How I realised I was Asian

How I realised I was Asian

I was an overexcited child. Even now, I get excited over the smallest things, such as the prospect of an aubergine for dinner or a fuzzy blanket. So when I learned all about the nifty Anglo Saxons in Year 4, I was SO EXCITED to tell my parents about it.

So, that evening as I sat in the bath and I heard the front door open indicating that my dad was home, I screamed from the bathroom: “Hey dad! Guess what! I learned all about our ancestors the Anglo Saxons today!”

To which my dad replied: “No baby, we are Asian.”

So yes, the first time it truly dawned on me that I wasn’t English, was at the age of about 8. Just like Archimedes, my Eureka moment came in the bath.

You, as the reader, might be shocked. I have black hair, brown eyes and other Asian features.  Why did it never occur to that little Vietnamese girl that she was different from her peers? I guess it’s because I didn’t feel different. I always felt extremely welcome in this country.  I grew up in a multicultural society, and I’ve always been surrounded by people from many different countries. My best friends at the age of 11 were Sri Lankan, Albanian, South Korean and Jamaican. Now, at the age of 20, my closest friends are even more diverse.

I used to think that I was untouchable. I was born in this country, I’ve never been to Vietnam. Hell, I don’t even speak the language. I don’t belong to that country, I belong here – with the English.  I love England, for all its cute quirks and oddities. Yet, as I have learned through the act of growing up: No matter how much you love something, it might not love you back.

People in my community would gossip. About so called “foreigners,” but they liked me. They gave me chocolate at Christmas and birthday cards at Birthdays. I felt included, and fearless. People at school were also equally tolerant. I had a predominantly happy and welcoming childhood.

Then I became the target. On one normal day on a normal bus trip to school, I had my earbud plucked from my ear by a schoolgirl and asked why I looked so sad. Before I could say anything, she said “Oh right, it’s probably because your VISA has run out and you’re going to be sent back home.”

Home? I thought England was my home. Wait. So is Vietnam my home? How could a country that I have never stepped foot in, never seen…how could I belong there and not here?

My experience is minuscule compared to what scores of “foreign-looking” people have to endure on a daily basis. I’m an overly sensitive person, and something little like what happened to me deeply affected me. When people nowadays ask me “Where I’m from?” I find myself not knowing whether to reply with “Surrey” or “Saigon.” I was once the girl who stood on the sidelines, and for the first time I was in the firing line. I thought it would never happen to me.

In every situation, there is usually a bystander. If you are a bystander, you are part of the problem. There’s no point saying, “I’m not the perpetrator. I didn’t say anything. I’m not guilty.” I always used to think, that at least it wasn’t me. Like a fly in a web, hoping the spider doesn’t see them or is decidedly less ravenous than it thought it was. The fly is spared…today.

It’s so difficult to see abuse when it isn’t happening to you. It’s so easy to choose to be oblivious rather than facing up to it. Do not think it could never to happen to you, so that you don’t care. I used to think like that.

The following quote is what really made me come to realise this. It’s probably the most important and haunting lesson I had in school.

“FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE SOCIALISTS…”

By MARTIN NIEMÖLLER

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

 

 

The Garden

A nugget of nature at my reach.
Mushrooms are squidgy under my toes.
Earth, crumbling in my palms.
Crisp and fresh.
I kiss the summer air.
Here, there is perpetual bliss,
But I can still see the remnants of you,
in the slug, slurping its way up my thigh.

Milliseconds cascade into years,
and I will be fine.
Despite the trail of blood,
wounds can heal.

I feed the weeds and shred the flowers
Cause roses remind me of unattainable beauty,
Whilst weeds can grow and cover all,
So memories will fade into colours and shapes,
and I will learn to forget.

You Are A Success

It’s no secret that I haven’t endured the easiest past six months. Every time I jump a hurdle, another one seems to appear without even allowing me the chance to catch my breath. There have been times when I’ve seriously considered giving up, when the nothingness seemed so much easier than the endless pressure. I think about that more than I’d like to admit.

So here’s a story.

Both of my parents were refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. On my father’s side, my grandfather had served in the South Vietnamese army and so as soon as we lost the war, it was obvious that my dad and my aunts didn’t have much of a future left. In these times, many people who were in the same position often attempted escape. Through bribes and sacrifice, my dad’s family tried to leave Vietnam. After several months of planning, they set off among hundreds of other people on and old rickety boat. Not dissimilar to the refugee boats one would see on the news recently.  The first time they tried this, they failed.

They were caught, and my grandfather was thrown into a concentation camp. I believe he was there for about a year, maybe a bit more. When he was finally allowed to return to his family, one of my aunts – my father’s youngest sister, had perished at the age of 9. My grandfather lived in ignorance of this whilst in the camp, and he never got to say farewell. The family mourned, and eventually tried once more to escape on the boats yet again.

This attempt fared slightly better…well, not really. Partway through the journey, the boat was halted in its tracks yet again. This time, by ‘Pirates’ (this is the term my dad used but I can only assume they weren’t the eye-patch and parrot wearing type.) No, these were real life bloody pirates.  My father and grandfather were separated from my aunt during the raid and takeover of the boat, at this point it was pretty safe to assume that they wouldn’t see her again. At the end of all this, my father and grandfather ended up in the ocean. Some miles off the coast of Malaysia, swimming amongst about fifteen survivors. All night, for hours and hours. I guess they figured that the amount that they swam was proportional to their rate of survival, well, they weren’t wrong. At some points, my grandfather did show signs of conceding and just falling into and under the waves, my dad reminded him that if he let go then my dad would as well.

