This kind of Chinese is Australian - an ongoing research (2017 -)

To Master Your Mother Tongue, 2018

Three events:

  • 1, an exhibition with the same title at Pavement Projects. 15/10 - 15/11/2018
  • 2, a public conversation with Pia Johnson at Collingwood Library. 22/10/2018
  • 3, a dumpling-making workshop at Otao Kitchen. 26/10/2018

Two public events are organised along the exhibition. The two events were supported by the small grants from the City of Yarra

at Pavement Projects, 122 Hoddle street, Collingwood, Australia

An installation: LED signs, wigs, bronze casting of chicken feet, a small white cabinet, a lamp pole, string, golden brick, mannequin hands, chopsticks, kangaroo balls, golden metal chains, Ctype print

Am I Chinese to you? Am I Chinese enough? How much Chinese is required from me by you?

Am I an Australian? How much extensive cultural identities should I inherit to be qualified as an Australian? 

How loud do I need to yell be relevant to the world? 

“Yaeh, Yeah, Yeh”

From your unresponsive and vacant stare, I know – I’ve just put a wall between us when I spoke  Mandarin at you. And I am banging on the wall now, but nothing can penetrate this wall. My words, meaning, humour, references and wit, evaporate into thin air, floating away with my fading voice. You get nothing. 

I am staring back at your hollow gaze.

I don’t want to speak these Mandarin words to you, to speak to you in a  language you know nothing about, but you insisted, you were curious. Or, were you being polite, or considerate, or were you only excavating my hidden exoticness? 

These words, unreceived and uncomprehended, are now hovering in limbo, waiting for you.  Free for you to pick up and, potentially,  mock. I might laugh with you and talk about how ridiculous and funny these Mandarin words sound. It has become second nature to put myself into your shoes, I have learned to get used to look at the language that I once spoke and the culture that I once lived in from a new cultural perspective.

Smooth the gap! Break the wall! It’s the time to throw some local slangs in my speech.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah”

Isn’t it a common desire for new arrivals to sound like the locals? To speak like them, to think like them, to live like them – one way of avoiding troubles. A principle of survival that has been passed down since colonial times. As a contemporary Chinese immigrant in Australia, I am searching for a reason to be here, to live on a stolen land. If I speak like those who have lived here for long time, perhaps, I could become close to this place. 

This is my hypothesis. 

But I am still not sure how I spell them.

"Sux my exotic fingers"

I heard you swear. If I were to swear the way you do, you would feel my anger. I would feel brave. Somehow, when I say your curse words, what is meant as an offensive gesture becomes a comic performance.

So, I pick up chopsticks and other fingers to help. 

Chicken feet is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. But for many non-Chinese, they can be intimidating to eat. At a dining table, chicken feet divide my friends. They are often, jokingly, used as a test of  bravery, a hurdle to qualify Chinese-ness. It is an invisible line separating the diners: Whoever dares to eat the feet and appreciates its tastiness deserves to be  Chinese, one of us. (a group drawn at a Chinese restaurant)

"The fringe fashion"

Over twenty years, I have observed that Chinese women like to have a fringe cut straight across, commonly referred to as ‘bangs’. I don’t understand the association between hairstyle and ethnicity, I simply accept it. If bangs are the marker of a Chinese woman, should I have one? If I don’t, does it mean I am not the typical Chinese woman?

“please put your tongue out"

Once I read that some Korean parents send their children to see cosmetic doctors to have their tongues operated into a shape that could help them speak better English. What a desperate and dramatic action! What an uncomfortable examination these children have to go through! 

When someone holds your tongue, you are silenced. 

It used to be considered a great social and political achievement to remain uncolonised by the British empire. News about tongue surgery reveals a common anxiety from the ‘third world’, where English colonies were never established.  People in those countries  have to face the consequence of being a minority in the world.  

What is this well-spoken English? Is speaking English all about the physical build of tongues? Of course not: English is a language. Language is a living thing and signifies a culture, a community, a tradition and a history. To speak English well, would mean to internalise the whole lot relating to this language. But when xenophobia, genocide, misogyny and inhumane policies are articulated in English, do I still want to become a part of this community? 

at Collingwood Library

My intention of holding this conversation is to discover the answers to the questions:

What is it like for a Chinese woman who grows up in Australian? Does she think herself an Australian too? How does she perceive the difference between these two identities? How does she define these two identities? When/how does she form an understanding of her Chinese identity? Does she embrace her multiple cultural identities and the identity of Other, that is to the dominant Australian community? How does she present her Chinese-self when she confronts the gaze of the dominant Australian society and other ethnic communities? Why does she think it is important to socially carry this Chinese identity? How does her female gender affect her perception of her multiple cultural identities?

Pia John is a photographer and visual artist who was born and grew up in Melbourne. She is also currently living and working in Melbourne. Pia has both Chinese and Italian upbringings. She has spent last 10 years investigating her Euro-Asian identity and the ‘in-between’ cultural field that she has experienced. 

In response to my invitation, Pia agreed to make a conversation with me in public and share her personal stories of growing up in Australia with a Chinese identity, as well as the issues around  multicultural identities 

From the conversation, I learn how Pia understands her Australian and Chinese identities, and the  very different ‘in-between’ cultural space that she has observed. Pia’s in-between space was informed by her Chinese-Italian upbringing and the experience of growing up in a relatively supportive social environment. In comparison to the ‘in-between’ cultural space that I live in, Pia’s appears harmonious. 

The recording of the conversation can be accessed via the link below.

at Otao kitchen

For this workshop, I will show the participants how to make ‘Chinese’ dumplings in the way that my Dad taught me. I request the participant to bring an ingredient to the workshop. They can add it in their dumpling fillings or make a dipping sauce for the dumplings. This ingredient will make their dumplings assemble the taste of their favourite family dishes. 

The workshop received 18 participants in total. 

Each one made roughly around 30 dumplings. 

The provided ingredients include: Flours, beef, pork, chicken, Chinese cabbage, ginger, green shallots, garlic, red chilli, egg, vegetable mix.

The provided sauces: salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, vegetable oil.

The ingredients the participants brought are: 

  • Peanut butter, 
  • Banana and cheese, 
  • Nutella, 
  • Coriander and mint (picked from participants’ home garden), 
  • Shiso, 
  • plum sauce (made by the participant’s Mum)
  • Sweet baby Ray’s gourmet sauce

In the end, we made more than 5 non-Chinese dumplings

  • 1, the dumplings with smashed banana, cheese and mixed vegetable fillings
  • 2, the dumplings with chicken, Chinese cabbage, Shiso fillings
  • 3, the dumplings with beef, Chinese cabbage, coriander and mint fillings
  • 4, the dumplings with chicken, Chinese cabbage, plum sauce fillings
  • 5, the dumplings with pork, Chinese cabbage fillings and Nutella dipping sauce
  • 6, the dumplings with beef marinated in Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce and Chinese cabbage 
  • All the dumplings were steamed. I tasted everyone’s dumplings. Surprisingly, they were all tasted fantastic! 
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