What I Love About Australia – A Chinese View Of Holy Days In Oz

melbourne cup dayWhat l love about Australia is that we do things differently here. Most cultures celebrate their big days which are usually holy days or days related to something semi “sacred”, for example, Chinese New Year, which is actually the Spring Harvest in traditional China. Its semi sacred status derives from the Chinese view of food as being sacred especially rice. I remember as a child that I was reprimanded severely for sitting on top of the rice bin that was a sacred object.

In Oz, we celebrate, a race day! For newly arrived Chinese, this must seem odd. Having a public holiday on a weekday Tuesday to watch horses race! Why not? I love watching all the crazy hats the women wear on Cup Day, not to mention seeing Aussie blokes geared up in their suits and top hats. For me, a Chinese woman, wearing hats is to keep off the sun. Here in Oz, hats are for show on Cup Day.

Another day is the celebration of the AFL Footy Final! Yippee! Have a Friday as a holiday. Why not? Football is to be celebrated for many reasons. It keeps the players fit and healthy, especially if they start young. It is for boys and girls. Above all, footy is good for business. Big business.

The more seriously sacred days that Aussies celebrate are ANZAC day and Remembrance Day. For foreigners new to Aussie culture, please do not say or do anything to offend us regarding these two holy days. On these two days, we remember those who died for us in many wars that Aussies have fought in since 1914-18. As I was born towards the end of the Second World War 1939-1945, I particularly want to remember my father who was working for the Royal Australian Airforce then. When he married my mother in 1940 (just before the Japanese invasion of British Malaya) his Aussie colleagues at the RAAF formed a “guard of honor” for Mum and Dad as a kind of congratulatory salute. Nice story told to us by my Mum. So in all the years I have lived in Australia, I love watching the parade on ANZAC day.

 

Remembrance Day on the 11th day, 11th month and at the 11th hour, we stand for a minute in silence to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Lest we forget… for me I remember especially the cans of Kraft cheese the Aussie and British soldiers gave us when they landed in Malaya after the Japanese surrendered. So each Remembrance Day in Melbourne for over 50 years, I see in my mind’s eyes, the little cans of cheese which are no longer sold in OZ.

Now to the really sacred days in Australia, Good Friday, Easter and Christmas. Although many Australians describe themselves as “not religious, but spiritual”, Australian mainstream institutions are essentially Christian. In this respect, we celebrate Good Friday as the day that Jesus died and resurrected on Easter Monday. These two days, we declare as public holidays in Australia. Christmas is the day that Jesus Christ was born. So on Christmas day, we celebrate with families and many Aussies do go to church during Christmas in remembrance of Christ’ birthday. As a day of deep religious significance for many Australians, Christmas brings us, Asian and European Christians together alike together as no other day can do in a country or continent that is so diverse in so many important things that matter in our lives: family, work and leisure.

As my thoughts ramble along merrily in this last editorial for 2018, it occurs to me now that there is very little difference between our Chinese festivals and that of Australia’s. Aussies and Chinese celebrate Christmas. China celebrates their National Day similar to our Australia Day. Chinese New Year is celebrated by the Chinese in Australia and each year it gets bigger and merrier. So, for the year of the Pig, 2019, no doubt all our Chinatowns in OZ will be noisy and filled with food and goodies. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year of the piggy. Abundance symbolised by the pig is in store for us all in 2019: in health, wealth and love!

christmas-wishes

 

Us And Them, We : How Do We Get To We?

Recently while training a group of young Asian Australians on cross-cultural communication skills, I was jolted out of my brain when one of them asked this question:

“How is it that when I (“I” is a Vietnamese Australian in his 20s) talk to my students’ parents (Asian Australians), I feel uncomfortable, kinda of awkward?”

