Asian Australian voices

Stuff happens | Photo by Kim Tairi Released under CC licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0
Ninja | Photo by Kim Tairi
Released under CC licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0

Just recently, the lovely Katherine Firth (@katrinafee on Twitter) asked what I’d suggest if she wanted to read more from Asian voices in Australia on various sociopolitical issues.

Specifically, she outlined the genres of text she was interested in as “Sociology/ reportage / special editions journals / activist polemic”.

I started crafting a few tweets in my head, and thought of several links and articles straight away, then realised that it was probably much more useful – and user-friendly – if I just blogged it!

At first, when I thought about what Katherine had asked for, I felt overwhelmed. I couldn’t think of what might be the best places to get started or which articles to read. I’d been immersed in Asian Australian Studies perspectives on everything for so long, I had to take a deliberate step back to see how a (savvy, highly intelligent, research-oriented) newcomer might most usefully find a way into the diverse and multi-voiced material that’s out there.

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2 gigs in two weeks!

  1. Excited to be presenting a workshop on “Getting started on social media” for the AASRN with Tom Cho next Monday night (16 Feb 2015). It has already proven to be good fun and highly educational for me because I’ve never worked with Tom on this kind of thing before. We google-doc’d and Prezi’d together throughout the last week, and it was a very good experience.I’ve never used Prezi before – EVER – so learning about the new app was useful. I have had a few bad experiences with Prezi (that nausea everyone talks about) and wasn’t sure about it. Now that I’ve played with it a bit more, though, I think it has huge potential and people just need to rein in their enthusiasm about any given presentation’s visual mobility!We’re hoping that this session, focussed on helping Asian Australian communities to engage via social media, will be the first in a series of activist/lobbying/outreach events that will get Asian Australian research, topics, and debates out into the broader public sphere. These kinds of processes should also create conversations and further networks within Asian Australian groups that will generate more cultural and political activity. And, to me, this is always a good thing.
  2. The second gig is at ACMI in Federation Square and I’m chairing an amazing panel of Asian Australian creative talent. “Growing up Chinese in Australia” (TUES 24 Feb 2015) is part of the China Up Close festival, and features William Yang, Annette Shun Wah, Benjamin Law, and Juliana Qian. After the panel is the Melbourne premiere screening of Yang’s Blood Links. I have fan-girled these people for varying amounts of time, in different ways, and being able to participate in the event is just dreamy.

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WORKSHOP REPORT – NYU Global Arts Exchange workshop (by Tseen Khoo)

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On Wednesday 15 July 2013, ANU hosted a workshop that was part of the first phase in NYU’s Global Arts Exchange project. The bulk of the participants had only recently come through Shanghai, with a stopover in Perth for the NYU crew.

What is this project about?

This is the overview from the NYU website:

The exchange will bring together scholars, curators, and artists from each site and is meant to be generative for research, resulting in publications, exhibition development, and other research-based projects and programs to share and disseminate research, strengthen international networks of scholars and curators, and create ongoing dialogue between international colleagues, arts communities, and wider publics in the US, Asia/Pacific region, EU, Latin America, Africa, and Middle East in the expanding field of Asian/Asian Diasporic Art and Visual Cultures.

(NYU Global Asia/Pacific Art Exchange)

That all sounds great, but what did this creation of ongoing dialogue look like on the ground?

This post is my take on the event, viewed from a perspective that is extra-institutional (I’m into my third  year in a non-academic role, though I’ve kept up convenorship of the AASRN).

The workshop took place in the European Studies Centre at ANU, where the Chair of AASRN, Professor Jacqueline Lo, is based. The team from NYU was led by Alexandra Chang, and included Tom Looser, Dipti Desai, and Francesca Tarocco (NYU – Shanghai). It was my first time meeting them all as the NYU collaboration is focused on the visual arts (which is not my field).

Dean Chan and Jacquie have led this initiative from the Australian end, and it is a part of INDAAR (International Network for Diasporic Asian Art Research) activity. INDAAR was founded as part of our ARC Discovery project, as was the AAFFN (Asian Australian Film Forum Network). One could justifiably think of them as two off-shoots of the AASRN that have gone on to create their own momentum and projects.

The workshop felt primarily like a familiarisation meeting, bringing together artists and academics who are working in the field of visual arts from the US/China/Australia. Most of the workshop was about introducing Australian material and context to the NYU crew, with input from the broader academic, vis.arts, and curatorial community in Canberra.

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Top 10 Asian Oz childhood foods

This post is inspired by this article on Foodbeast that floated my way through Facebook: 16 things that taste just like your Asian American childhood.

I browsed through it with glee, loving these kinds of walks down memory lane. Even if it wasn’t necessarily my memory lane.

Oddly enough, I encountered quite a few of the items in my adult life rather than my childhood.

