kids

'Why a Caucasian woman couldn't stop staring at me and my three-year-old daughter.'

I was happily eating ice-creams at a beachside café with my husband and two children, when I noticed her. Or, rather, she noticed me.

There was a woman who kept staring at me and my family, and I was starting to feel uncomfortable.

She was sitting at the table next to us, and it looked like she was there with her husband, son and daughter-in-law. She was around my mother’s age, and of Caucasian appearance.

asian stereotypes
"As a visibly Asian person born and living in Australia, it is quite normal for me to answer questions from white people on what it is like to be Asian. " (Image: Supplied)

Everyone at her table was laughing loudly and telling stories, but she was almost completely turned around in her seat, with her back to her family, so that she could stare at us. She kept smiling, too, but the strange thing was that when I smiled back or tried to start a conversation, she didn’t respond. Her eyes were mostly fixed on my three-year-old daughter, who was ignoring her and blissfully licking her ice-cream.

“That lady keeps staring at us,” I whispered to my husband.

“I know,” he confided. “It’s weird.”

We stayed at the café for around half an hour (eating an ice-cream is a serious business when you’re three), and the staring was constant.

I couldn’t figure it out, until I started to stare back myself. Her son was white, like my husband. And her daughter-in-law was Asian, like me. In the rare moments that the woman turned away from us, she was looking back and forth at her son and daughter-in-law.

“Ah,” I thought. “I’m her Asian prototype.”

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I could imagine the woman’s inner monologue. “That is exactly what my grandchildren will look like. Little Eurasian kids! I can’t wait!”

A post shared by Carla Gee (@bycarlagee) on

Look, I’m not a mind-reader, and perhaps I’m presuming a lot. But I’ve also had so many people express similar sentiments to my face that it’s probably more than an educated guess.

In the course of my life, as a visibly Asian person living in Australia (well, born and bred, if I’m to be precise), it is quite normal for me to answer questions from white people on what it is like to be Asian. I have two distinct reactions to this topic of conversation.

If we are having an in-depth discussion amongst friends, in which a true sensitivity, empathy and curiosity is displayed amongst those involved, then I will have a grand old time. Race is one of my favourite topics. Add some sort of chocolate dessert, and I’m having the best night of my life, and will probably end the conversation with a reverent monologue on actor John Cho’s handsomeness.

If, however, the questions are dumb and somewhat ignorant, I am going to get annoyed and try to politely explain why.

An annoying type of comment is along the lines of, “You’re Asian, and I know someone else who is Asian, and therefore their experience and life will be the exact same as yours.” I have included examples of such questions below.

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These comments and questions seem innocuous, even well-meaning, but sometimes they make me feel bad about myself. And that’s because I’m left feeling like I’m an Asian prototype, or a sample.

I feel objectified, and as though my human experience is reduced to being the prototype for someone else’s life and understanding, because I am visibly “other”.

Here’s an example. Often, people will say that I remind them of their Asian friend from high school, or their Asian colleague, or their Asian daughter-in-law. They will say that we are so exactly the same that it’s uncanny! Unless the person they are talking about is kick-ass actress Constance Wu, I will probably be bummed out about it.

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This is because I feel like I am not being understood or treated as an individual. Instead, I’m seen as a prototype or version of their friend/colleague/daughter-in-law. It’s clearly not based on our similar personalities; it’s because of our ethnicity.

Sometimes I will have the pleasure of meeting this friend/colleague/daughter-in-law, only to find that not only do they look nothing like me (she’ll be tall and skinny with high cheekbones; I’m small and curvy and need to wear a lot of highlighter), they will also have a totally different personality.

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No human being can be a prototype. We’re all originals. And one-offs need all the special care and sensitivity they can get. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could all treat each other as though we were unique, but not peculiar?

Just for fun, here’s some questions and comments that I hear on a regular basis that give me that prototype-vibe, and what I wish I could REALLY say in response.

“My brother’s wife is also Chinese. Do you and your husband want to have a double date with them?”

Do I know your brother? No. Do I know his wife? No. Therefore, I do not want to hang out with them.

I am sure they are lovely, but I have two little kids and have to pay a babysitter if I want a night out with my husband. I don’t think I want to spend that babysitting money on two randoms.

Also, this logic just doesn’t work. Does this mean that I should have dinner with everyone in China, plus any Chinese migrants? Because that’s a lot of people. I don’t have enough days left in my life to have a meal with every single Chinese person on earth.

asian stereotypes
"Often, people will say that I remind them of their Asian friend from high school, or their Asian colleague, or their Asian daughter-in-law." (Image: Supplied)

“My son’s girlfriend is Asian, and so my grandchildren will look exactly like yours!”

Exactly like my children? Exactly? Look, the only way for your grandchildren to look even similar to my children is if I have unprotected sex with your son. Which I am not doing, because a) I’m happily married, and b) gross, and finally c) I grew up in the 90’s listening to Salt-N-Pepa, and if I learnt anything at all from that era, it was USE A CONDOM. Sorry, it’s not gonna happen.

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Seriously, though, this is an annoying thing to say, because it implies that all Eurasian people look the same, which they don’t.

“Eurasian babies are so beautiful!”

Really? Are they ALL beautiful? Look, to be real, there are people who are good-looking, and people who are normal. We are all given different gifts, and beauty is a rare one. Also, physical attractiveness is so subjective.

Although it is a compliment, I actually hate comments about one particular race or racial mix being beautiful, because it is so objectifying.

asian prototype
"No human being can be a prototype. We’re all originals." (Image: Supplied)

The truth is that I have never said any of these things. Usually, I smile, maybe agree, and ask sweet questions. “Oh, your daughter-in-law sounds lovely,” I’ll say, and that’s because she does. I wish that I didn’t get so angry about comments that are meant in kindness.

And that’s just the thing: a prototype is made to please, and show you a version of something that’s great. Maybe one day, I’ll get better at understanding my identity, and the way I’m perceived. But for now, I’ll stare back, and think about it.

Carla Gee is a Sydney writer, illustrator and podcaster. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.

Is there a question that annoys you? Have you ever felt like a prototype?