The Race: Australian in Singapore, Part 15

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you?

I’m Australian. I simultaneously know and can’t really explain what that means. I think it’s something about how we speak or dress, our body language, our sense of humour. It’s funny – I can often pick an Australian (of any ethnicity) from a crowd in a foreign place. Even from a photograph.

Bronwyn2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I live in Singapore (six years now, on and off), have lived in the UK, briefly in China. In China I was generically foreign. In Singapore and particularly the UK, Australians have a more defined role, not the role we play in Australia. In England, for example, I had to be The Straight-Talking Australian, which involved being much more blunt than I would ever have gotten away with back home. People relaxed when I was blunt, as if the world was turning as it should, whereas back home they probably would have felt like punching me in the face. Sometimes being foreign feels like a superpower – you’re allowed to break local etiquette. Of course, all it really means is you’re expected to stick by a different set of rules.

3) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

Not all that diverse. Predominantly white, middle-class Australian, second or third generation, which was considered to be about as died-in-the-wool as you could get thirty odd years ago. There were a few people of different ethnicities, but it never seemed to be a big deal. The only time I remember it coming up was when a teacher spoke to some kids who were using a racial epithet as a nickname. All the kids, including the guy who’d acquired the nickname, seemed baffled and amused that anyone would find it insulting. He kept the nickname. “But that’s just my name, Miss,” he said. “It’s what everyone calls me.” And they went back to playing ball.

4) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

When I was around five I asked mum if my cousin was “from another country”. I’d obviously noticed that our cousins didn’t look exactly like the average kid on our street, and someone must have told me people looked different in other countries. That was confusing since I’d played with my cousins all our lives and I was pretty sure they’d been born at the local hospital. My mother gave me a brief introduction to evolution and genetics coupled with a history of human exploration – pausing along the way to point out that our white skin was originally adapted for northern Europe – and then explained that my cousins had got their different skin colour from their Chinese father. Then I think she told me to put on a hat and reapply my suncream. That was pretty much that. As a sort of bonus, it explained why we always ate Chinese food when we were with them.

When I arrived in the UK as an adult, several people asked me if I was “true” Australian. When I said yes, they said they’d asked a lot of Australians and it turned out their grandparents or great grandparents were actually from somewhere else entirely. The first time I heard this I think I burst out laughing, because (remember) second or third generation was died-in-the-wool as far as I was concerned. When I told one person my full pedigree she proclaimed me British, and I replied to the effect that the British passport office saw things differently. But some Aboriginal Australians see things differently again, so I didn’t feel I could press the issue.

When I have to go there, they have to take me in. That’s the bottom line for me personally.

5) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

I’m definitely more at home with some people than others, and yes, they are often Australian. My jokes don’t fall flat (as often) and we understand the same cultural references.

That said, it’s not that I’ll automatically get on better with other Australians (or consciously gravitate towards them), it’s more that the probability I’ll feel comfortable with a randomly-chosen Australian seems to be higher than the probability I’ll feel comfortable with a randomly-chosen non-Australian. There’s a greater chance we’ll have an overlapping world view. I like to keep an open mind, though – the people we run into are not usually randomly-chosen in any case. On top of that, there’s a whole list of things some Australians do that make me cringe, from getting obnoxiously drunk (affably drunk is ok) to a certain kind of bonding ritual based mostly on whining.

6) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

Yes, pretty much. I met my husband in high school – we were all pretty much from the same suburb, and then there’s my family.

7) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

Definitely shared faith or interest is of more importance than race. Class is a big factor, and education. I can relate to veterinary colleagues from other countries better than to people from my own country who live wholly differently. My colleagues and I share more similar day-to-day experiences by virtue of our similar jobs. I’m not sure it’s necessarily better this way, but at least education and class are things that can sometimes be chosen or changed.

8) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

Not consciously. Singapore is a melting pot, and we end up crossing paths with a mixed bag of nationalities.

9) Optional. Children seem color-blind. How have you explained color and culture to your children or grandchildren as they got older? Did you ever have to handle a situation where they were a victim of racial slight or slur?

