English/Scottish | Malaysian-Chinese
I am half Malaysian-Chinese, Half English/Scottish. I don’t identify with any particular religion, although I went to a Catholic Primary school and still practice certain Buddhist practices with the Chinese side of my family. I am a straight woman who is attracted to men. Sometimes though, I wonder whether I just haven’t met the right woman yet!
My Dad is from Leicester, although my grandfather came from Glasgow and the Scottish side of my family is definitely celebrated! My mother is fully Chinese but was born in Penang, Malaysia. They met in London, after my mother moved to the UK with her first (Chinese) husband in the 60’s. I’m not really sure how they met. They divorced when I was very young, under a lot of acrimony and so that part of their story was never shared with me. I grew up in South London until I was 11 years old. Then my mother moved us to a place called Leiden in The Netherlands. I found it hard growing up there and moved back to London, as soon as I could, at 17.
I was aware of being mixed-race from a very young age. I do not look particularly Chinese and people would sometimes assume that my mum was my nanny when she took me to the playground. When I started going to school, kids would ask if I was adopted and comment on the weird snacks I’d bring from home. In family photos like at my cousin’s wedding in Malaysia, I would be the only ‘White’ person in the photo.
I was brought up by my mum alone. She is not a typical Chinese mother in many ways. For example, she wasn’t particularly strict about me doing my homework or worried about me not being good at Maths. She would talk to me in Cantonese when I was small but at a certain age I became aware of my ‘Chinese-ness’ and didn’t want to speak it back to her. As a result, I speak very little Cantonese and sound like a ‘gwei-lo’ (foreign devil) when I do. My mum makes fun of me for it but I always think she should have forced me to go to Chinese school, like most Chinese parents would have! Having said that though, my mum would always point out what ‘Westerners’ do and how ‘Westerners’ think. She is a psychologist, so she would do this more as an observation than a comparison.
My stomach is most definitely Chinese, and this is because we would eat Chinese food most of the time, go to Dim Sum every Sunday and go to Chinatown to buy groceries. I always remember being told off in Cantonese by the old lady in the shop on Lisle Street for playing with the fruit and veg! Having said that though, I recognise that I am also very Western, possibly even English, too. It’s weird because I grew up in London which is so multi-cultural, and in The Netherlands, which isn’t really ‘my culture’ so I have adopted bits and pieces of different cultures.
As I get older, I look back and see that I definitely have experienced challenges (minor challenges or judgements) as a result but at the time I was less aware. You sometimes just take them for granted. For example, my mum had a bright yellow sports car and we would drive over from Holland to the UK with the ferry during the holidays. Every single time we would drive off the ferry, the customs people would pull us over. I would always wonder why but now I get it. They were probably thinking, ‘Whoa, hold on a minute. Chinese woman, western teenager. Bright yellow sports car. Something’s not right here!’. I also got bullied quite a lot at school as a teenager and this kid threatened to throw me in a canal. It turned out he was part of a White Power gang, although it didn’t occur to me at the time that it was because of my race. Recently, I had an unpleasant experience on the bus, where a woman made a racist comment about me being a suicide bomber. I am guessing she mistook me for being Middle Eastern? In any case, it is quite funny because I have a chip on my shoulder about not looking Chinese enough and that incident really fed into it!
I definitely think my social environment plays a part in how I choose friends/partners although I don’t think it is a conscious decision. I seem to have very multi-cultural friends. I’ve noticed that I naturally seem to connect with people who have lived abroad, grew up mixed-race or in different cultures, or who grew up a little bit outside of the classic middle-class English ‘2.4 children’ set-up. I’ve lived in a few different countries and found myself relating to the same types of people wherever I go. I have a weakness for funny men and have noticed I go for guys who have strong women in their family. I don’t really look at race although I must admit I have never dated an Asian, even when I lived in Hong Kong. Never say never though.
I do find it a bit off-putting if a person I’m dating doesn’t like Asian, especially Chinese, food because for me, food is life! I do have a lot of Caribbean friends and I think the thing we mostly have in common is that we were brought up differently to our Western friends.
