How many generations of migrants does it take to make a true Australian?

Too many, judging from the numerous online comments on asylum seeker policy. ‘…when is this government going to wake up to the fact that the majority of people dont want refugees here’ (Joan), or ‘When are we going to start looking after our own and sending this lot back’ (Kate), and ‘Will the children be taught in australian schools or will they only be taught in Islam schools’ (Charles) are typical responses to a Yahoo! article reporting Labor’s shift in policy.

I know. What does one expect from Yahoo! News?

Comments to The Age’s articles show a bit more tolerance towards the less fortunate. In response to Natasha Stott Despoja’s article, Laura from Melbourne writes:

Great article Natasha.
I’ve been quite perplexed recently as to Labour and Liberal’s stance on asylum seekers, as, of late, they have both constructed aggressive and hostile immigration policy with the ostensible reason of catering to the ‘anxieties’ of voters.
When did Australia become so xenophobic? Surely failing to help those who need it most is – to use the common phrase – ‘unaustralian.’

But alongside such sentiment, there’s attitude like ‘Oh and a global refugee crisis not needing a global response? What a tard you are for putting forward such an excuse. We can’t take all of the world’s human excrement.’ (Candle)

Gee, thanks, Candle. I’ll pass on your words to my boat-refugee parents who came to Australia with nothing but the clothes on their back. Who worked in linen factories and restaurant kitchens and mowed lawns to make their living. Who paid taxes for your welfare. Who are still working and paying taxes, even though they are well beyond retirement age, because they are proud of their self-sufficiency and hard work.

The reason why people like Joan, Kate, Charles, and Candle show such little compassion towards refugees is because they were born Australians. They have peace, democracy, freedom, rights, safety, healthcare, education not because they have earned it but because they were lucky. Their inheritance is a safe harbour of a nation unblemished by foreign occupation or civil war.

Correction, Australia is a country of foreign occupation, just ask its original inhabitants. The Aborigines probably didn’t want the first lot of boat people either. First and second, even third generation migrants get blamed for eating up resources, not assimilating with the rest of the community, and eroding so-called ‘Aussie values’. But what are we other than a nation of migrants? We pledge allegiance to a foreign queen, speak a foreign language, rape our environment, and cause violence against the traditional owners of our land?

Let me ask you again: how many generations of migrants does it take to make a true Australian?

David Eddings

Blogging’s been a struggle lately. I’ve had to balance work and writing commitments with David Eddings. Yup, you’ve heard right. For nostalgic kicks, I’ve been reading Pawn of Prophecy. You play your first generation video game consoles; I dip into books that I discovered in 1995.

Reading Eddings is like speed-reading Tolkien. There’s a quest minus descriptive backstory and singing dwarfs. There’s also a whole bunch of racial stereotyping: Chereks equal brutish warriors, Drasnians live off intrigue, Tolnedrians love money, and Angaraks are terrorists. But one can overlook this, thanks to the peppering of snide comments throughout the book. Never mind that most of the goodies make the same sounding snide comments.

Gee, I can’t wait until I get my hands on Queen of Sorcery again, which ‘will reveal Garion’s own dangerous powers of sorcery and more on his heritage, which underlies their quest’. And I’m sure there’s some snake woman in it somewhere…

For a much more helpful review on Mr Eddings, try 3000 Books.

Nightmares

In the strange hours of the morning, I dreamt that I was attending a lecture in a My Chemist shop that sold Jane Austen fragrances for fifty bucks. Bigwigs from the Pharmaceutical Society were badmouthing me and my blog. ‘We are very angry at Thuy Linh Nguyen for writing all of these terrible things about pharmacy,’ they declared, and gave a list of quotes as examples. I sat, stunned. I was sure I hadn’t written those things. Or had I? I wasn’t sure.

The big wigs continued: ‘We have a pretty good idea of who this Thuy Linh Nguyen is. She’s Indonesian Malaysian Chinese, possibly Cambodian…’

I got angry. I wasn’t Indonesian Malaysian Chinese. I wasn’t Cambodian. I wanted to stick my hand up, get up in front of all of these pharmacists. I wanted to yell at them that I was Thuy Linh and that they were all being racist. But my dream self decided that this was a bad career move, so it slunk away with the rest of the crowds.