I didn’t have my first Pocky stick, for example, till I was 27 years old. I was in Canada doing research for my PhD, visiting one my favourite Canadian authors, and she offered me a Pocky stick. It was the start of a long and fond relationship (for me and Pocky sticks, that is; the author’s pretty damn cool, too, it must be said).

Some of the food items did strike a chord, and reminded me of my Brisbane childhood, the trips to Fortitude Valley, and the evolving Asian grocery shops and malls through the 1980s and 1990s.

The items from the Foodbeast list that populated my childhood as well are: haw flakes, shrimp-flavoured chips, and pork floss (aka ‘pork sung’ in the Foodbeast listing). There were, however, many others that loomed large for our family. I’m not sure if they were unique to us, or whether they reflected a broader pattern of Malaysian-Chinese consumption.

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Asians seeking Asians – and underachieving

Dare to dream (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Dare to dream (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

It’s a notorious phenomenon in Asian Australian and Asian American communities:

We don’t tend to register to donate blood, organs, or stem cells as much as other communities.

Particularly in the case of stem cells (bone marrow), this is a life or death situation.

The likelihood of a non-Asian donor matching with an Asian patient is much lower than that of an Asian donor and an Asian patient.

This is an instance where the grey areas of identity and belonging do not hold: for bone marrow donations, Asians need Asians.

You can find out why HERE (American site, but still relevant to Asian Australians and others).

Why am I writing about this at the moment?

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AWW 2013 Review: The Dreaming series (Queenie Chan)

Cover for 'The Dreaming' omnibus (Queenie Chan)
Cover for ‘The Dreaming’ omnibus (Queenie Chan)

I’ve been wanting to follow up on Queenie Chan‘s work and read her stories ever since I put together the diverse women authors post for AWW 2012, and @tansyrr left a comment that reminded me of Chan’s work.

The Dreaming series, which I read all at once in a single book, has three volumes.

I must admit to not having read or seen much of Chan’s work. I’m also not much of a manga reader, but I know the broad style.

I was immediately struck by how true to the Japanese manga aesthetic Chan’s settings and characters’ expressions seemed to be.

For me, it was quite a twist to discover that this horror story is set in the Australian bush, complete with gum trees, billabongs, and Aboriginal mythology.

Reading the three volumes at once was such quick work that I felt guilty about not spending time appreciating the inkwork and scene transitions. Chan is refreshingly down-to-earth about her practice and skills (see her entry, “How I got started”) and prioritises the narrative above artwork:

I persevered not because I started off wanting to be a great manga-artist and drawing “cool comics” (though that crossed my mind more than several times), but because I had a story I wanted to tell, and wanted to tell it in manga format.

The Dreaming hit many classic creepy notes for me, particularly as it cross-referenced the girls-disappearing-in-the-bush motif (Mirandaa-aaa! – cf. Picnic at Hanging Rock). The superstitions and untold stories added to the narrative tension, as did the leakage of disturbing dreams to waking life.

Chan consistently references Victorian era schoolgirls in bustly dresses with good, chilling effect. What is it about that element that lends itself to a studied creepiness? Perhaps that brandished carving knife didn’t help…

My two caveats about the trilogy: First, I did have some difficulty in the beginning with the immediate introduction to the cast of characters. The girls in the school, especially, confused me because – dare I say this? – they kind of looked the same… I soon depended on their hairstyles to tell them apart. Second, while I was effectively sucked into the narrative, I found the pacing uneven and, at times, repetitive.

In the end, Chan’s back-story for the school and its dark history is satisfying. She tied up many loose ends, but not all. I liked having some questions floating in the mix after closing the covers.

Chan has also drawn several of Dean Koontz’s books, and she recently featured in a women manga artist symposium at the Art Gallery of NSW (January 2013). I’ll certainly be looking out for more of her work in the future, and am considering snagging the Koontz books.

Queenie Chan’s website: http://www.queeniechan.com

Crowded kitchens

Mum's sayor lodeh (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Mum’s sayor lodeh (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

I take my family’s kitchen skills for granted.

I forget how much food and cooking knowledge I’ve gained purely through osmosis, and watching others do their thing.

Like many Malaysian Chinese families (or Asian families more generally?), we’ve always been big on feasting and special occasion meals. Wisely, my siblings and I also snagged partners who were similarly appreciative of sharing food and making meals meaningful.

My mum and dad have always been keen cooks, and my mum has taken formal cooking classes in a broad range of cuisines. She takes on the lion’s share of the household’s dinners, and we have a family dinner every Sunday night. Her collection of cookbooks is formidable, and it includes a lot of bilingual 1960s/70s books from Malaysia. Once upon a time, we used to have regular dinners for 40 or more people at our Brisbane house in Chapel Hill. It wasn’t that large a house, and the 1970s kitchen from which she and my dad produced massive feasts was tiny + very badly designed.

