Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Chinese - a diverse and varied people

When I was a young boy growing up in Sydney, the only Chinese I ever met were orginally from Hong Kong. They tended to be affluent, conservative and quiet.

Later on, especially when I first went to university, I got to meet and mix with Chinese from Singapore and  Malaysia. I got good at picking what country a Chinese person was from, and not just because of their accents. It also had a lot to do with their demeanor and behaviour.

Yes, the Chinese are many, dispersed and varied. What may surprise some is to what extent they are different depending on which region they come from. 

It was not until after I became an intern in my studies that I started coming into contacted with mainlander Chinese.

Given that the government in China was Communist and restricted movement, this was not surprising, however by the late 1980s the mainlander community in Australia increased significantly, becaming the majority background of most Australian Chinese.

This is very much the case today.

Now recently, I remember Ms B haggling with the wife/secretary of a doctor about his fee. The secretary was originally from Hong Kong, as was the doctor. The secretary then made a very innappropriate comment to Ms B about her haggling.

She said: "You mainlanders are all the same. You are all selfish and uncivilised."

Now naturally, this comment was offensive, but it seems that only I saw it that way. Ms B seemed to be more concerned that the fee was not further reduced.

I mention this just to underscore the real and dictinct differences between many peoples of Chinese origin, and the level of discrimination that is entrenched within the broader Chinese community itself.

This is a theme that I will come back to from time to time, as it an important insight into the Chinese community in this country.

Racial identity - part 1

Master A is almost 7 years old.

The first face he looked at when he was born was mine, and I have been very involved with him from the start.

So he has been very comfortable in my presence, and in the presence of his paternal family.

But recently, he has begun asking me some odd questions about his appearance.

I remember when Master A was about 4 years old, he saw a commercial on TV involving an African girl. He turned to me and asked, "Daddy, how many people in the world are not like us?"

I did not immediately connect his question with the commercial, so I asked in a puzzled way, "what do you mean?"

He said, "How many people have dark skin, and how many people look like you and me?"

I found this question so refreshingly innocent, but I knew that at some point the world will be telling my son that he and his daddy also look different.

Well, that time has now come, and my challenge of course is to manage my son's questions thoughtfully and in a way that will hopefully put him in good stead to take advantage of all the good things that come with being a bi-racial and bi-cultural child.

What do you like/dislike most about Chinese women?