by BIHENG ZHANG
I’ve wanted to say this out loud for some time now. It’s a small gripe that I have, a bee in my bonnet, I suppose. On a scale between zero and starvation in war-torn countries, it’s probably a four. But here it is: I hate being reminded that I’m Chinese.
Don’t take this the wrong way – I am actually very proud of my heritage and history and will happily share a moon cake with you for the Moon Festival. If you’re into salted eggs in your sweets, that is. But rather, more accurately, I hate being reminded I’m Chinese by strangers when I’m buying milk or answering the phone or waiting for the tram.
I grew up in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne in the 90s. I went to Northcote High School before the Government injected a whole lot of money at it, a time when kids got chucked out for dealing on the oval and portable classrooms were occasionally torched overnight.
You were proud if you came from Rezza and everyone spoke a little wog, if only to hurl the occasional ‘malaka’ at the teacher, who was Greek anyway. A lot of the kids’ accents had a hint of Nick Giannopoulos, including the Asians, but only the dedicated few could pull off the eloquence of Effie. Roll call took fifteen minutes every time we had a new teacher.
It’s fair to say that for the most part, growing up in my bit of Melbourne, hanging out after school at Norflandz (that’s Northland Shopping Centre for those who aren’t in the know) and going to my mate’s place the day before Orthodox Easter to find a whole lamb carcass in the backyard, we all felt kind of normal. Which is why, for a long time, it puzzled me when my name or appearance would become a topic of conversation.
As a uni student, I worked at Myer in the city. I was a salesperson in the Christmas shop, which basically meant that for three months of the year straight I had glitter permanently lodged in my hair, nostrils and ears and I still get a nervous twitch from hearing Jingle Bells being played on loop. It also meant that at least once a day I was being asked, ‘So, where are you from?’ by curious but well-meaning customers who saw me and my name badge as a conversation starter.