My brother is a chef; he’s been in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. He has worked at a whole range of restaurants, bistros, and cafes – in Brisbane, Melbourne, and around the UK. He’s currently in his cheffing dream job, one that allows him to get home in the afternoon so he can focus on gardening and having a life outside the industry. That said, he’s an obsessive breadmaker (and loves experimenting with sourdough and ciabatta), and loves crossing the back fence to bring us samples. This is a practice we encourage. Greatly.

My SIL is a qualified chef. Of course. She introduced us to the seductions of whole cauliflower mornay and excellent coleslaw. She joins my brother in culinary adventures, not to mention the incredible food hampers we are privileged to get every Christmas. C. also writes a food blog and has overall mad kitchen skills.

My husband is a great cook, he’s the obsessive genius behind our family’s novelty cake series. He’s the kind of person who can turn his hand to anything and, with vague instructions from the internet, make it a success. His Christmas puddings have all been excellent (traditional plum pudding, as well as chocolate), and I remember very fondly the meals he cooked for me when we were dating. They were fab, and – strangely enough – seemed inspired by 1970s Women’s Weekly cookbooks (e.g. beef stroganoff, prawn cocktails).

Why am I telling you all this?

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Bad Asian

Sweet and sour academia (from Thesis Whisperer’s tmblr, “Refreshments will be provided”)

When I was chatting with the lovely people at Radio National’s Life Matters program the other week, I realised that what I really want to say about national belonging and cultural citizenship was this:

Having full cultural citizenship as an Asian Australian should mean that it’s fine to be a ‘bad’ citizen, as well as celebrating those deemed ‘good’.

‘Asian’ shouldn’t be the first point of categorisation, and the heaviness of migrant expectation and stereotyping of migrants shouldn’t curtail a person’s liberty to be, say, a slacker.

Or to ‘Anglicise’ their name (sez she, who has a coffee name of “Jen”).

Or – (hushed tones) – to be monolingual.

We’re not all economic ‘bridge-builders’, heart-surgeons, and superhero Senators, though I’m hardly complaining that we can be those.

Where is the liberty and comfort of feeling at home with mediocrity or failure?

And I’m talking here both about the bar being set by the broader community as well as the one cultural communities set for themselves. That ‘Model Minority myth‘ cuts both ways.

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REVIEW – Ghost Money (Andrew Nette)

Ghost Money (Andrew Nette)

I must admit to being initially interested in reading this novel because Andrew Nette and I follow each other on Twitter, and I’ve always appreciated, and been curious about, his obsession with pulp culture.

I knew he wrote crime fic and I am a total sucker for many shades of crime fic.

It was when I read one of the first reviews of the book (by Fair Dinkum Crime’s bernadetteinoz), however, that I dashed off straight away to buy a copy.

The triggers that set me off in bernadetteinoz’s review?

A Vietnamese Australian protagonist, the Cambodian setting – all bundled together as a noir crime thriller. It ticked a lot of boxes for me.

Kicking off with a dead body in Thailand, we find ourselves quickly in Cambodia as Max Quinlan, a fresh private investigator, traces Charles Avery’s whereabouts. Avery’s sister had made the initial approach to Quinlan, and offered him a conversational snapshot of her brother as an ambitious and morally grey character.

Of course, all is not as it seems, and the increasingly complicated figure of Avery is nicely unpacked as the narrative rolls out.

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AWW 2012 Review – The Lion Drummer (Gabrielle Wang)

The Lion Drummer (Gabrielle Wang)

Like the typical assiduous parents of today, we’ve been reading to the kids since they were babies.

Having our eldest – who turns 6 at the end of this year – learn to read and write this year has been a magical time for me. Her reading is improving in leaps and bounds, and the hesitancy with which she used to read the one-sentence books she brought home is now gone.

When we go to the library each week, she’ll often find a few books, settle into a beanbag and start reading to herself. Tonight, she read five small books. Just because she wanted to. She reads to her little brother. He’s a big fan.

She still wants to throw a few ‘younger’ books in the pile as she loves the illustrations (as I do), and I’ll find a few short novels that I think she’ll like.

I’ll tell you the narratives I tend towards because I know the topics contrast with what she’s usually immersed in with her peer group: time travel and dinosaur tales, monsters and aliens (particularly dragons), mad scientist and experiments gone wrong, (G-rated) kungfu novels…the ones that are usually badged/branded as “for boys”.

The girls’ novels are all horrendously pink and sparkly and…I just can’t do it. She chose a fairy book last time and I threw in another book about pirates for good measure. Yes, I may be fighting a losing battle. Let me retain a bit of hope for the moment.

ANYway, I recently also found Gabrielle Wang’s The Lion Drummer, on the shelves. I chose it in the hopes that E. would find it fun and interesting and possibly reflecting a life in Australia that had similarities with hers. I try not to be too sledgehammery in my quest to ensure that the kids have a diversity of narratives and characters in their books. I’ve not focused on Chinese Australian or Asian Australian children’s lit. to any great degree, but I am aware of mixing up the material that crosses their cultural radars.

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