This post was originally published on an old blog; Secret Sunday
I’m eleven years old on a holiday at the Gold Coast with some of my closest family friends. My godbrother is eight years old at the time. In my assertion that we should go visit the 24 hour Kmart, he tugs at my shirt in urgency with something to say
‘It’s dangerous at night. I heard that when people drive on the road and they see us walking, they will throw water at us’
Fast-forward to yesterday as I boarded the bus and made a beeline for the back seats. With my iPod plugged in, my consciousness is partially submerged yet the people talking near me get progressively harder ignore. It only dawns on me later that the reason this is so is because they are trying to talk to me.
Hi says, Bintang Singlet. Hi, hi, hi, hi, hi he continues until our eyes lock. Without taking my earphones out I offer a weak smile and a hi in return. Bintang Singlet and company erupt into laughter. Can she speak English they ask each other, what did she just say, can you believe these Asian people. More rhetorical questions ensue, discussing where I’m from and what my people are like before they end on how poorly Thais speak English but it’s okay because Thailand is cheap.
I am not Thai. But Bintang Singlet’s disregard for that affronts me in a way that makes me wish I was so I could say these things to him. That his passport should have been rejected at immigration. That the people of Thailand should not have shown him amazing hospitality and beautiful heritage. And most of all that Thailand should not have given them cheap shopping and cheap food because Thailand is anything but, that as a country it is the opposite. Thailand is rich in one of the most amazing cultures I have ever experienced. And with nothing changing in the past five minutes except for the conversation between Bintang Singlet and I, I am suddenly painfully aware of what colour I am, the degree in which my eyes slant, my height, and all the things that do not and have never defined who I am. The water thrown on me is frighteningly cold.
Even though I know the only reason Asia treats foreigners like kings is because we want their currency. And that RedBull T-shirt printing must be one of Thailand’s greatest assets because people will not stop buying them and pretending it’s a sign that their holiday has made them any more culturally aware than they were before (deep breath, and the answer is that it hasn’t).
I just don’t understand how people like Bintang Singlet still exist. People you want to shake and ask where they were a couple of years ago when one of their biggest law firms merged with China’s third biggest. That brilliant Asian girls are getting headhunted by top universities in New South Wales. Where in a world where Eurasian babies are praised, fusion food is classy and your prime minister speaks Mandarin, how is it that racial discrimination is still possible.
Prove them wrong is what our diaspora says. Work more, study smarter and show them all that race, culture and ethnicity are not what the real world trades in. But does the world get any more real than a typical bus trip down to the city? And in my quest to be harder, better, faster, stronger, whose ego am I pacifying? Frankly it doesn’t matter that I got Band 6 in English and undertook English Extension with only two years in their Australian education system. That I am enrolled in a combined degree of Business and Law in their Australian university. I could work myself to a breaking point in this “multicultural country” but at the end of the day, it is not me. I am not the one that needs to be educated.