Floating Life

March 30, 2006 6:48 PM

The Screwy Skeptic wrote about being Asian but not quite accepted as one. Specifically, to non-Asians she’s Asian but to an Asian, she’s not “fully” Asian. From her post:

For 15 out of my 19 years I have not lived in an Asian country. Naturally, an identity struggle is inevitable. I cannot for the life of me hold a conversation in Mandarin, but I love all sorts of Chinese music. I cannot discuss intricate matters of Asian politics with you from a nationalistic insider’s perspective, but I do know my history. I cannot say I’ve been on more than one date with an Asian boy, but I am not opposed to the idea of ever dating one (should he fit all the usual criteria, of course). I’m a hyphen, just trying to find a decent balance that I so require.

This topic of living in a non-Asian environment while being expected to maintain your Asian “values”, speech and behaviour was covered quite well in Clara Law’s “Floating Life“. The metaphor is that migrants float from their homelands to their new home but remain floating even after they’ve arrived – neither here nor there.

I for one enjoy floating because I get to see and do more than I would have, had we remained in Malaysia. And I have been lucky to have been able to maintain my language skills in Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese. But in the end language skills to me are not as important as knowing and accepting your cultural background whilst embracing that of those around you in the new environment.

What’s really Asian anyway? We are all a rainbow of colours and influences.

[tags]Asian identity, culture, migration[/tags]

11 thoughts on “Floating Life

  1. sourrain

    As a ‘floater’ myself, I do agree that it makes life more interesting than if I were anchored at home.Being that this is the second time I am uprooted,I know that my life is enriched with every floating.

    But as a first generation floater, I am concerned about my future generation.At the moment I am barely maintaining my own language skills (resorting to calls back home to speak in broken english),what more my children.How am I going to teach them to embrace their cultural background (well,mine at least)if they become rooted into the English culture (boring!).Ultimately is a uphill battle for the children of the floaters

  2. mooiness Post author

    As I’ve said I don’t think language is as important as *knowing* who you are culturally and there’s nothing wrong with straddling different cultures at the same time.

    But you raise a good point – it’s inevitable really that our children would be mongrels physically or culturally.

    I say, teach them good values (Asian or not), expose them to different things and hope for the best. πŸ˜‰

  3. mooiness Post author

    snowflake: ah well, it was a tad melancholic but that’s the whole point. Uprooting oneself is not always a 100% happy thing.

    I get home sick for Malaysia sometimes (mostly becoz of the food and partying) but while I’m there, 2 weeks is the max for me before I feel like coming back to Australia again. Neither here nor there indeed.

  4. sourrain

    Neither here nor there…

    At the moment homesickness is taking its toll..(food and partying stands true).But mostly its being without my friends.

    Moving away has made me yearn to rediscover my culture.I spent hours in a library in San Francisco reading about chinese immigrants to Malaysia.I discovered more about my cultural inheritance in the ‘white man’s land’ rather than my own..and I hope that spawns of floaters would feel the same.

    All I can hope for is that our children will have the sense of adventure that we have as floaters, and not get stuck in the culture that is only western in nature and kind. They need to understand the goodness of a simple nasi lemak!Hahaha..:P

  5. mooiness Post author

    Nasi lemak! OMG. Hahaha! See that’s the key to it – strictly adhering to the culture that you are “supposed” to be in is outdated. The future are for those who can embrace everything and absorb the good from all of it.

    Sense of adventure. Definitely.

    Btw, lunch break ah? πŸ˜‰

  6. ian

    ‘What’s really Asian anyway? We are all a rainbow of colours and influences.’

    Marcus, I loved that quote…

    Well, after spending 5 years in Australia, I still cannot avoid being labelled a FOB by local Asian friends. That is sickeningly insulting. I dunno, it might not mean something too heavy by the person who came up with it… However, when situations like this happen:

    Friend A: My girl friend is not coming with us to the club.
    Ian: Oh, your friend? Is she pretty?
    Friend A: Not bad. Want me to introduce her to you? Hehe…
    Friend B: (Whispers loudly to Friend A) Tell your friend he’s FOB!
    Ian: … KNN

    I couldn’t help but feel the sting. FOB appears like a label for inferior people to me. Or is anyone able to justify that?

  7. mooiness Post author

    ian: in the context that you provided, “FOB” is an insult. Then again, it might be a playful jibe – the tone of voice is important!

    That said, I would use FOB on someone who strictly and stubbornly socialised only within his/her race even when given the chance to meet a wider range of ppl.

    I don’t get the impression that you are an FOB. Next time they call you that, ask them why. And tell them it’s not a nice thing to say.

  8. Pingback: Mooiness! » Being Asian in Australia

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