Time to celebrate my Chinese roots

MY PAPER, TUESDAY FEBRUARY 1, 2011, PAGE A10, LIFESTYLE (VIEWPOINTS)
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Source Website: http://www.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne%2BNews/Asian%2BOpinions/Story/A1Story20110201-261438.html
By JILL ALPHONSO, myp@sph.com.sg, Tue, Feb 01, 2011, my paper



PHOTO: I was raised in a modern way, and my parents did not hold me to tradition. But one unspoken rule was this: Turn up at the reunion dinner, come hell or high water, because po po and gong gong like to have their grandchildren there.
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PHOTO: JILL ALPHONSO
MY PAPER MONDAY MARCH 1, 2010, A13 - A14, MY TRAVEL


EACH Chinese New Year, I have cause to reflect on exactly how Chinese I am - which is to say, not very.

Yet, I participate in the annual reunion dinner with my maternal relatives, and show up at my granny's house from day one to day three like a dutiful grandchild.

It is the one time of the year that I actually feel, for want of a better word, "Chinese".

I am of mixed stock. The "Alphonso" in my name will hint that I am officially classified as Eurasian - a term I don't particularly identify with. I refer to myself as hapa, a Hawaiian term used for people of mixed descent.

For me, it seems to imply lesser ethnic leanings since it generally refers to an Asian or Pacific Islander who is "half" of something else.

It appeals to me as I was raised pretty much colour-blind. Really, there was no other choice.

I am somewhat Chinese, my maternal grandfather having come from Taiwanese stock (so we were told).

My grandmother came from China, but was raised by an aunt in Sitiawan in Malaysia.

From my father's side of the family, I get Japanese, Sri Lankan and Scottish blood. I look, apart from my 1.83m frame, wide hips and large feet, Chinese.

Cab drivers attempt conversation in Mandarin with me, and are often met with confused silence.

Hawkers look to me for an order in Mandarin, and are baffled when I cannot respond.

When I need to, I am able to ask where the toilets are and tell waiters I would like a table for two in Mandarin.

Anything other than that is a stretch, especially since in secondary school, German - and not Chinese - was my second language. I'd failed Chinese over and over in primary school, and had had it with the humiliation.

But language doesn't define how one feels, and a part of me does identify with my Chinese heritage. This was most apparent when I felt as though I was losing my grip on it.

Going to university in Hawaii, and subsequently working in Seattle in Washington state, I missed all things Chinese.

Sure, both American states have healthy enough Chinese populations. I re-learnt the basics of the Chinese language in college, and I could order char siew pau, if I wanted to, from a 24-hour dimsum place in Seattle.

But I missed the culture I'd grown up in terribly, while to missing my family terribly at the same time.

Within my mother's family, the world made a certain kind of sense.

My non-traditional mother, despite all her rebellion and moxie, had strict values passed on to her from her parents - values she held me to and, in holding me to them, was passing them on to me.

And the hierarchy in our family was clear - elders first, always, and in all things.

None of this existed for me away from home.

And at home, Chinese New Year was a touchstone where I would see cousins turning up at the reunion dinner to pay their respects to their elders and spend time with them.

On the following days, I would get to see extended family members whose names I'd forget during the rest of the year. I would enjoy their company for those few hours.

During my years away, I missed all that with a horrible vengeance, feeling like I was far away from my roots.

That included the sense that I am, at least, somewhat Chinese.

Sure, I was raised in a modern way, and my parents did not hold me to tradition. But one unspoken rule was this: Turn up at the reunion dinner, come hell or high water, because po po and gong gong like to have their grandchildren there.

I have not, except in extraneous circumstances, disobeyed.

I will expect my children, when I eventually have them, to abide by the same rule, no matter how hapa they are.

So, to answer my own question of "How Chinese am I?" I say: Not very.

But the part of me that is sings very loudly during Chinese New Year indeed.

Gong xi, everybody.
By JILL ALPHONSO, myp@sph.com.sg, Tue, Feb 01, 2011, my paper



PHOTO: And at home, Chinese New Year was a touchstone where I would see cousins turning up at the reunion dinner to pay their respects to their elders and spend time with them.
http://travelerfolio.com/travelerfolio/photos/hallstatt_austria_01-590x442.jpg
http://travelerfolio.com/hallstatt-austria/



HELPDESK
我的字典: Wǒ de zì diǎn


Dutiful: 顺从的 - shùn cóng de
Heritage: 文化遗产 - wén huà yí chǎn
Non-traditional: 非传统的 - fēi chuán tǒng de
Unspoken rule: 潜规则 - qián guī zé



PHOTO: JILL ALPHONSO
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Reference

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