I don’t look Chinese, so I am mostly perceived as British at work and when I meet people for the first time. Other people who are mixed tend to notice that I am not completely white but in general, I haven’t noticed an effect on my work or personal life. It hasn’t prevented or helped me to get a job or friends or partners.
I do think there are bias attitudes & stereotypes towards mixed-race people. People, especially men, comment on how ‘exotic’ I am, or people will say things like, ‘Oh that is why you’re so pretty!’, etc. It’s weird because growing up, I was bullied for the way I looked and have huge issues with it. I started hash tagging some of my Instagram posts as #eurasian and started to follow that hashtag too. It is mostly photos of ‘hot’ Eurasian women and I find that really gross. But I guess you would find the same for #orientalwomen and #blonds or whatever. Objectification affects all females I guess. Due to my Western looks, people don’t project typically Asian or Chinese stereotypes on to me. Although I would love it if people thought I was good at maths!
I don’t speak Cantonese, apart from numbers and basic restaurant Canto. Often in Chinese restaurants, the waiting staff find it amusing that I can say somethings in Cantonese, which always gives me a little boost. However, most Chinese people do not see me as Chinese, even when I tell them and show them pictures of my mum. Sometimes I wish I could just come out with some bad ass street Canto to prove that I am! And also, to stop my mum laughing at me when I speak it!
I think I connect with a bit of both of my cultures. As mentioned before, my stomach is wholly Chinese/Malaysian. My comfort food is a bowl of soup noodles and that will never change. But I did grow up in the UK and The Netherlands, so I do identify with certain aspects of those cultures and certainly my liberal political views are a result of growing up and being educated in the West. I’ve also lived in Spain and Hong Kong and I do believe that those experiences have shaped the way I am today.
Living and working in Hong Kong definitely opened my eyes more to Chinese culture and Asia in general. I certainly understand more about my heritage now.
As I get older, I embrace the Chinese side more and more (in comparison to when I was younger and wanted to fit in, and more or less rejected it). I would like to wear more Chinese style clothing and I am teaching myself Chinese characters – it is like a badge of honour for me now. I always used to roll my eyes when my mum talked about it when I was growing up but now I feel more comfortable with it.
When people ask where I’m from I find it a difficult question to answer, how I answer it depends on how interested the person is. In a social situation, I am likely to say that I am half Chinese (I always assume people will understand that the other half is British) and that I grew up in London and Holland. If I’m applying for a visa or something, then I just say that I’m British – ain’t nobody got time for my life story!
I don’t see being mixed-race as negative. I guess the incident on the bus but even then, I find that laughable. Also growing up feeling out of place and not fitting in could be partly blamed on being mixed-race but then a lot of people experience that, regardless of their ethnicity. Growing up mixed-race meant I got to travel to exotic places like Malaysia and Hong Kong and I feel like I can relate to people from all different cultures as a result. That is amazing and I am so glad that was my experience growing up.
I think I am lucky to be mixed-race in today’s society. There are lots of mixed race people (although growing up I always felt like I was the only mixed East Asian) around and I think that is an indication that the world is getting smaller, people are getting more curious and open-minded. In my mum’s generation it was frowned upon to mix with other races. I also think future generations will become more and more mixed as people migrate and cross borders. It is a natural part of evolution.
It’s funny because I went to see Crazy Rich Asians with my sister and my nieces (who are also half-Chinese). The film in many ways was way to cheesy for my personal taste but I really loved seeing elements of my culture and childhood on the big screen. It wasn’t something I had ever though I desired – had someone asked me a year ago if I wanted to see a film like that, I’d have been interested but it’s not like it was a personal goal of mine to see a mainstream Hollywood movie with a full Asian cast. But it has opened my eyes to whole world of second/third generation east Asians in the media and I love that I can identify with what they talk about. My sister and I loved seeing the Singaporean hawker stalls and durian fruit on the big screen – this was a first for us. I am really glad that my nieces get to experience that as part of growing up.
Despite various difficulties in my life, I know no other way. I think I am extremely lucky to have grown up multiculturally and love that I have three or four home cities around the world, including in Asia. So, I would want to return as I am, except maybe I would learn to speak Cantonese from a young age – that’s the only thing I would want to change!