Five-year-olds are not colour-blind. Just in the past month, we’ve started having a lot of discussions about this. My eldest has come out with comments like “white kids should play with white kids and brown kids with brown kids” which is hilarious in a way, because ninety percent of the kids he plays with (including his best friends) are “brown”. I pointed this out to him and he had a quiet revelation. Obviously I didn’t immediately think it was hilarious. I had to collect myself, and I probably would have felt differently about it if he was part of the majority racial group where we live. Of course I’ve wondered where he picked up these attitudes, but he’s also come out with a whole slew of sexist comments as well, so I would say five-year-olds are equal-opportunity bigots. I don’t think it’s a coincidence he’s the exact same age I was when I first started asking about our cousins’ ethnicity. It’s as if he’s just starting to think about and figure out his wider community. He’s picking up on obvious differences, drawing conclusions and testing them against my reactions, and then throwing them out and starting again with new ones next week. It seems like a really important and delicate phase when it comes to his ideas about race, class, sex, etc, and I’ve been reading a lot of articles on the internet about it, which is no doubt a dubious approach. I vaguely recall my mother saying one of my cousins had some trouble in early primary school with racial slurs as well, although it must be said that I (and others) had our own troubles at that age for reasons entirely unrelated to race. Kids can be mean those first few years of school, and they’ll latch on to any excuse, though race is a particularly obvious one.

10) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I’m not sure I’ve ever got a handle on that. I will adjust my accent and word choices, but that’s more aimed at being plain understood.

11) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

Our brains seem wired to make snap judgements on some basis. If it wasn’t race it would be dress or accent. I’m not sure it’s possible to entirely stop the profiling – it’s probably more realistic to cultivate a habit of friendliness no matter what and to continually check our first impressions.

12) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

As time goes by, I think my identity as an Australian is weakening. I relate less to people back in the “old country” and more to those who share similar life experiences. To the extent that people stereotype me based on my race or ethnicity the conclusion they usually jump to is that I’m in some way privileged. This can be a bit frustrating if they’re trying to overcharge me or if they’re having trouble with what I’ve asked for instead of Stuff White People Like (ordering tea in Singapore can be a two-step process, where I have to first place my order, then affirm that I realise it’s “local” tea). But for the most part I get to make my own choices in peace. It’s easier not to focus on racial issues when this is the box you get put in.

Bronwyn at Journeys of the Fabulist

87 thoughts on “The Race: Australian in Singapore, Part 15

    • I am so pleased to have you here and showcase your writing, Bronwyn. What an interesting person you are! I loved your piece from your first answer and quite liked the way you put forth some of your other thoughts:

      “it’s more that the probability I’ll feel comfortable with a randomly-chosen Australian seems to be higher than the probability I’ll feel comfortable with a randomly-chosen non-Australian. There’s a greater chance we’ll have an overlapping world view.”

      Faith, interest, CLASS, EDUCATION supersede racial affinity, you say. At the same time, you are clearly very Australian. Enjoyed your reflections on your 5-year-old and his development.

      “Our brains seem wired to make snap judgements on some basis. If it wasn’t race it would be dress or accent. I’m not sure it’s possible to entirely stop the profiling “. YES. Seems human nature to categorize people and then make (value) judgments.

      “As time goes by, I think my identity as an Australian is weakening. I relate…more to those who share similar life experiences.” Though I shared in Parts 1-3 that I have come to feel more fully American and Korean at the same time, this line struck me. Put well, I can relate for the good friends I have outside my ethnicity.

      Was it a culture shock when you first landed in Singapore? About how long did it take to get more comfortable? The interesting thing is that is HOME to your youngest child. What is the most common or native tongue there, in the mixed brew, and how much have you learned it?

      Diana

      • The lingua franca is Singlish. It’s a lot further from English than I’d first assumed!

        P started being able to speak it a couple of years back and at first we heard him code-switching. If he thought someone had a Singaporean accent he would speak to them in Singlish. If he heard an international accent he would use his international accent and grammar instead.

        These days he’s more subtle and will use an international voice if presented with international grammar, and perhaps only minor adjustments with others, depending on the situation. The Singlish really comes out with his friends, though.

        He’s also learning Chinese but struggles with it and is pretty reluctant to use it yet. Altogether there are four official languages, including also Tamil and Malay.

        The younger one is still working on her English so we’ll have to see.