I drifted home. I checked my first blog entry, and discovered the damning words. Something about atheism. It was a bit violent. But I couldn’t remember writing any of it. An email popped up in my inbox. It was from the bigwigs. ‘RE: Blog.’ Someone had ratted me out.

Later on, at work, patients asked me questions that I didn’t have answers for. And then my teeth fell out.

Do you vindaloo?

Racial violence against Indians in Melbourne has received a lot of reportage in the Australian and Indian media, which is a shame because I believe Melbourne to be one of Australia’s great multicultural centres. There’s enough ethnic diversity here that you rarely feel like you don’t belong when you walk down the street whether you be of Asian, African, European or South American descent. I wanted to be part of a movement that expressed this, so I went to the Harmony Walk.

The event felt contrived, however. I felt it was more of a John Brumby gimmick than anything. I’m certain I wasn’t the only one. Actually, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. When the walk finished and the political speeches began, I was standing behind two locals who were rolling their eyes and directing snide comments towards the speechmakers.

Fortunately, someone has suggested a less flashy way of saying ‘no’ to racial violence. They’ve set up a website called Vindaloo Against Violence, asking Melbournians to show their support towards the Indian community by dining out at a local Indian eatery on February 24th. Organiser Mia Northrop states that the initiative doesn’t receive sponsorship from any businesses, governments, or organisations. Being a grassroots event without a centralised meeting point, it probably won’t be hijacked by some dog-awful politico, which means it might manage to maintain its integrity. What with the continuing racial violence in spite of the State Government’s reassurances, the Indian community is probably sceptical of any movement that is initiated at an official level.

So. Butter chicken on the 24th? Maybe some eggplant massala? Ho-hum. Do you vindaloo?

Review: Peril Edition Eight

I’ve finally sat down and read ‘Why are people so unkind?’, Peril’s latest issue. For those of you who haven’t heard of the journal, Peril is an Asian Australian online journal on arts and culture run by the likes of Hoa Pham, Lian Low, and Tom Cho. It’s a bit patchy at times with editors choosing pieces that reflect the Asian-Australian experience over more polished prose. With the eighth issue, however, it seems that they’re finally finding a balance between the two. ‘Teh Halia’, a prose piece about an Indian daughter’s regret over cups of her father’s ginger tea, is touching and carefully observed, moving beyond ethnic literature into something more universal.

The non-fiction was particularly strong in this issue with many pieces focusing on gender identity: Owen Leong interviews two Japanese artists who both explore gender in differing ways, while Lian Low speaks to The Ladies of Colour Agency about sexuality, whiteness in political movements, and genderfucking. Benjamin Law’s article on Asian-American conservative Michelle Malkin is perversely entertaining:

…Malkin seems quite attractive. Even as a homosexual myself, I cannot take my eyes off her, partly because Malkin’s pretty, and partly because there’s some gland inside me that reacts to seeing an Asian—any Asian—with a broadcast media platform. It’s this same gland in me that’s triggered off whenever I see Penny Wong on The 7.30 Report, or old footage of John So cutting a ribbon in Melbourne, or watching Poh being interviewed on Masterchef.

There’s also a couple of opinion pieces on Indian-Australian relations from Amrita Dasvarma and Angela Dewan, discussing the ubiquitous exploitation of overseas students, and the pressure to assimilate as a migrant, as well as an interview with Kamal.

It’s hard to choose a favourite from such a strong collection, but Lily Chan’s poem resonated with me the most: ‘in my head i was scout finch / elizabeth bennet / nancy drew / stepped back, startled / from my own reflection’. In a few lines, Chan encapsulates an Asian-Australian girl’s experience: feeling white, being attracted to white boys, experiencing ambivalence to Pauline Hanson and guilt for having it ‘good’ compared to her brother. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

Peril’s next endeavour will be about ‘creatures’, and I’m curious to see how this theme will be interpreted in an Asian-Australian context. For those of you who feel like submitting to Issue Nine, check out the journal’s submission page, here.

