose your battles.

  • Australian in China

    What is the problem? When you grow up, you will find that people taking an interest in you and your heritage is not something to whinge about.

    Once you get over your own issues you will find yourself able to answer the question with pride. Right now, you have to identify your own issues and stop throwing this back on others.

    So, from now on, if someone asks you where you are from, why not just answer the question? It would appear that “I am from Sydney” would be the most suitable response.

    You could also go on to state, “… but my heritage is actually Chinese” because you know full well why they are asking.

    Now, for your own benefit… It’s OK to be Chinese. It’s OK to have Chinese heritage. You will say “I know that” and you probably believe you really do feel that, but it would appear to me that you are at some level still in denial of this and some part of you is still rejecting having to identify with it.

    Hope it gets better soon.

  • lee

    well your an attractive girl and everyone wants an opening to a conversation. I love “asia’, sterotypes and everything else aside.I would probably ask you what your nationality was, just to talk…. Sorry. poor pimply boys
    Lee

  • hess

    I’m a Swede living in China and I’m pretty sure I’ve been told to piss off back to my country a hell lot of more times than you have. And what’s wrong with someone asking if you’re Chinese? Do you know how many times someone has asked if I’m a swede? 0. Do you know how many times I’ve been asked if I’m an American? 98% of the times.
    And I’m postive “where are you from?” is not the opening lines of 90% of the conversations you have.
    Just quit your fucking bitching and grow a pair

  • Harro

    I think you enjoy being a “victim”. As a white person who was living China, every single person would ask me where I was from all the time… They weren’t necessarily trying to be rude, sometimes people are just trying to show an interest and strike up a conversation. Are you telling me a white person born in Asia wouldn’t always get asked “where are you from?”. You’re the product of recent immigration despite being born in Australia. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and just get on with it.

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