        Ha, yes, class, education, etc supersede race, and yet I seem to keep getting along with other Australians. Either we’re a very homogeneous bunch with respect to education and class or there’s a bit of two forces pulling in slightly different directions there.

        Definitely there’s something in the “more Korean and American at the same time” way of putting things. I think as we age we start to take more ownership of our identities. We can certainly take ownership of more than one type of cultural identity.

      • All of it — fascinating. You are familiar with the term code-switching. Studied linguistics? That was my bachelor’s degree, along with a minor in Classics, undergrad.

        I got a kick out of P’s chameleon pragmatics and sociolinguistics. He is every linguist’s pet guinea and teacher. =)

        So how much Singlish can you speak and understand (two diff things, I know)? If you knew how much I’ve learned from every contributor in this series. I had no idea about the four lang there. Was it a culture shock when you first hit Singaporean ground? About what is the % of Aussies there?

      • The culture shock isn’t too bad for Singapore. It’s a city used to welcoming expats and Australia, being so near, seems to have its own niche, so people are used to us (I’m not sure exact figures) and you can find a lot that’s similar to home.

        That said, you might pay for it. If you want to shop like an Australian that’s nice – you can. There’s a supermarket associated with one of the major supermarkets back home and run on the same model.

        But you will pay three or more times the price for your weekly groceries compared to learning how the local “Aunties” garner their supplies.

        I never studied linguistics – I guess I came across the term somewhere. 🙂 Fascinating subject.

        I would say I can speak basic Singlish and understand (as you would predict) about twice as much. And I can probably read it better again because I can “listen” at my own speed.

        It’s harder to learn than I expected because people who can speak standard English (this covers a lot of Singaporeans – schools are in standard English) usually prefer to speak standard English to me – and those who struggle to speak standard English often prefer to avoid speaking to me – I guess it’s hard work. P has an advantage there because his classmates haven’t done that to him.

        I was even in a situation when I first arrived where I was trying to buy some food from a stall. The guy in front ordered in Chinese and I thought I’d use all three words of my Chinese vocab to do the same. The stall owner consistently answered me in English. I’m ashamed to say I gave up a bit after a while.

        If interested, there’s an online Singlish guide here:
        http://www.talkingcock.com/html/lexec.php?op=LexPKL&lexicon=lexicon

  1. … another fascinating ‘holistic journey around the world’. Such a fascinating series. Nice to learn a bit about both your life in Australia and Sinapore, Browyn Joy. Both places on my ‘list’!

    • I hope you get to one or both before too long! Singapore’s a great city to add to a lot of regional itineraries, which gives you a chance to play spot-the-influence. As a nation, it’s very good at observing other nations and hand-picking the stuff it wants to keep.

      • I think it’s very accurate. I once heard someone accuse Singapore of “selling its soul for modernity” but I don’t think that’s what’s happened at all. It’s never been a blind aping of foreign influences.

        I made a comment on the blog of a Singapore mum blogger about an incident that had happened to her family in Singapore and I said that had happened to us, too, only I didn’t respond like she had as it didn’t feel like “my place” as a foreigner.

        Her response was that I should absolutely speak up as a foreigner if I wanted to. Singapore was very capable of deciding if it wanted to listen.

  2. So much thought here – certain threads of sociology – I think class is important because background etc means you have similar views and interests in common are a sound basis for relationships but of course as you say it is probably so much more than that

    • I think class is particularly important in today’s globalised world, because being middle-class in (say) Australia is a lot more similar to being middle class in (say) Malaysia than it used to be, even a generation ago – or less.

      Not that it’s exactly the same, there are still key cultural differences, but especially from a material point of view, it’s easy to enjoy the same comforts, board the same planes, and of course there’s the global media aspect as well which we’re all experiencing now. It means when we meet up with middle-class people from India, Australia, Malaysia, etc etc etc, we’ve got a lot more in common to talk about.

      • And I should add, conversely, that the differences between a middle-class Australian and a working-class/wealthy-class Australian can therefore seem starker than they otherwise would – since we have more in common now with a middle-class person from Malaysia.

      • “It means when we meet up with middle-class people from India, Australia, Malaysia, etc etc etc, we’ve got a lot more in common to talk about.”

        Have never thought about that.