Faking ‘Fresh off the boat’

FOB. Fresh off the boat. The worst kind of insult you can give an ABC (Australian Born Chinese) or any other ethnic minority equivalent. For Caffe Sospeso’s Racism poetry readings, I tried on a fobby Vietnamese accent, hoping to parody my own ethnicity; nobody laughed: they were either too polite or my attempts were really bad.

Tom Cho (via), on the other hand, does an awesome Singlish/Chinese Malaysian accent for ‘Aiyo!!! An Evil Group of Ninjas is Enterting and Destroying a Call Centre!!!’

The story itself is a colourful read with its ‘lah’ and ‘alamak’  and extra exclamation marks, and I’ve always wanted to do a Vietnamese equivalent, so I’ve been reading over essays written by Vietnamese Deakin students, trying to get a feel on how Vinglish works. One kid has this penchant for leaving out ‘the’ in some sentences, overcompensating in others. He also avoids using apostrophes or turning nouns into adjectives, preferring to use ‘of’ instead. I don’t blame him, apostrophes are more often abused than used correctly. (DVD’s from JB-HiFi, anyone?) My favourite sentence of his illustrates both of these quirks as well as the incorrect use of tenses: ‘The problem of corruption cannot solve in the short time, but the solution can affect in long time.’

Here’s a more substantial chunk of Vinglish from binhthuan.gov.vn:

A clod morning, from the Nguyen Tat Thanh avenue taking a look on the city center’s direction, one has the impression that huge changes have taken in a short time. To the people who live every day with and for Phan Thiet it is a surprise. The changes of their beloved homeland, to me, a native coming from far it is much more. Chatting with me, most people confirmed that the city had made achievements that were expected to be done in 5, 10 or more years. I remember when the city decided to carry out the Phan Thiet socio-economic development plan for the 1996 – 2010 period, a lot of people were worried and doubtful. Now what seemingly impossible became possible just in the first 6 months of 2002: the liberation of land for the Phan Thiet industrial zone has been successfully done. It was just one among thousand jobs the city finished. It was a proof of the determination and unanimity of the leaders and people of Phan Thiet, more vivid than whatever figures and nice words.

There’s some wonderful phrases here: ‘the liberation of the land’, ‘more vivid than whatever figures and nice words’, and ‘native’. It makes me realise how expressions often fail to translate from one language to another, and how difficult it is to actually create Vinglish. Not only does one have to mimic the grammatical idiosyncrasies, but one also has to think in Vietnamese, using a dictionary to churn out the supposed English equivalent. (Or chuck a whole heap of text into Babel Fish and see what one ends up with.)

Nevertheless, it seems like a fun exercise. I’m going to collect a couple more examples of Vinglish over the next couple of months, and get back to you on that story idea. Meanwhile, you can be a fob too*. Try saying, ‘Hai, mai name y <insert name here>. Sauree, I am unavailable. Plee lea a message after the tone…’ It’s fun.

*This only works if you’re Viet. Otherwise, you’re just being plain racist.

Epic Bike Fail

Dear Blog,

Sorry for not posting on you earlier. I had hoped to write some reportage on Friday night’s Caffe Sospeso happenings but never got round to it on the weekend. Work, you know, and socialising…that kind of thing.

Caffe Sospeso was fun though. I got to dress up in an ao dai that shed gold glitter on floors, car seats, and restaurants. I listened to poems from Lian Low, Raina Peterson, and Maxine Clarke who discussed issues that I related to, such as being asked ‘where do you come from? No, where do you really come from?’ (To which, one of the guest poets concisely replied, ‘I come from my mother’s c#@$.’)

But back to why I haven’t written on you earlier, Blog. I had hoped to fit you in some time after a Lifted Brow meeting and some catch-up naps, but got waylaid by my epic bike fails for there were several of which I shall enlighten you.

The first epic bike fail happened when I left my bike in Ronnie Scott’s hallway. It did not like being abandoned. It fell over and punched a hole in Ronnie’s wall. Mortification.

The second epic bike fail happened close to the Abbotsford Lentil As Anything. I braked too hard, causing my bike to flip and me to dive into the pavement, face and hands first. There was a nursing home nearby, so a couple of onlookers took me in, and got me semi-washed up, and the nurse inside told me to see a doctor and get some stitches.

