“I have no brown skin” and other dilemmas of raising an Asian child in the West.

Amanda had her first play date for 2013 when Chloe, her classmate came over one Wednesday after school. I have no idea why but most children seem to like me, often confiding stuff they’d keep from their own parents. Chloe, for instance, shared she wants to be an air hostess when she grows up.

“An air hostess?” I asked, perhaps with furrowed brow.

“Yes, someone who serves food on the plane.”

I know what an air hostess is, and have nothing but great admiration for their ability to navigate time zones and get over routine jet-lag, but there’s just one problem with this: Chloe’s a little Chinese girl.

“SSSHHH…You can’t tell your mother,” I said.

“Why not?” she asked, wide-eyed.

“Have you told her?”


Then you can’t because little Chinese girls cannot tell their mothers they want to be air hostesses.” Or supermodels or singers or actresses… Frankly, there is a prescribed list for these things, unless you want to worry your mother unnecessarily.

“Yes, but air hostesses are needed to take care of passengers on the plane.”

And I definitely AGREE with the Australian notion every person is useful, every job, important. “But you just can’t tell your mother! You’re a Chinese girl.”

Her sister is doing dentistry at university, having always been a top student, so she got what I was saying – the parental expectations that comes with being Chinese.

But I’m NOT Chinese,” she said.

“Of course you are! Your mother and father are Chinese, aren’t they?”

“Yes, but I was born in Australia. That makes me an Australian, not a Chinese.”

I smiled at Chloe, remembering Amanda’s assertion at age 5, “I am NOT Chinese because I have no brown skin. I am white.” I even recorded the affronting statement as part of a yearly interview I do with Amanda to gage her mental development.

Whereas most people in Brisbane would ferret out a beach or ride the Citycat to explore the river, newly-arrived from Australia’s north, HRH and I made many trips to the Chinese enclaves in Brisbane’s southeast to show Amanda people like us.

“Oh, you don’t have to worry,” said my Aussie mate, F, at the time. “When I was a little girl, I wanted to have pink hair just like Barbie.”

Yes, but F could dye her hair pink to look like Barbie. Amanda and Chloe can’t look like Barbie even with pink hair. Many Aussies are complimentary about Asian faces, but  most Chinese, except the die-hard narcissists who invest in circle lenses and photoshop, have always thought themselves ugly. It doesn’t help that over here, we don’t often see faces like ours in the media. Pick up a random magazine at a news stand and you’d be hard-pressed to find one. Very occasionally there’s  the token “different” person, who’s often Eurasian, or no part Asian, to represent the very many different physiognomies found under the Asian umbrella.

“They’d be plenty of work for you as a gangster’s doll, or a doctor or one of those lab-coat wearing types,” said one of my Aussie actor acquaintances about acting roles for Asians. “Many of my Asian friends get offered these roles over and over again.”

“But I don’t think we (Asians) need more representation in the media,” said a fellow Chinese when I told her. “It’s their country. What Australia needs is more aboriginals in the media.”

I’m not arguing that Australia doesn’t, but this fellow Chinese is married to a white Australian. She will have her own set of issues, pertaining to ethnic and cultural identity, when she and her husband have kids. Either that or Australia will have a growing number of people with “other” ancestry who are totally clueless as to what “other” means.

Amanda has since grasped the concept of duality, she struggled with when we were living up north, where there are few “other” type peopleI remember fondly, being invited to participate in all “multicultural events” at her school there because I was the only parent in her class of a distinctly different culture. With plenty of explanation, Amanda now understands what it means to be an ABC or Australian Born Chinese: she is still a Chinese person, but one living in Australia. She’s confounded though,  by what her father and I are: MBCs living in Australia.

What’s Malaysian?” she once asked us for the M in MBC.

Good question. That’s something many Malaysians, after more than 60 years of independence, with the general elections once more before them, are asking themselves.

The challenge of raising an Asian child in the west.

Less than half an hour ago, I had my annual parent interview with Amanda’s class teacher. Having played translator for another parent who only speaks Mandarin, I was her teacher’s second appointment for the period. Since Amanda is neither a terrorist in the making nor Stephen Hawking minus the cerebral palsy, I knew that our meeting would be over in a matter of minutes. I also knew that all her teacher had to report to me was what I as a conscientious Asian parent had already figured out: that Amanda is performing well for her grade and in some areas of learning, at the top of her class.

While proud, and knowing that it is no fault of mine that she is less than the best, the Asian parent in me could not help but feel slightly ashamed. Among Asian parents, knowing plus and minus is to be expected of someone her age, however, it is nothing to write home about; especially not if your father was doing multiplication and division at the same age.

Amanda has started on multiplications – I’ve even gone so far as to make her read two to five times table out to me from the board I picked up for her at her school’s Fiesta – but this morning, to my chagrin, she was reading it while watching Total Drama Control on youtube!

I’m sure if they tested all the children for their ability to use computers, she’d rank number one in her class. Nevertheless, in the manner of all Asian fathers, His Royal Highness likes to blame Amanda’s perceived scholastic deficiencies on me. He contends that I have been too lax with discipline and too short on home tutelage. Her teacher opines that her behaviour is typical for a second generation migrant. Never having had to transplant themselves to a foreign environment, there is no backstory of discrimination and disadvantage to compel them to strive the way their parents do. All too often, it’s easy for them to ride on their parents’ coat-tails.