        You make me want to keep you around as my right-hand woman on this blog, B. =)

      • Ha ha I’m surprised to hear that. If you don’t normally work your brain so hard on your blog I’d think it’s because it takes less CPU power for you to put out food for thought than it does for me. Now you see why I’m tired all the time.

  3. Hi Bronwyn and thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. Your family and your journeys sound amazing. Diana has brought many others to this forum to discuss race but when I read your presentation, one unique thought kept surfacing: you are an alpha. That’s pretty rare and it really isn’t a testament to good or bad although it does imply high intelligence. A successful alpha also usually has or develops a high EQ as well as IQ. It is seldom that society categorizes women this way (although there are notable exceptions – some beloved and some despised) and yet there is no doubt in my mind that one word – alpha – defines a great deal about your perspective and how others react to you. Here are just a few hints culled from your piece: “People relaxed when I was blunt, as if the world was turning as it should…”; “The first time I heard this [that Australians were only such back 2 or 3 generations] I think I burst out laughing…”; “When I have to go there, they have to take me in. That’s the bottom line for me personally.”; “…there’s a whole list of things some Australians do that make me cringe, … to a certain kind of bonding ritual based mostly on whining.”; “Definitely shared faith or interest is of more importance than race.”; “To the extent that people stereotype me based on my race or ethnicity the conclusion they usually jump to is that I’m in some way privileged.”

    Thus it doesn’t surprise me that race doesn’t play a great role in your life. And it likely wouldn’t even if you were in the most diverse and extreme racial conditions. So, that being said, I am thrilled to be able to learn a bit more about what it is like to be a female alpha – they are few and far between in my world. Why did you choose veterinary medicine as a career and how has that worked with the various countries you have lived in? Do you think that your perspective on life has affected your son’s view of race? And if so, then has it encouraged the recognition of differences or discouraged the recognition of differences? You say that:”… but at least education and class are things that can sometimes be chosen or changed.” Many would disagree vehemently with this statement. Can you expand on why you perceive this to be true?

    I won’t take up any more of your time Bronwyn. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us. It has been a pleasure to meet and converse with you.

    • Paul – thanks for your thoughts. They’re intriguing and at the same time surprising. 🙂 I’ve never thought of myself as an alpha and in day to day life I don’t tend to be a leader – then again, I don’t tend to be a follower, either – so I find myself completely unprepared for your questions and I might have to think through things for a while before coming to any final conclusions. I’ll give you my initial thoughts.

      First on class and education. Yes, I think the key word in that is “sometimes”. Class mobility is at a historical low in some parts of the world (see also, my response to Dianaed2013, above) but it’s at least possible to transition to a new class, as opposed to getting a whole new skin to live in.

      Though I guess if you take a more fluid view of race/ethnicity and/or you’re prepared to include extreme cosmetic procedures you might not end up seeing a lot of difference at all. Then you have to account for how people acknowledge an individual’s past, which counts differently for physical characteristics than class (opinion on this varies regionally) and, especially, education, on which:

      Education is also surprisingly rigid. In the right public system (where even higher education is made affordable to all) it should be possible for anyone, anywhere to become a fully-qualified doctor or PhD graduate. And yet even where such systems exist, we see a bias towards educating people whose parents are educated.

      Which is all to say yes, that sentence doesn’t uncover a lot of truths about education and class mobility. I guess I’m measuring both against the (im)possibility of just waking up one morning in a new skin.

      • Ok part two, to break it up. I’ll do a Q&A format.

        Why did you choose veterinary medicine as a career and how has that worked with the various countries you have lived in?
        It’s worked well as an expat, although I do face a big barrier when it comes to language. Because it’s essentially a customer service role I can’t get away with being proficient in the company’s “corporate language” – I have to be proficient in the local language (or work somewhere the economics supports having a translator). So I’m a lot more restricted than a lot of professions in that regard.

        That said I think one of the things I like about veterinary medicine is a sort of be-your-own-boss without setting up a business aspect. We work as a team of course but ultimately I have to be responsible for my own decisions (it’s my licence on the line) and the culture respects that. Does that sound alpha? 🙂 And I like the clinical problem-solving aspect as well, of course.