The third epic bike fail (which isn’t really bike-related but is still fail) was when a bird shat on me while I wheeled my bike back to Lentil As Anything in my blood-drenched shirt, looking like a freshly-made zombie. It was a subtle sign from the PTB that Monday was a write-off and that I should not attempt anything else that may potentially cause more embarrassment.

I ignored this, and the fourth fail of the day happened a couple of hours later when I decided to public back home from the parentals’ place. It was late on a Monday night. I was in trackies and a blood-stained T-shirt that said ‘Princess’ across my boobs, my hair was unkempt, and I had just got stitches on my chin: I looked like a Burwood bogan. To my misfortune, Estelle Tang happened to be on the same tram, all groomed and sleek-looking, and she recognised me. Oh. My. Dog.

So Blog, I hope you forgive me for being neglectful. I really have been very busy as you can see. I’ll try to post on the latest issues of Peril and The Diamond & the Thief, sometime later in the week.

Until next time,

TL.

PS – speaking of The Diamond & the Thief, Black Rider Press have posted up mp3 readings of stories/poetry from the last issue, including my reading of ‘The Beast’. Yay. Check it out here.

Contributing to I op therefore I am

For all of those peeps who love secondhand finds, I’ve started contributing to the Melbourne op shop blog I Op Therefore I am. I’ve been mapping out bicycle routes to the neighbourhood’s various op shops; the RSPCA op shops are the closest by far. After picking up some Asian groceries, I bought an old Peter and Wendy book and a hand embroidered tea cosie. The white suitcase I found for my doctor friend was too big to carry on the bike but the lady at the counter was nice enough to put it aside for me. RSPCA op shop volunteers are tops. You can drool over my finds here.

On a more literary note, I’ve finished reading Visible Ink: Lost and Found. Expect a review in the next couple of days. And don’t forget to pen those race-related* poems for open mic at Caffe Sospeso on Friday.

*’Race’ as in racism and not that Queen song.

So what’s happening, Melbourne? Racism apparently

According to Spambook, Peril’s Issue Eight will be launching Thursday, 3 December, at the Sidney Myer Asia Centre. I’ll be stuck at an end of year work function, missing out on the likes of Tom Cho, Ladies of Colour Agency, Maxine Clarke, Angela Costi, and Diana Nguyen. I really want to meet Diana after reading her Growing Up Asian in Australia piece, ‘Five Ways to Disappoint Your Vietnamese Mother’, and I enjoy Maxine Clarke’s performances; I’m kinda bummed that I can’t make it. Somebody should go on my behalf and tell me about it (or, even better, record and post stuff up on YouTube).

My one consolation is that I’ll be MC-ing December’s Caffe Sospeso gig on Friday, 4 December. Racism will be the night’s theme, and there will be performances from Maxine Clarke, Lian Low, and Raina Peterson. It will be like totally PC and high brow: I’ll be putting on my best  ‘Sittingvale’ accent and my new ao dai. Come along and laugh and then feel awful about it. Things start happening around sevenish. 

 

Poetry Fridays: Racism with Maxine Clarke, Lian Low, and Raina Peterson

 

Brief thoughts on Attract/Repel

Though I failed to catch The Bedroom Philosopher at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, I did get to see Ming-Zhu Hii’s Attract/Repel at The Store Room. Attract/Repel is a not-play performed by The Melbourne Town Players about race and racism; it had been recommended to me by fellow blogger, Estelle Tang. I walked into Attract/Repel, knowing very little about it, so it was nice to watch something sans preconceptions/expectations.

Attract/Repel had no distinct narrative. Instead, four actors interacted with each other on stage, and racist humour was juxtaposed against the sharing of personal experiences with racism. One actor, Terry Yeboah, explained how difficult it had been to stop his mates from using ‘nigger’ as a term of endearment. Another actor, Fanny Hanusin, described the hate she felt after witnessing the aftermath of the racism riots in Indonesia. 

Whilst Attract/Repel’s racist humour often felt like a deliberate manipulation of the audience, I could not help but feel moved by the honesty in the actors’ monologues; I thought the play was brilliant on an emotive as well as conceptual level. My theatre knowledge is nearly non-existent, however, so you might want to check out Alison Croggon’s post at Theatre Notes for a more detailed review of the performance.