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Growing Up Asian In Australia

3 September 2012

Yep, that’s me, top row, second from left

This year I’ve had the lovely opportunity to talk at a few schools about my piece in Growing Up Asian In Australia. I’m so pleased this anthology is on the VCE English curriculum, as I think it makes for great reading. There’s such a wide range of stories in the book; writers of all ages and backgrounds telling some very personal tales.

I remember when I first heard the call-out for this anthology I was desperate – desperate! – to be included. I was Asian! I was Australian too! I hadn’t had any books published at that stage, but I had been lucky to get quite a few short stories out there in the wider world. They had all been fictional though, and this had to be memoir. I thought that because I could write fiction I would be able to write non-fiction – I was wrong. Writing my story, `How to be Japanese’, was an agonising experience. I had to drag every recalcitrant sentence out, word-by-word. I worried about how much to tell, how honest to be, and what people would think. My words were plodding and boring until I finally learned to think of myself as a character in a story, in effect to write non-fiction as if it was fiction.

Given that the anthology has been out for a few years now (it was first published in 2008), and because I know students are sometimes asked to read and comment on my story, I’ve jotted down some of my thoughts in case they are of help.

  • I bet for some of you, when you first found out this was a text you had to read for English, you groaned. Why should you have to read about being an Asian-Australian, when that might not be your background? Of course, when I read the stories in GUAIA, I relate to them quite strongly. But I think everyone can relate to them. The stories aren’t really about being Asian-Australian per se, they’re about more universal questions, like: how do I know who I am? what makes me feel like I belong? what does it mean to be different? what does it feel like to be different, or the same?
  • I always think it’s a bit funny when I go into schools to talk about GUAIA, because FFS, I spend most of the first page discussing my boobs (or lack of boobs, really). Saying the word `boobs’ in front of students usually gets one of two reactions: laughter or deathly silence. Both are fine. Here is a photo of my imposter Photoshop boobs, and the ad I discuss in my story:

All natural. No, really.

  • I have changed my feelings and opinions quite a bit since I wrote this story, even though it was only four years ago. While it’s hard to quantify and describe, I feel a lot less hung-up about how people, especially men, regard my looks, and what it might or might not mean in terms of cultural/gender stereotypes. These days I just think, meh, whatever (you can put that in your essay if you like, `meh, whatever.’ Teachers will love it).
  • My lasting feelings about my story revolve around how easy it is to judge people on how they look, or how they present themselves. I know I’m guilty of it all the time, and I find myself having to be constantly vigilant on what judgements I make (even what appear to be small and harmless assumptions). I often show students this pic:

and say, while I may not choose to dress like this, all I can really say for sure about this young woman is that she really liked cats.

And then I tell them about this really fabulous performance butoh performer Yumi Umiumare does where she gets a Hello Kitty bag stuck on her head and dances to techno, and somehow becomes a demonic cute Hello Kitty creature.  THE END.

Comments

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  1. Maggie, Young Adult Anonymous

    I was going to write something profound about growing up Asian in America, but my main reaction is: OMG Leanne, you were in an Asahi ad!! :)

    • leannehall

      Haha, pretty funny, huh? The anthology is brilliant, maybe I should send you a copy and you can do an Asian in America review!

  2. Larita Late

    If you’re a man who’d like to meet and date Asian women for friendship or marriage, you’re definitely not alone. The Asian woman, with her beauty and traditional values is very desirable, especially to a society that seems to be losing its way with happiness in relationships. Not many will argue this fact as divorce rates go through the roof, and men seem to be more miserable than ever…

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    • leannehall

      This spam was too good not to approve!

  3. Prakash

    I’m so glad you added that picture of you in the Asahi ad, I’ve been given your story to analyse and discuss in class and showing the picture will make it all the more appropriate for myself and my fellow peers to really dissect the importance that your breasts play in this piece… Just kidding! 😀

    • leannehall

      Haha, well yeah, they’re part of the story, so you probably will have to discuss them. Nicely, please. I had no idea the anthology would ever wind up as part of high school curriculum when I wrote my story! L