My on-the-spot reply to Steven and the class:

“This is because your unconscious culture is Vietnamese, shaped by the Confucianistic ethic which your Vietnamese parents had acquired, and in turn passed onto to you and shaped your own unconscious culture. It is a hierarchical culture. Meanwhile, you were brought up in Australia. The predominating culture of Australia is egalitarian. The hierarchical culture (derived from your family Confucianistic ethic) conflicts with the egalitarian culture of Australia which is derived from the Tall Poppy Syndrome as well as the Christian principle: In the eyes of God, all men are created equal. Tall Poppy Syndrome

 

Therefore when communicating with your Asian Australian customers, you are indecisive as to whether you should treat them in a hierarchical or egalitarian way. If you revert to the Vietnamese child in your unconscious, the hierarchical way would direct you to behave more formally as you are younger than your Asian Australian customers. However, the Australian adult in you is also pushing you to behave more informally and treating these customers as your equals. Hence the Vietnamese child and the adult Australian in you are having a little struggle in your unconscious”.

Australian Born Chinese

This Q & A with Steven and his colleagues leads me to contemplate on the Us and Them dilemma confronting all of us Asian Australians no matter which ethnic background we come from: Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, etc. When we talk about Us, who do we mean ?  By the same token, when White Anglo Australians use the word “we”or “us”, who do they mean?  The other day, some Chinese Australians were discussing this question and one of them said: “When people in Australia use the word “Australian”, they mean White Anglo Australians. Asians don’t use the word “Asian” to refer to ourselves. We usually say Chinese or Vietnamese.”

All these words and ideas are food for further thought indeed especially now when there is so much talk about diversity and inclusion and multi-culturalism, “that we are many but we are one” as the song goes.

Many Shades of Yellow: The Chinese Challenge

So you want to know me and I am Chinese. Where do you begin? You may wonder.

The language, the people or the food? The word Chinese, like the Chinese people themselves, can have many meanings. We, the Chinese people, can have many shades of yellow, in other word. We speak over a hundred dialects but have only one language. Chinese people all over the world have only a hundred surnames yet these can sound different from dialect to dialect. Contradictions and paradoxes, that is what we are, the 1.4 billion of us in China and the 26 million plus (no one really know the exact figure) of “overseas” Chinese found outside mainland China, dispersed all over the planet.

Chinese lanterns Another interesting fact about Chinese people is that not all of us can really understand one another if we do not speak Mandarin (or another common language such as English). Now, here the drama starts. If two Chinese people from two different dialect groups, for example, Cantonese & Hokkien, speaking only their respective dialects and not in Mandarin, they will not understand each other. They are much like a German and French person trying to communicate in their respective languages. However, unlike the German and the French person, this Cantonese and Hokkien duo can understand each other if they write in Chinese characters and even then, this can be challenging if one of them write in simplified characters and the other uses the traditional form. Those who use the simplified Chinese characters are mainland Chinese usually born after the 1950s.

Chinese food

We have many cuisines but all of use chopsticks if rice is served in a bowl. It is very rare that Chinese will use chopsticks if rice is served on a plate. There are many different Chinese cuisines varying from northern China to the south in Guangdong, Shenzen & Hong Kong. Most people out in the West, like Australians, are familiar with Cantonese cuisine  such as sweet and sour pork, fried rice, etc and these dishes are often bland without chillies. In Northern China, in cities such as Xian and Chengdu for instance, this is not the case. Hot peppers are used very often in the diverse dishes, challenging our nostrils with every mouthful. Peking Duck from Beijing and san choy baofrom Hong Kong, these two dishes are as different as a Beijing man and a Cantonese man. In the same vein, note another interesting fact. In spite of these differences all Chinese people share the same birthday.All of us turn a year older on Chinese New Year day in the lunar calendar. Another critical similarity lies in all Chinese psyche no matter what our differences and contradictions are: our unconscious culture is driven by the san jiao: three teachings. These three great teachings are Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Understanding what these three teachings are and how they are connected to the Chinese psyche will enable us to manage Chinese in all social and business encounters, such as marriage and negotiations.

 

Yes, we Chinese are full of contradictions and paradoxes. That make us challenging to know. Perhaps a workshop may help.