        Do you think that your perspective on life has affected your son’s view of race?
        And if so, then has it encouraged the recognition of differences or discouraged the recognition of differences?
        I’m sure it must affect his perspective – this is what I’m wrestling with lately as he starts to question this sort of thing. I’m not sure whether he’s been encouraged or discouraged when it comes to recognising differences, but I think that’s probably something I should think about and discuss with my husband at least for the rest of the week. 🙂

        Generally I prefer to look for similarities rather than differences. Although I don’t want to take that to an extreme where differences/uniquenesses are dismissed, either.

        Any further thoughts on any of that?

      • Thanks for answering questions Bronwyn. Yes your comments do sound alpha. There are many alphas who choose not to lead publically. Ask yourself if people tend to come to you for suggestions or help. You likely find that, even outside your professional arena, others will look to you for guidance – even when it is apparent you know no more than they do. They depend on your ability to process inputs and come up with a solution or at least a direction to follow. They look for an analysis of the situation so they are comfortable proceeding. As a society we try to train leaders in various fields to fill that position but quite frequently end up with arrogance instead of leadership. (i.e. CEO’s, doctors, airline pilots, etc.) Even when training is partially successful, these trained leaders are sme’s (subject matter experts) and their leadership does not extend beyond their area of specialty. You, on the other hand, I would wager that people come up to you under the oddest circumstances (maybe in the grocery store or on the street or in your place of worship) and ask for your opinion. You’ve probably grown used to this, but let me assure you it is not common.

        In Canada it’s quite interesting that it is harder to get into vet school than it is to get into medical school. The reason why is that there are far fewer vet positions available for training and so the universities get to choose the cream of the applicants. I’ve often personally thought that vets have to be far more knowledgeable because they work with so many species and doctors tend to specialize more. I am sure that the “be your own boss” is attractive to you as an alpha. You are held responsible for your own decisions, which is comfortable for you.

        I am not convinced that education or class are easy to change. I suspect that as capitalistic democracies spread that the middle class is shrinking and the upper and lower classes are getting further apart. More and more of the wealth is controlled by a smaller and smaller percentage of the population. That is actually the typical development of our type of system and was pointed out 2,500 years ago by Socrates. I also suspect that is one of the reasons why you see and experience more commonality between the same classes of different races than from upper to lower classes within races. Plus the fact that as an alpha, you would likely find that decision making abilities are more common within common classes than between classes. I suspect you would be more sensitive as to the decision making criteria employed by different classes because of your ability to be objective and disinterested. I am sure you’re aware that others look to you for fairness and integrity – that kind of comes with the territory.

        Anyway, this series that Holistic Wayfarer has sponsored and edited and worked so hard to publish, has presented many and varied perceptions of race. It is wonderful that you too have contributed, as you can view the subject from the especially unique perspective of an alpha. Thank you for your openness and honesty Bronwyn. I look forward to reading more of your work.

      • Thanks, Paul.

        I’m reluctant to comment on doctors vs vets. It’s fair to say that vets usually have to have a greater breadth of knowledge, but human medical practitioners are expected to have more depth, so in the end I’m not sure how it balances out. I do envy the more formalised system of extended (post-graduate) training in the human medical field.

        Getting back to education and class again – I also fear we’re moving in the wrong direction with that one. Our push should be towards greater mobility/more equality of opportunity. I don’t like the sound of a system where your main talent has to be “right pedigree” and it’s not just a sense of fairness speaking, but are we really going to make as much progress that way?

        I’m still thinking on the alpha bit. 🙂 I’m going to watch to see how often people request my opinion from now on, that’s for sure.

      • HW are you making fun of me again? Sheesh. Just let me pop into the nearest phone booth and change into my superhero costume and then we’ll see whose so smart. Ha!

      • I did that deliberately in an attempt at self-deprecating humour and to see if you could resist pointing it out. Missed that dinja? Nah, Nah. Who’s the smarty now, eh? (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it or I might have been tired) 😀

  4. Oh I loved my 10 years in Singapore. Loved the food, the people, the orderliness, the cleanliness, safety and the sense of progress. Those who own the country will size you up and their general impression initially is we westerners are aloof and have a superiority complex. They certainly have no reason to feel inferior. But when they find that’s not the case they will go out of their way to include you. You are so fortunate to live and work there. We lived on Thomson Road.

