May 10, 2009

I really resent a lot of the reactions I get when I tell people that I study Chinese, Japanese and Asian Studies. The most memorable, over-arching reaction I got is from a girl when I was in first-year who is half-Japanese (fluent in the language) and an immigrant to Australia. Upon hearing that I studied both Japanese and Chinese she exclaimed (direct quote) “Wow! You’re, like, a wannabe-Asian!!”

Just repeating that quote makes me curl my toes and think nasty thoughts about people less perfect than me.

First of all, why on earth SHOULDN’T I be studying Asian languages? I mean, where is the problem? What EXACTLY is wrong, inappropriate, shocking,  offensive enough to deserve a response like the one above, alien about a caucasion guy studying asian languages and culture. Are the last remnants of the White Australia policy weirding some social developments with Asian culture? Are there still whispers of our racist past haunting us and affecting our perception of Asian culture in reverse ways? WHAT IS GOING ON?

I’ll tell you exactly what’s going on. Australia is still getting used to the fact that it’s inevitably tied up with Asia, and everything that occurs within Asia. People just got used to Asian immigrants in Australia, it’s perfectly NORMAL for people of Asian ethnicities to speak English (with an Australian accent – while speaking the language native to their parents or grandparents), go to school with everyone else, participate in everyday life in the exact same way Caucasion Australians do. The fact that I’m even suggesting that these matters aren’t a given is kind of shocking!

There are Asian supermarkets, small businesses, entire suburbs, communities, churches, schools, colleges and restaurants that are Asian owned or targeted towards Asian customers/consumers/clients. There are LOTS. In Australia. A country which once intentionally and systematically restricted non-White immigration to Australia. A country, which until recently, pretty much considered itself to be “in the West” and in the European/American sphere geographically. And I do believe that there is STILL a resistance in Australia for Caucasions to interact with Asian culture. It’s not a two-way interactive relationship between traditional Australian society and culture and Asian society and culture. There’s no mutual trade off, Asian people are accepted into Australian culture and in some cases aren’t even expected to assimilate (I have no problem with this whatsoever, but the fact that I don’t says a lot about the way Australia has changed – look at America’s “melting pot” scenario full of failure).

I’m interested in Japanese and Chinese music, film, art, language, history, culture, society, even politics… Call me a wannabe-Asian, or a weabo? Do you really think that’s fair? I’m quite happy being a Greek-Australian with South African parents, thank you very much. My ethnic background makes me who I am, and I really like who I am – so why would I ever “wannabe” something else? The fact that I consider Asian culture to be one of my “hobbies” or “interests” should not make me less of an Australian, it shouldn’t make people of Asian blood cringe and mock the thought of me being in an Asian country speaking an Asian language, it shouldn’t make young-minded people assume that I’m a manga-fanatic with a Japanese doll fetish. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not sexually selective with racial characteristics, or romantically partial to small Asian girls with extraordinarily pre-adolescent characteristics.

But, I do have every right to be intrigued and interested. I’m an observer by nature and certain parts and aspects of East Asian culture intrigues me and draws me in. I like to be different and not many people I grew up with, or know, have done any Asian studies. I was exposed to mainly European ideologies and lifestyles and Asia was largely “the unknown” or mysterious to me and my family. Of course I was exposed to a lot of Asian culture in Perth, just by osmosis since there’s so much influence from Singapore, China, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam here but actively seeking out to immerse myself in that culture was something seemingly spontaneous and unpredictable. And it gripped me, and I’m perfectly happily and perfectly normal and I love it!

You probably don’t understand why I’m making such a big deal out of this, but it’s a big deal to me. For some reason some people lose some respect for me once I tell them what I study. I want to tell them it’s the same as architecture, or European Studies, or education – I’m doing it with a specific career path in mind, and an added bonus – I’m genuinely interested  in it!

Now a video which I think is fairly appropriate. It’s one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists from China: Faye Wong (Fei Wang, 王菲).


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