According to my kombucha-making, Grey’s Anatomy-loving, 59-year-old mother, there have only been two truly difficult periods in her life. The time right after she got married in 1986 and the years after she moved to Australia in 1991.
At the age of 31, my mum, Susan, moved her entire life from Shanghai to Sydney in search of a ‘better life’. Three decades ago, the Chinese city was not the sprawling metropolis it is today. This combined with rigid class structures, conservative values and a lack of opportunity, thousands of immigrants like my mum left their homes for a more progressive and hopeful future.
Like many other children of immigrant parents, my brother and I are the result of my parents’ hard work and sacrifices, and yet she describes that period of her life in a calm and seemingly unaffected manner.
“It wasn’t the material side, it was emotionally difficult,” she recalled, speaking to me over the phone as I quiz her about her immigrant experience.
One of the few times we’ve ever talked about it.
“In China you’re established but in Australia, I felt like I couldn’t do anything. You can’t speak properly and you can’t show your ability, so you can’t help but doubt yourself.
“You’ll always miss your own country. I missed my friends and family. In Australia you have your husband and your kids but it’s difficult to make friends. You can’t talk as deeply and the language is a big barrier.”
Like many first-generation Asian Australians, I'm aware of how different my adult years living out-of-home in Sydney look in comparison to my parents. While re-studying to be a nurse, she got her first job bottling juice in a now upmarket Sydney suburb for $9 an hour, while my dad worked as a kitchen hand and waiter. His 'English' name, Bill, wasn't inspired by a celebrity or movie, but given to him because he was given the 'bills' to process at the restaurant where he worked.
In comparison, I now work in a profession I studied for at university, just a few suburbs away from where my parents got their start.
There's a lot that's been written about the the relationship between Asian immigrant parents and their children. The term 'tiger mum' gets thrown around, as does the stereotype of the super strict, academically-minded matriarch whose high standards are matched with her hatred of sleepovers, dating and the f-word: fun.
And while some of it can be true - it all comes from a good place. A place where that mother wants to give their child the opportunities they didn't have - something parents the world over can relate to.