    • Yes, I know what you mean. I don’t know when you left, but my impression is that the tides are turning a bit when it comes to treatment of “elite foreign talent” who were once stereotyped as having a superiority complex (I mean check out the label, for a start).

      I think as Singapore approaches its 50th anniversary it’s really got that confidence as a nation in its own skin, so to speak. My impression is of an opening up of the media compared to eight years ago. The current generation doesn’t seem have the same remembrance of its colonial past with foreign powers ruling over them. Foreign influence happens more on Singapore’s terms and so that’s gradually breaking down some of the old stereotypes.

  5. As a fellow expat, I feel the same way as you. Although sometimes I waver between feeling like I don’t understand Americans and totally appreciating my American upbringing. So I feel either very American or not so American depending on circumstances. I find it a good mental exercise in flexibility! Enjoyed reading your story…

  6. Reading your comments, I thought about how easy it is to stereotype a national character. I’ve had so many positive encounters with Australians, I automatically think of them as good people. I also think of them as a little on the “wild” side. But that may relate to one or two characters I know. Thanks for your thoughtful blog. –Curt

  7. Bronwyn how wonderful to find you here and to learn more about who you are and how you see life. I like Curt above, have a stereotypical idea about Australians being full of fun…although from all of our interactions on our blogs I’m thinking you fit my stereotype. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Race Around The World: An Australian in Singapore | Journeys of the Fabulist

  9. Loved this interview… I have yet to visit Singapore, but I am looking forward to it. Sadly I didn’t make it there when my best friend lived there, but they have now moved to Hong Kong and I am definitely going there soon! 😀

  10. Great job Bronwyn. And thank you HW for a very interesting discussion! I think everyone has stereotypes of other races in their heads. And most are surprised by the fact that there is sometimes less disparity between cultures as opposed to class!

    • Yes, it’s not an obvious outcome, and I love the thoughts on that in the comments. I guess originally I’d celebrated it as a good thing – the crossing of cultural boundaries etc – but then Paul’s discussion shows the downside – the breakdown of social cohesiveness within countries at the expense of those without wealth or opportunity (which I don’t think is good for the rest of us, either).

      Obviously the system isn’t (yet?) perfect.

  11. Fabulous thoughts, Bronwyn, you really have me thinking!

    I think it is all about world view as well. Yes, there is more possibility of that being similar amongst people of the same nationality, but it is not a given. I think you are right that class and education are big factors. I generally find Australians that have had a low level of education (or not a broad one) far harder to get along with than people of a similar education overseas – especially at the moment with so much talk about boat people and our current (bigoted) prime minister, but that is a whole other topic.

    I also find being Australian overseas such a different thing to being an Australian at home. It’s like I’m supposed to be far louder and outgoing than I would be at home, or the average Australian would be for that matter. I often find when travelling that I am more likely to gravitate to people who have a similar work/education/travel background than my nationality, but they do often seem to be from countries with there are a lot of similarities like New Zealand and England.

    I had to laugh about not being a true Australian if your great grandparents were not born here. So few people meet that category – in fact, I think I may be the only person I know who does! We go back to the first fleet and I also had an aboriginal great grandfather so I guess I can pass an Australian test 😉 My half bro and sister actually also had a Chinese great grandfather. I often think that makes them more “Australian” than me as a cultural mix is what Australia is.

    It is funny how kids seem to just suddenly pick up on differences. When we were in the US at the end of last year, my 3 year old suddenly started asking questions (loudly of course) about why there were black people on the bus. I found it strange as she has never commented before, and we live in very multicultural areas – at the time her best friends were indian and half chinese. Her child care also has many kids who have an African background, so it was not that it was new to her. We make it a priority to live in multicultural areas so it is all just normal for her and she gets exposed to many different ideas and cultures. I grew up in a very white Tasmania which was awesome, but I think you multiculturalism can bring so many positives if you have the right attitude.

    • Sounds like you’ve had similar experiences with being Australian overseas (must be our class and/or education 🙂 ) .

