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.

Love the Christian and Chinese Way

As I am writing this editorial, Good Friday and Easter draw near. These two days in the Christian calendar always make me think of the universal concept of love.

Love is the most powerful of all forces that drives the human being. Anywhere. Anytime. Love is life. For Christians, Easter symbolises the renewal of life through love as a creative force.

It is my belief that a human being’s destiny is driven by this one force above any others: love.

Intrinsic in love is also the need to create. To create is to be engaged in the energy of love. Thus love is an experience as well as a process that creates. Continue reading “Love the Christian and Chinese Way”