Eventually, in the early hours, they were rescued by a boat of fishermen, and the turmoil finally ended. What followed were months of uncertainty and waiting, waiting to see if any other family members made it. Finally, they were reunited with my aunt who had ended up in Thailand, and the entire family were accepted by the UK as refugees.

It never really went away though. Even after 40+ years, my dad still sleeps with his eyes open and he still has nightmares, yet he hasn’t failed to raise me and my sister, sustain a good job and feed the fish in our pond every morning. My aunt, on the other hand, manages to kill a fish every time she’s tasked with looking after them.

At the age that I am now, my parents had seen more dead bodies, more pain and more suffering than I’ll probably have to endure in my whole lifetime. How sick is that? Growing up in a war zone feels like it belongs in fiction, yet I’ve already heard over two first person accounts. Not exactly pleasant dinner table talk, but at least it keeps me and my sister off of our phones. I don’t believe it’s possible for me to describe everything my dad’s family had to endure in one post. I haven’t even started on my mum’s story.

Yet I can confirm this. There are a million and one things that could’ve happened that meant that I would not be here, right now, typing this. If my grandfather gave up and stopped swimming, if my mum didn’t make it either, if my parents never ended up sitting opposite each other at a mutual friend’s wedding, if I fell off of a roof last summer. The chain is endless, every single decision that all my ancestors have made have somehow contributed to me being here. My petty problems feel so pathetic when I think about this. I’ve basically played the game for all this time, winning each successive round, no Game Overs yet. For anyone that’s ever played a game, you should know that its no small feat. You could say that I’m winning at life.

People do have it worse than you, and there are countless people better off than you. I am not saying that your pain doesn’t matter, or that it is insignificant. I guess I just want you to know that the fact that you made it this far means you are a triumph of evolution. Every decision you make has the power to affect someone at an infinite time into the future, so make good decisions. ’cause you are a success.

Thoughts from a female Engineering student

I’ve never considered myself to be particularly tom boyish. I never liked climbing trees, I hate wearing trousers and have always preferred skirts/dresses and I was definitely a Barbie fan as a young child. When my Barbies got too boring, I designed and constructed my own doll house, made out of squared maths paper that I then blu-tacked to my bed room wall. I was so intricate in my creation that I even fashioned multiple outfits for my dolls and ‘laminated’ them using sello-tape. Designing and creating always came naturally to me I guess. I never needed to think too much about what to make, I would just make it.

Yet that’s my downfall, I don’t think before I do things. I just act impulsively in a rather brash manner. It means that I often say things out of turn and ultimately end up looking like a fool. So when I am asked the question: “Why am I a feminist?” I end up dancing around the question as I am frightened that I’ll say something wrong or insulting. I’m scared that people will think less of me depending of what I say from that point onwards. I feel as if the entirety of the feminist movement is dependent on what I say to that person, which of course, is utterly ridiculous. Then again, I have been called a drama queen once (or twice.)

The first thoughts that come to mind when people ask me that question include: I believe in equality and I think its unfair that women earn less than men even when they are doing exactly the same job. I’m too adamant to say this though because then that person will demand statistics, which I don’t have. Yet, these statistics exist online and can be found easily with a short Google search. Will that even make a difference to this person? The truth is, people will believe what they want to believe.

As a female Engineering student, I’m part of a rather niche group. Approximately 10-20% of my year are female. At first I felt quite self conscious about this as I came from an all girls school. Honestly, I still sometimes feel that people will automatically think less of me because I’m a female. Some people are puzzled as to why Engineering still isn’t viewed as a viable career choice for young girls. Coming from seven years experience of a girls grammar school, I believe that I understand why.

Once in Year 12 during form time, there was a time where everyone was asking each other about our UCAS applications and what courses we were applying to and where. I remember being faced with the question: “What is an Engineer? Isn’t that, like, a car mechanic? Do you just get under cars?” Even when I explained to her that engineers are inherently problem solvers and that they are involved in many disciplines including the food industry, oil and gas, mobile phone technology…she still seemed adamant that all Engineers did were fix cars.

Ever since year 7, we were constantly conditioned to try for a career in Medicine. It seemed that the only careers that people talked about were Medicine, Law and Dentistry.  Engineering was never heavily promoted. There were no talks in assembly, no representatives from companies that came in to talk to us, and no mention of it during class. The entire Engineering career path was just vacant from all discussions and when I found myself having to choose a degree in sixth form I barely knew any options apart from Medicine and Law. Both of which I was certain were not suitable for myself. Luckily, my dad had studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Surrey and so introduced me to it and encouraged me to study it. I decided to take a plunge and sign up for a Computing and Microelectronics course at the University of Southampton which I enjoyed a lot. However, as expected, there was no promotion of such courses in my High School and I found myself researching and asking science teachers about them. The effort was insignificant, yet could have been avoided if my school had actually promoted career options other than Medicine.

People think that it’s not a suitable career for girls, but that’s because they either know nothing about Engineering or they underestimate a woman’s ability. It shouldn’t be a question of gender, it should just be a measure of how good someone’s problem solving and analytical skills are. There shouldn’t be this stigma in girls only schools that Engineering is a guy’s career choice. So when I think back to my younger self who design and built that Dollhouse, using the only materials available, I remember that I actually enjoyed building the Dollhouse more than actually playing with it.  I constantly renovated it and added countless extensions. When I doubt my choice of career due to the difficulty or the fact that there is an unpleasant stereotype around what female Engineers look and act like, I try to remember how much I actually enjoy it. There’s no reason why a female would be worse at Engineering than a male, so for goodness sake, it should be promoted more and encouraged as a career choice.