Being Chinese

When I was young, I used to deliberately annoy Dad when we were watching TV together – Dad was never a sporty person but he loved watching badminton, especially because of the ongoing rivalry between the Indonesian team and the Chinese team.  I used to deliberately pick the Indonesian side and cheer them on – and almost on cue, Dad would say things like, “Cut your arms open and what kind of blood do you have! It’s Chinese, not Indonesian!”. I used to laugh it off – another mission accomplished to annoy him.

I have probably written here in my blog as well that I have never felt truly Chinese – I grew up in a quasi Chinese culture that has been tempered down by Indonesian customs. Dad was a proud Chinese but as a matter of fact, he couldn’t really speak Mandarin all that well. Furthermore he much preferred local Sundanese cuisines than Chinese food. He could speak the most polite form of Sundanese that would impress the native speakers – well, he was a native speaker in a sense. Although he was relatively content with his life, I could sense a longing in him for a homeland – some sort of utopia where he was amongst his kind. Dad did travel to China with mum and my younger brother in the 1990’s. A trip that all of them cherished a lot – it was the only overseas trip that Dad and my younger brother ever made.

I must have inherited that sense of longing – especially since I am caught in three different cultures: born with Chinese blood into an Indonesian culture, and educated with a western mind. I thought I wouldn’t think of China with a sense of longing – but I caught myself teary eyed when I watched a documentary program on SBS, one of the local channels here in Australia. In the BBC-commissioned documentary, two chefs from the UK, Ken Hom and Ching-He Huang travelled to different parts of China and sampled the local delicacies. Both grew up in western culture and rediscovered their culture and their pride for being chinese when they travelled back ‘home’. They also had a chance to visit their ancestral homes and even met their relatives. There’s something unexplainable when I listened to the melancholic tunes that was used as the soundtrack and when I saw the faces of the people, as well as the Chinese landscape and culture. There’s a sense of longing … for home.

But this is home, you ask. You’re at home in Australia.

Well, yes and no – if you’re not a migrant, you probably can’t understand that subtle longing in your bones for your homeland, although you have grown your roots strong and deep on the land that you now call ‘home’. Strangely, Indonesia doesn’t really feel like ‘home’ either. I grew up in Indonesia where there was a lot of blatant racism and discrimination. I was reminded constantly that I was different for being Chinese, either by the throwaway nicknames that the locals gave us or by the more intricate bureaucracy that we had to go through.

This is also one of the reasons, as I have stated on numerous occasions to friends, why I am so interested in programs about ancestry and genealogy. I want to know who my ancestors were – what they were like and where they were from. Because of this I have also participated in The Genographic Project from the National Geographic. I sent my cheek swabs so they can analyse my DNA and reveal where my ancestors were from. I will share the findings here when the results are out. The latest status is that they have received the DNA swabs that I sent them at the end of last year and they are now in the process of isolating my DNAs and analysing them.

I know that I will probably never get to know who my great grandparents were and who their parents and grandparents were. I wish I could …

Whilst sorting out the spare bedroom a couple of weeks ago, I came across a folder of letters and cards that I brought over from Indonesia after my father passed away in 2011. Mum said that Dad collected every cards and letters that I sent home when I was a student in the 1990s here in Adelaide. Upon opening the folder, I found an old photograph that was taken in 1962. Apparently it was taken by a relative who went to China and met with the extended families there. I remember Mum and Dad telling me that our relatives in China were pretty poor and that they always asked for things to be sent back. Now that Dad had passed away and that I have very few surviving relatives who know more about our family history, I cherish those stories and any mementos from our past. As I scan through the faces on the photo – I know that I’m related to them. Faces of loved ones who were left to stay at home as other members of the family chose to migrate south to parts of South East Asia.

Those are my people.


My extended relatives in China - as I can't read Chinese script, I don't even know what the caption says.
My extended relatives in China – as I can’t read Chinese script, I don’t even know what the caption says.

Published by fuzz

I've finally relented to the lures of blogging - and for those who care, well, I'm a self-confessed geek who's a wanderer at heart, who thinks and analyses too much, and who's trying hard to hold on to his 7-year old inner persona.

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  1. Thanks for sharing your story. My grandfather was an indentured servant who left China in the early 1900’s as well. He ended up in Medan, Sumatra. I, too, would like to know more about my family history as my grandfather never went back and I have never been to China myself.


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