What Culture Means to me…

What does culture mean to me? That is the question.

Firstly, I think there’s no alternative for me when it comes to where I’m ‘from’ (I put this in italics because you will soon learn the weight of that word in respect to my life). I am 100%, pure blooded Australian. It’s the only passport I have. Its where my parents are from. Its where I was born. So there’s no denying that that is what I am. But I am probably the most un-Australian Australian out there.

And that fact is highlighted to me pretty much every time I meet someone new.

So over here in the UK, my accent isn’t common place. Its a wonderful blend of America meets Canada meets London meets Australia. So when I meet someone for the first time, the first conversation we have is pretty much inevitable.

“oh hey, your accent is so cool, where are you from?”

This is probably the question I’ve been asked most in my life. No lie. I bet I’ve been asked it more than something like “How are you?”

After being asked this question that I’ve become so used to, I’ve gotten into the habit of playing a little game with everyone that asks it.

I tell them to “Guess.”

The first is almost always the same; America, which is followed usually by Canada, Scotland, and Ireland. It’s at this point where people get confused, and I’m pretty sure they forget about the existence of the southern hemisphere because they move on to places like Russia and Sweden. They ultimately give up if they hadn’t yet guessed the right and so answer I tell them. This is usually met with a compilation of shocked faces, “Oh my gods”, and “No ways, that’s so cools.”

From the outside I don’t seem like the generic Aussie without the peroxide blonde hair, the crocodile Dundee accent or the tanned skin. Which is not really my fault, I used to be tanned, but the 5-day summer we get over here in England keeps me pasty. If it helps, I do surf, I have seen many kangaroos, and my family does indeed have a digeridoo in our garage, probably somewhere behind our collection of surfboards that are of a great use to us in Tunbridge wells.

I think the story behind why I have this messed up, inconvenience of an accent it why the reason why the question of culture is always an interesting one for me, because although I myself only identify with one nationality, I would call myself a very multi-cultural person. And it’s been a very long time since I called Australia my home, and I doubt that it will ever be, in my eyes, my home again.

And this is why.

I think I am pretty close to the textbook definition of an expat Kid. A week before my third birthday, by parents took the giant leap of moving from our white picket fence home in the suburbs of Sydney to the centre of Tokyo, only minutes away from the busiest street in the world. This was a big step for my parents, they had spent their whole lives living in Australia and knew no different. So Tokyo was a massive culture shock to them. But to me and my brother it was no big deal, and is probably something that I couldn’t be more grateful for my parents doing.

Basically, from the earliest memories I have, Asia was my home. My parents like to joke around saying that I knew how to use chopsticks before a knife and fork. I don’t know if this is true, but honestly I wouldn’t be surprised.

I spent the next 6 years of my life living in Tokyo, so it was there where I had all of my firsts, like where I learnt to speak and my first ever school. So Tokyo was my definition of normal. There’s a story that my parents like to tell of when we went back to visit Australia. We were in an elevator when a man got out and another one got in. A man who looked nothing like the other man. But, at this point little Izy piped up and said all too loudly, “mummy, why did that man leave the elevator and get back in.” to which my mother quietly said, “Izy honey, they were two different men.” To which the blonde haired, blue eyed Izy replied very loudly, “why does everyone in Australia look the same?”

Japan is a very lively country, so they have festivals all the time. One of which happens to fall on my birthday which is called the タナバタ (Tanabata) festival, or the Star Festival. So when I was a kid, every year on the 7th of July I used to think that the whole country was throwing me a massive party. It took a while for selfish little me to figure it out.

I think growing up in Tokyo is the reason that Japanese food is by far my favourite cuisine. But any of my friends will quickly tell you that I am the biggest food snob and I will refuse to go to any chain Japanese restaurant in England, because let me tell you this, it does not compare in the slightest. Yes, I have been to YO Sushi, No I don’t pan on going back.

6 months before we were to leave japan, my parents moved me from my International school to a public Japanese school, where all the lessons were taught solely in Japanese, and at the age of 8, I was taller than my teacher. They did this to try and get my Japanese from a pretty good level to fluent. I will happily say, although I was the worst in most lessons, I was the teacher’s pet in English class. But, by far the weirdest thing about the school was the uniform. More specifically the hats. Little did I know that attending this school meant that I had to wear one hat when going to school, a different hat for recess, yet another hat for P.E lessons, another hat for field trips and back to the first hat when walking home. Why this was a rule, I will never know. I was meant to stay at this school for a whole year, and then move back to my old school once I had my Japanese skills up, but with very little notice dad’s job called for us to pack up and move to our next destination.

Hong Kong is by far one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to. When we were living in Japan, my grandparents would come and visit us, and they would say that they have never been anywhere as fast paced as Tokyo. Then they came and visited us in Hong Kong, and it completely blew that statement out of the water.

Beaches, mountains and a full on city are all within 10 minutes of each other. It’s incredible. And Hong Kong itself is tiny, only a fraction the size London, which I don’t think everyone knows.

I still classify Hong Kong to be one of my homes, mostly because my mum still lives out there. And as long as my brother, my dad and I still live in Tunbridge wells, it’s going to stay that way. Because you can’t just move from somewhere as vibrant and alive as Hong Kong to Tunbridge wells. I’m not saying I have anything against Tunbridge wells, its beautiful and I love not having to get on a plane every time I want to go home. But the two places just don’t compare.

There was a point about 2 years ago, before my dad moved out here, when my mum was living in Hong Kong running her business, my dad was living in Sydney doing his job and then my brother and I were out here at school. So holidays were a mixture of going to Hong Kong or Sydney. I remember one half term, me and my brother had no choice but to go back to Sydney, which doesn’t sound too bad. But two 24 hour flights plus time differences meant that the 10-day holiday was scraping to be a week long for us, and we probably got back to school more exhausted then when we left. This was hard for our family, and I think it really tested us, and I was more than happy when Dad told me that he was moving to England. My parents are still happily married, they just haven’t “lived” together for 5 years… Which is weird, but it’s how my family functions.

So, the question of where my home is, is always a difficult one, and honestly I don’t know where I would say my home is. A little while ago when I was filling out my UCAS application, it asked for my place of residency. This resulted in a half an hour phone call with each parent trying to figure out what to put down. When we finally decided on my mum’s office building in Hong Kong because that’s where all the mail is sent, and also apparently what it says on my passport, which doesn’t seem right, and also a little bit illegal.

But now I’m in the UK, and will hopefully spend the next couple years here for university, if I get the grades. But I don’t know if I will stay long after that. By having moved around as much as I have, and lived in the places I have, it’s hard to stay put for a long time. I mean Benenden is the longest I’ve stayed at any school, my record for shortest time spent at one school was a solid 3 months.

It is clear that I myself am not Asian, but I think it’s fair to say that the cultures of Japan and Hong Kong make up part of who I am. Whether that be my food appreciation, or my ability to barge through the busiest of crowds. I have spent the majority of my life living in Asia, and its where I would classify my home to be more than anywhere else. Not because its where my mum lives, or because its where I have spent most of my life, but because its where I feel most comfortable. I know my life is very unconventional, but I think it sums up the importance of culture pretty well. You don’t have to have the nationality of a certain country to identify with its culture. That’s the point of culture, it’s there to be experienced, through art or food or literature, I guess that’s also the beauty of it.

So yes, I’m an Australian. An Australian who just happens to be from Australian, Japan, Hong Kong and a little sprinkle of the oh so wonderful Tunbridge Wells.