Australian and more: Tina Han
Australian and more explores the dissonance and delights of an individual straddling two cultures in Western Australia’s current social atmosphere. This series of five stories shares perspectives of people with Chinese, Malaysian, South African-Indian and Iraqi heritage. The Centre for Stories believes that sharing diverse perspectives is essential to creating a cohesive and empathetic society.
Hi, my name is Tina Han. I am currently 20 years old and I am Chinese-Australian. I actually moved to Perth when I was about six years old.
EAST & WEST
So my whole family is from China and my parents and I were the only ones who moved to Western Australia. I think in many aspects my culture is similar because I feel at the core Australian Chinese values are the same. Parents will want the best for their children and I think most people have a very similar moral compass, but I think what probably sets us apart is that Chinese culture does tend to be a bit more restricted and confined.
A lot of Chinese kids will tell you that things are very much taken care of for them. Growing up, it was always about studying hard and getting good grades so that you can go to a good university and get a good job and settle down. Whereas I think that Western culture is more focused on independence, so maybe from 13 all the Australian kids have got a job. At least, that is what I found from my personal experience. I think that Australian children are much more independent and I think that Australian families encourage a lot more going out and doing your own thing and not really worrying too much about the consequences, just learn as things happen. Whereas, I feel Chinese families are much more guarded and they want to be able to nurture their children in their own ways. So, a lot of the time it is overprotective and there is a lot more consideration into what is wrong and what is right. For big decisions that you make in your life, you will always consult your family first.
Adjusting to Australia is a bit harder for me to remember because I did come when I was quite young. I do remember one of the first cultural shocks was probably how intimate Westerners are. Because, I remember at the end of the school day your friends, everyone, would give each other a hug goodbye or people would be a lot freer about physical touch. I think that was something that was quite different for me and took a little bit of adjusting—just because within Asian culture, there is less of that. There is no real physical contact. I think growing up I didn’t even really see much physical affection coming from my grandparents towards my parents. A lot of it was just knowing that they want the best for you and their intentions and their affections don’t really have to be explained in words, they explain more through actions like taking care of you.
When I do feel foreign, it is probably when people point out to me the fact that I am Chinese. Like, if I meet somebody new and they ask me, “So where are you from? What is your heritage? What is your background?” and I’ll say, “I am Chinese, I am from Beijing, I came here when I was six years old.” Or when I demonstrate to people that I can speak the language I do feel more foreign.
Another scenario would probably be if I was to be sharing the food of my country with other people. So say if I brought Chinese food to work or to school, and then people would ask, “What is this? What is that?” Because it is not something that they have seen or experienced before. Those particular moments I felt the most foreign because I have to explain my culture to other people and educate them—or kind of open their eyes a little bit more to the life that I grew up in. I don’t actually find it is necessarily a bad thing. I think when people say, “Do you feel foreign?” the question is connected to issues that are associated with isolation and feeling very different, but I think those moments actually make me feel very proud to be Chinese, because it is very unique and I love to share that with other people and tell them a little bit about where I am from and my family and my culture.
Being part of two cultures is quite a bit of a bittersweet feeling, because you do get the best of both worlds. There are also very nostalgic aspects of that. I think every time I go back to Beijing, I often feel a weird mix between feeling at home and also feeling very displaced—because of course, China is always going to be home to me. There are these places that I grew up in and I revisit, and I get that rush back to when I was a little girl. But at the same time, I have been living in Australia for a decade—and of course that has changed and influenced the person that I am. China has also changed drastically over the last decade and when I go back, often it doesn’t feel like home anymore, in a way, because there are so many things that are different and sometimes I don’t recognise the places or the people, the context of it, and that is saddening. But I think my family will always ground me and that it a really beautiful thing.
MULTICULTURAL – MULTIDIMENSIONAL
I think people will definitely benefit from belonging to more than one culture. It just opens up your eyes to that little bit more and it brings in another perspective. You are going to be able to understand more people and where they come, their perspectives on things, their opinions, and why they are the way that they are—because you understand the culture and the context of where they came from. You wouldn’t be stuck in such a linear way of thinking because every culture is so different and sometimes it is really interesting to observe the similarities but also the differences between how people think. I have been in so many situations where I’ve observed Australians and Chinese and think “oh, that is so interesting, the way that they do things so different from us.” Just because our cultures are so different and how that shapes us as people.
I identify as Chinese-Australian. I think you find that sometimes one culture will definitely influence you more than the other. I definitely think that my Australian side of my identity overpowers my Chinese side, just because I have been here for a lot longer and most of my friends are Australian and I speak English with them, and I know the Western culture a lot more than Asian culture. In saying that, I do think that being Chinese is still something that is a very large part of my identity. I think it is something that will always be there, not just because of my outward appearance but also because of my family. It’s not so much an issue of language or food or dress, but also my morals and values and that has shaped me as a person. I think something that I’ve always found to be different is that I am raised with these very traditional Chinese values and I think that is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Read the rest of the stories in Australian and more here.
Copyright © 2018 Tina Han
This story has been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story please contact the Centre for Stories.
This story was collected by Centre for Stories intern, Karen Escobar.