The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

我是中國人

on March 21, 2015

In case you haven’t noticed I am Chinese. I am also British. In global Chinese circles I am known as a BBC, as in British Born Chinese. The US version is an ABC. Figure that one out. 



It’s not something I usually spend a lot of time pondering. I live my life as me. Sometimes I’m speaking Chinese, well Hakka which is the New Territories dialect my whole clan speak. Sometimes I’m speaking Cantonese. Sometimes I’m speaking Mandarin very poorly and following up with a lot of nodding and reverting back to English. Mostly I’m speaking English. Which I speak very well. It’s only contested occasionally when Husband thinks I’ve injected too many Geordie influenced elongated vowels into conversation. 


So why am I pondering this now? Well, a little belatedly because I was too busy talking about my running progress to talk about Chinese New Year a few weeks back. The new Lunar New Year began a month ago on Thursday, 19 February 2015. Signalling the end of winter and the start of spring. Of new beginnings. Of a quest for better luck, better fortune, better health for all. 


It is now the Year of the Sheep. Or is it the Year of the Ram? Or maybe’s it’s the Year of the Goat? It caused quite a bit of confusion. For sheep and goat are quite different animals are they not? I think so. But the Chinese character is the same for both. 



So every year on social media I wish everyone Gung Hey Fat Choi/Gong Xi Fa Cai. Good health and prosperity. Peace in your family and may you achieve all that you wish for. Written in both Chinese and English. And every year, I get a comment from Big Brother Li and Lil Bro expressing surprise at how ‘good’ my Chinese is. Every year. Without fail. I don’t go on about how good their English is.


Truth be told, my Chinese is not that good. It’s so basic that even #1 and 2 are surpassing me. Something I realised over the Chinese New Year holidays when #1 and 2 were able to recite a full Chinese New Year poem to me. And when #1 asked me to read a billboard poster for Goldilocks and the Three Bears written in Chinese, then proceeded to tell me the characters that he could read. I’m really impressed with what he’s picked up. #2 has the intonations spot on. They have the potential to be fluent in Mandarin Chinese and I intend to help them along with it. And whilst we’re at it, I should take the opportunity to improve my own. It’s much better than six years ago when I could hardly follow a basic conversation in Mandarin Chinese. Now I can garner the gist of most things. If they speak really slowly. And loudly.



One of the great things about living this Expat Life is that it is a truly multicultural environment for us to live in. We are amongst many nationalities, cultures and languages. For a long time #1 identified himself as the only Chinese person in our family because he could speak Mandarin Chinese. I was English because I only speak English but as he gets older, he has a growing understanding of the different nationalities around us. That different countries celebrate different traditions and at school they are encouraged to learn more about the wider world and to embrace the differences that we all bring.


And so, I love living my life as me and part of that life has had strong Chinese influences that will never leave me. Influences that will be passed onto #1, 2 and 3.  They are not inherently ‘Chinese’ influences. They just happen to be values important to my Dad, Mr Li and my Mum that I respect greatly. 



Having grown up in the UK, of course I’ve been influenced mostly by my environment. We always celebrated Chinese New Year, mid Autumn festival and some other festival of the hungry ghosts but I only remember my mum making these really yummy rice dumplings. Every festival is celebrated with food and usually it’s the food that I remember most rather than the meaning of the festival.


So it is just as well that we’re spending all this time in Singapore that is a mix of cultures. It’s rather fair of them to allocate two public holidays a year to each faith. It is whilst living in Singapore that I have learnt more about my Chinese heritage and embraced it more so than I would have done without having this experience. And it is important to celebrate what makes us different. So long as we are inclusive of this celebration with everyone around us.


I especially like how #1 and 2 are learning the history behind the celebrations and not just look forward to these festivals because we get to eat pineapple tarts and mooncakes at certain times of the year. I like how they are teaching me the stories behind the Chinese animal zodiac signs and the relevance of why certain customs are followed. 



Embracing cultural identity is important. It provides us with history and a connection to our ancestors and bridge the gap between grandparents and grandchildren. It can provide a sense of belonging too. It should not exclude us. Neither should we be mocked for not knowing much about our cultural heritage, whatever that may be. We should educate each other and share in the celebration of all festivals. 


For who isn’t happy celebrating something good?




 

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