      I was going to reference the whole refugee policy thing but from a word count perspective it was going to be a disaster, so I went for something simpler but I’m glad to have it referenced in the comments. Oh my goodness! Yes, you wonder if you’re from the same place sometimes. Then again this ties in with what Paul is saying, too, because a lot of the worst comments are coming from people who perhaps don’t feel that they’re getting their fair go in the current system.

      Kids are so tactless and I’m just glad people usually respond by being amused and explaining life to them. P has a habit of walking up and asking the person themselves instead of asking me (even if it is in a loud voice), so I’ve seen him eg. walk up to someone and ask why they’re in a wheelchair, etc etc. The person has always kindly treated it as innocent curiosity. There’s been no judgement attached.

    • “My half bro and sister actually also had a Chinese great grandfather. I often think that makes them more “Australian” than me”

      And Tasmania.

      WOW!

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Sharon.

      HW

  12. I love this interview with all my aussie soul. Though I’m not died-in-the-wool aussie, I am a banana (yellow on the outside and white on the inside). So I relate to most of your answers, especially living in the UK and being more blunt. Not especially being foreign in China… I’d blend right on in 😉

    What a great post and I learnt and loved allot more of you through this.

    I love this ” I relate less to people back in the “old country” and more to those who share similar life experiences…” absolute agree.

    Happy travels

    • I’m not sure how I’ve missed the term “banana” but I have. I’ve definitely heard “egg” which is its opposite.

      My (half Chinese) cousin went to teach in China with her (blue-eyed, blonde) boyfriend and found he got jobs an awful lot more easily than she did. Apparently schools didn’t think she looked foreign enough.

      Good to hear you chime in to confirm my experiences being the blunt Australian in the UK. And yes, our experiences do a lot more to shape us in the end – making it all the more important that people of every race can experience respect and opportunities.

      • Yes, it’s possible. My cousin got the impression it was the exotic looks, but she could have been wrong. I’m not sure how much of a chance she had to compare herself to other female applicants.

        I will say I got the impression A was more sought-after than me when we did our semester teaching there, so that lends credibility to the male/female theory. Mind you, he is freakishly tall and had a long, bushy beard so that could have been physical, too (both things drew many, many comments).

      • Sarcasm and the internet is a tricky mix!

        He (my cousin’s boyfriend – now husband) looked more “exotic” and “foreign” on account of his blue eyes/blonde hair. A looked more exotic on account of his bushy beard and tall stature. So in either case it could have been the male sex or weird looks – it’d be interesting to know for sure.

  13. This was a very informative interview! I really enjoyed getting to know you better. I will agree with you in that my affinity to people definitely falls along the lines of faith and interest. Both of the two for me differ greatly from my natural family so I am in contact with them not so often. Seeing how you and your family’s perspective on identity, race and culture have evolved was very interesting, too!

  14. I’m not sure my comment went through so I’m leaving another. Just wanted to say I enjoyed learning more about you, Bronwyn! This was a very intriguing way to get to know how you and your family see culture, race and your identity!

    • They both came through (I’ll leave one reply to both) – maybe just a delay due to comment moderation.

      Thanks – it was an interesting experience doing the interview. I’m sure you’d have a lot to say on the subject from your perspective, especially having grown into a different faith from your family. I haven’t been reading your blog long, so I’m not very clear on how abrupt your transition’s been. Ours has been very gentle (and not so far as a whole new faith) – I imagine an abrupt/dramatic transition can be much more of a shock.

  15. I did click over from your blog to this! I have been missing out reading blogs and glad I checked this out! You have such a comprehensive interview Bronwyn! Great idea for this invitation! I agree that kids are not really colour-blind. My kids actually knew much more about differences between Indians, Malays, Chinese and Eurasian than we thought. They do splurt out embarassed comments when they were younger, but have since learnt to accept differences and get along 🙂

    • What kids pick up is quite something. We give them too little credit sometimes, I think. Although it’s interesting to see where the gaping holes in their world-view is sometimes as well – I might take for granted that if you know X you also know Y, but with P it’s possible he’ll miss the crucial second piece of the puzzle.

      Accepting differences and getting along sounds good. Hopefully that’s the next phase of the process we’ve been going through this year. I guess they (we) all go through a process of working it out, and I think stopping like this to re-evaluate from time to time as adults is a worthwhile extension of that initial process.

My Two Gold Cents in the Holistic Treasury

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