Shrugging My Shoulders and Giving Non-Committal Answers

I grew up in Sydney, to a Taiwanese mother and Australian father.

I spent all my life in Australia until I was 22. I arrived in Shanghai for my great Chinese adventure on the same day of the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics. I stayed for about five years.

Right now you’re probably looking at my picture, wondering if I look more Asian or more Western. I’ve heard different opinions, everything from “Wow, you don’t look Asian at all!” to the exact opposite: “Really? You’re half white??”

I even had a Uyghur kid come up to me in the street once in downtown Shanghai and start chatting away in what I assume was Uyghur language. So yes, I’ve heard it all.

People focusing so much on what I look like was quite confronting at first, but I’m used to it. It’s still a little strange, but not that big of a deal. It is a little confronting sometimes when someone asks about your racial background before asking your name, which has happened occasionally. Anyway, any discussion about my Chinese-ness seems to always begin with what I look like. And yes, it is a little uncomfortable, so let’s move on.

Perhaps growing up in Australia has contributed to my self identity. I heard a statistic that 50% of people here are immigrants, or have at least one parent that is an immigrant. So I was never treated very differently for being half Chinese. Even as my fingers type it out it feels very jarring; I am half Chinese.

Here, being half-Chinese or full-Chinese or half-Lebanese or ethnic-Russian-but-my-parents-grew-up-in-Tajikistan isn’t really anything special. It’s not that I am ashamed of it, or that I hide it, it’s just a part of me like the fact that I am right handed, or short sighted. *shrug* Not that significant.

To put it into context, I have a Lebanese friend who I didn’t actually know was Lebanese until 2 years after I first met him, a Filipino friend who, once again, I didn’t know was Filipino until many years after we first met, and several kinda-Asian looking friends who, now that I think of it, are probably children of immigrants but I’ve just never got around to asking where their parents are from. Again, not that I’m not interested, just that it’s not that big a deal.

What does that mean to me? Not much really. Yes, I have black hair, brown eyes, and my maternal grandparents didn’t speak a word of English, but that’s about it. On a day to day level it doesn’t really affect me at all. When I see people denouncing China’s human rights record, I don’t take it personally, when China accuses Western media of bias, it doesn’t affect me.

So do you feel more Australian or Chinese?

People ask me that sometimes. I shrug and say, well, neither. When I make a decision about something, I like to think that I carefully weigh the pros and cons of both sides of the argument, and make a decision accordingly. I don’t think “Oh, all the other Australians think ‘x’ so I must think ‘x’ as well,” or “Chinese feel really strongly about ‘x’, so I do too.”

I’m not sure why I don’t feel such a strong connection to my race(s). I can’t stop shrugging my shoulders and giving non-committal answers whenever someone asks me about it, it’s just a part of me that doesn’t come up very often. Thankfully. People are always trying to break free of categories and labels, so I don’t see why I should voluntarily slap one on.

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