Having known many Vietnamese friends, I know that my experiences moving to this country are good, if not downright cushy in comparison. However it did not feel that way back then.
When I was a kid, it always took me a while to settle in to a new environment. It was always a melancholic feeling moving from kindergarden to primary, and then to high school. Just when I felt comfortable I had to go again. That was the feeling when my parents said to my brother and I that we were moving to Australia. My brother was nine and I was 13. His reaction was, “How exciting!” Mine was a teen-angst filled “Why?!?!”
I was in Form 2 at the time. I’ve got a great bunch of friends and school life was bliss. My grades were good and the girl I had a crush on since Form 1 was beginning to pay more attention to me. Everything was swell. So yes, at the time I really could not comprehend the reason to move. My parents said to me , “It is for your education.” And I said, “What’s wrong with here???” In hindsight I understood their rationale: with the local affirmative action laws in place, it was unneccasarily harder for a non-bumi to get into a good university later on. However, all I could think of at that time was, “This really sucks!”
In the midst of the feelings about leaving all the good stuff behind, I also had a sense of dread and trepidation. I could speak and write English but I have never interacted with a Caucasian before. What would they be like? Would I be able to understand their accents?
I soon found out on the first day of school – I was so freaking nervous! The school system here is like this:
Primary School : Year 1-7
High School : Year 8-12
I was enrolled in Year 10 and my brother was in the primary school next door in Year 5. The kids at school – there were good ones, there were ignorant ones and there were *bad* ones. The good ones and the ignorants ones were sometimes the same people:
“Where do you come from? Do they live in trees there?”
“What do you have for lunch? Fried rice?”
“Do you know kung fu?”
At least they were friendly and tried to talk to me. The bad ones were the ones who yelled racial abuse at me. Funnily enough I didn’t even realise at the time that the terms were derogatory.
“Ching-Chong? How come they know my uncle’s name?”
this is true – my uncle’s full name is Tan Ching-Chong. At least it wasn’t “Tan Ah Beng”. 😉
In any case I settled in fairly quickly. After I realised that some of these angmohs can’t even write or speak proper English, I felt pretty smug about myself. And the maths they taught at that level I’ve already done them back in KL. I managed to become friends with the scatterings of Asian migrant kids around the school: Indonesian, Malaysian, Sri Lankan, Filipino, Singaporean, Taiwanese, Hong Kong. And eventually I had a good group of Caucasian friends as well – including these two hot Aussie chicks who were in my form room. That story I shall leave for another day. 😛
Perth in the late 80s still had some problems with racial hatred. There were derogatory posters stuck round the place saying things like: “Asians out!”, “Niggers out!”, “Jews out!” However, the government and police were great and pro-active. In general, us migrants felt safe. If we did come across anything bad, we just walk away quickly. No point in engaging those idiots.
Despite all that I had begun to really enjoy life in Aussie-land. Weather is great, and the food is great. I feel really blessed to have experienced this big culture clash. I can’t imagine myself meeting the people that I have met if I had lived my life back home. The languages that I have heard spoken and the cultures that I have been exposed to beyond Asian ones: Italian, Greek, Irish, English, Scottish and of course Australian – all of that made me the person that I am today. And for that, I thank my parents.
Thanks mi, thanks di. It was really for my education afterall.
1986 – age 12
2004 – age 30