You’ve been here too long.
So I’ve lived in Australia for 12 years now.
Over half my life.
The other part of my life, I spent growing up in Singapore.
Getting more specific, 4 years of my life has been spent at Coles (a supermarket chain).
Now that may seem random, but there’s a point here.
So I was working a shift, and this elderly Asian lady came up to me.
And she spoke to me in Mandarin. Straight up.
Now before I go on, it’s important to sidebar.
I learnt mandarin for my whole life in Singapore, but here down under, there was no need for it.
So, the only time my Asian language muscles would get exercise would be over the phone to my grand parents back in the motherland. But I’d spit Singlish (Singapore English) rather than straight mandarin. (if you don’t know what Singlish is, google it)
Therefore, I can understand basic mandarin, while my spoken mandarin is broken at best.
Back to Coles.
So like this lady wanted something.
I couldn’t understand her for the life of me.
(I found out she wanted seafood sauce? Only because she asked another Asian looking person)
And this hasn’t been the first time. Old Asian people always come up to me, speaking in mandarin (or other asian dialects), with an expectation that I’ll turn around and greet them with fluency and Chinese charm.
Oh how I disappoint, and shame my family.
What was different this time was what she said after I said I didn’t understand her.
Because I understood what she said next with perfect clarity.
She said (in Asian obviously); ‘You’ve been here (being Australia) too long to know Mandarin.’
Maybe a few years ago, if I heard that, I would’ve brushed it off.
But in the moment, I was dumbfounded.
To this lady, culture expired. That the more time spent in a different culture, your existing culture melts, to give way to the new.
Which is crazy.
We exist in a cultural melting pot, and gravitate towards things that engage us, that challenge us, and give us a voice.
And the older I get, the prouder I am about being Asian AND Australian. Having been able to reconcile that part of my identity, and become comfortable in my own skin, I’ve only become better for it.
And that’s what we have to understand. Culture isn’t static. It exists on a continuum, with a multitude of defining factors.
That’s what living in a diasporas does. We have a responsibility to learn from each other, to support each other, and not perpetuate stereotypes.
And there’s no better place that embodies a diasporas, than a supermarket chain like Coles.
I’m there 12 hours a week. And stocking shelves I see all this food, from all around the world. And not only that, I see a whole host of people, from all walks of life, that come in and buy a diverse selection of food that exists outside of themselves.
Asians buy steaks (Dad represent).
Italian ladies ask me how to make char hor fun (a type of Chinese noodle).
An Indian lady comes in every Wednesday to pick up her weekly dose of pasta.
We choose how we connect with culture.
We choose how we engage with culture.
And no one else can tell you otherwise.