Life in wonderful West End, Brisbane.

When I first moved into the area at the beginning of 2010, my mother, in one of our bi-monthly telephone marathons, asked me to tell her about it. I suppose she wanted to know ahead of time whether it’d be the kind of place she’d subject herself to an eight-hour plane ride to come and visit. In my characteristically nonchalant manner, I told her about the hippies and Goths, being sure to eludicate their many charms. I told her too about the yuppies in their brand-spanking new triple-story houses up on the hill, and ordinary folk like His Royal Highness, Amanda and myself, who live among them.

Once over-run with downtrodden druggy-types, West End in Brisbane is now this place where the trendy aim to call home. Alongside mum and pop run coffee shops, we have a wide variety of ethnic eateries, a sprinkling of second-hand shops and yoga palaces, and just enough speciality health-food stores to exude that cool urban-village vibe.

Being only a couple of blocks to Brisbane’s Cultural Precinct, West End also features a thriving arts community. In fact, since I started having coffee with some of the other mothers from school, I discovered that almost every other person is engaged in some artistic pursuit or other. Amanda’s best friend’s mother, Melissa, for instance, quilts. She maintains a blog about the joy creating quilts brings her. Understandably, when Campbell Newman, Queensland’s recently elected Premier, axed the Queensland’s Premier’s Literary Awards, a hue and cry went out among us West Enders, over the scant support we receive as contributors to our state’s arts scene.

Magic at Eros Cafe, West End.

Magic in the suburbs as another customer shows Amanda his card tricks.

On being one race and then another.

This seems like a physiological impossibility but let me assure you that in the realms of everyday living, it most certainly isn’t. I was a full Chinese person for the first twenty-eight years of my life and on my twenty-ninth year, became only three eighths.

So how did this happen and how did I arrive at this peculiar set of fractions? After all, most people are either half, quarter, three quarters or some indefinable combination of ethnically different genes. My sisters would be galled reading this seeing as they still think of themselves as half Chinese. We share the same mother and a different father. Already they have gone through life as islands growing up in homogenous if multicultural Malaysia where pure Malays, Chinese and Indians predominate.

Like me, they must have thought that our third aunt enjoys living in a Chinese museum, unaware that the various wooden sculptures, furniture and fixtures are reflective of our real culture. My mother and her sisters fondly refer to our third aunt as “Nyonya” and for twenty-eight years of my life, I assumed it was because she cooked curry prawns and fish for all our Chinese New Years.

I postulated it was simply a way of life she subscribed to, even though her mother, my grandmother, was also a Nyonya. As was her mother and her grandmother before her, because as I discovered belatedly, Peranakan, while recognised by the governments of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia as Chinese since their respective independence from colonial masters, are a hybrid race spawned by Chinese settlers of the 1500s and local indigenous peoples and that until the last generation, only married within their own community!

That we have our own culture, language and traditional dress, was something I was oblivious to until I made the connection. Then I was rediscovering myself anew, for I had grown up only thinking myself a solid, ethnically Han Chinese person; my father in his eagerness to impress this upon me showed me the physical marks of a real Han person. He neglected to mention that one of his grandmothers was a Peranakan too, even though with my features, Chinese, Malays and Indians had queried me repeatedly from childhood about by my ethnicity; hence, how I arrived at the three eighths.