Tag Archives: Chinese

Mah Jongg with the Aunties

We had just finished lunch at my Wifey’s parents house.   The taste of spicy curry was still swirling in my mouth.  The kids were screaming and running around the freezing pool outside, trying to escape the humidity of the evaporative air-conditioning.

It was suggested that we play some Mah Johngg, a Chinese tile based game sort of like Gin Rummy.  I had played before when I was a kid, but I have always been apprehensive to play with the Aunties.  My speed of play would be too slow for them, they’d have to explain the rules to me, and help me read the Chinese characters that I can’t read.

But I was allowed in!  I quickly tried to memorise all the numeric character tiles.  I couldn’t be bothered about the winds.

And then it was on.  A whole $1 at stake! 

At the end of the first round, I was up 30 cents!  The aunties couldn’t believe it.  Beginner’s luck?  How could this Australian born Chinese even know how to play mah jongg? Was it bad for me to win?  Would that be disgracing the older generation?  I didn’t care – I made 30 cents and I could feel the tendrils of gambling addiction starting to creep into my body. 

Suddenly I won another 40 cents!  Small fry think the Aunties.  Aunty across from me said she’s going in for the kill.  No point winning little bits at a time with a small number of doubles.  The real way to play is to win really really BIG. 

The afternoon was moving along and Wifey was starting to nag me to leave.  But I thought – one more game – I was up nearly a whole dollar!

But boy was that a bad decision – said Aunty across from me wiped us all out.  Suddenly I was down like 5 cents.  Where had my beginner’s luck gone?  Had Wifey stolen it with bad karma by saying I sholdn’t have played this round?

Wifey said I really had to go now before I lost more money and I reluctantly complied.  My mother-in-law took my spot and promised to win back big for us. 

On the drive home, I got an email saying she had won BIG for us!  Ahh..  I really am still a grasshopper – a young padawan Mah Jongg player with much to learn.

Thoughts on Why Chinese Mothers are Superior

Last week, WSJ blogger Amy Chua posted a controversial post titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html), supposedly an excerpt from a book called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

I read it with a smile on my face.  Some of the things she wrote is true about some Chinese parent’s attitudes to education and parenting but they are sweeping generalisations.  In my own experience, I’m an Australian Born Chinese (ABC).  Also known as banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside).  My parents were strict, but not that strict.  But still I can definitely relate to being scared bringing my school report home from school, being encouraged to do more homework than prescribed, I did learn the violin and piano and my extra-curricular activities was basically only music related.  But I was allowed to watch TV, go in school plays, play computer games, etc.

Amy’s post has caused an “uproar” in some areas of the blogging community for all sorts of reasons and I read many of the thoughtful responses over the weekend.

I really don’t know where to start but firstly, I feel sorry for her kids.  Instead of the selfish and conceited title “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior“, maybe the post should be titled “Why Chinese children don’t have as much fun“.  Now that I’ve done my high school, university and have worked for many years, I wonder whether it’s actually worth it.  For example, what’s the point of scoring 100% if you only need 80% to get into the course you want?  Once you’re in the workforce, no-one really cares what you scored for what test, how highly placed you were at High School or University.  True there is a certain level of scores that you may need to progress to the next step or open up more opportunities, but come on..   A instead of an A+?  Taking a few more months to learn The Little White Donkey?

Perhaps these “Chinese children” could do extra-curricular activities that they want, study a bit less, have friends over, watch some TV each week, have more a more fun and varied childhood, yet still get into the course they want if that’s the ultimate goal?  I guess a cynic could read the article and think, wow, Chinese kids must be pretty dumb if they need so much tuition!  And in the end they still get the same jobs as caucasians. 

Yes I’ve been westernised having been born and brought up in Australia (a second gen Chinese Australian), but to me, happiness, self discipline, self responsibility, learning consequences from your own decisions and actions is more important that an extra percent mark on a test.  

Yes I see the value in teaching your kids not to give up if things get hard, that they have the potential to achieve greatly if you put in the effort (10,000 hours?), but is it worth the expense of other facets of a once in a lifetime childhood?  Life and time is precious.  There are things that one would only experience or do as a child in school.

Unfortunately Amy doesn’t touch on the point that I suspect sometimes some Chinese parents are doing this for themselves.  It can sometimes be a sort of “show”, upholding their parents pride or face.  So you can boast that your child learnt Whizzbang Etude No. 2 at the age of 3 with their right hand only and can play it blindfolded backwards.  Or disgrace to your entire family name if you took 1 year to learn The Little White Donkey instead of your cousin who took only 2 weeks.   Maybe this is related to the piano and violin thing.   What’s the point in saying your daughter/son can play all of John Coltrane’s sax solos at the 7 if all your Chinese parent friends only measure success by violin and piano Suzuki book numbers.   Perhaps it’s some in built genetic self preservation mechanism – that if their kids do well, they’ll be successful, earn lots of money, and thus have the money to be able to look after the parents when they’re older.   And what with being number 1?  By definition, there can ONLY BE ONE PERSON at the number 1 position.   What about everyone else in the class/school/country/world?  Are they failures?   Shouldn’t you be happy if your child genuinely tried their hardest?

Now that I’m in the workforce, I’ve learnt that academic scores, although impressive, is not really useful if you don’t have strong people, social or communication skills, haven’t had varied life experiences, don’t take pride in personal presentation, haven’t contributed to the local community or  had team building and leadership experiences, through sports or clubs.  I think these things make a much more well rounded human than one who just did rote learning for hours on end, who is scared to score an A instead of A+ in every maths test, who is brought up with the mantra that they have failed if they’re not the top of the class or was forced to learn an instrument that they didn’t want to.  How about your child trying hard and doing the best they can and if they do, you being proud of that?

One of the things that the post raises that frustrates me is the attitude towards music.  Yes, Chinese children may be forced to learn the violin and piano, but when it comes to university/college, often they are strongly DISCOURAGED from taking up music as a profession.  You must be a doctor or lawyer instead right?   Many end up dropping their musical instrument altogether, perhaps suggesting that it was forced upon them instead of playing for the love of it – perhaps even psychologically ruining their attitude towards music later in life.   And I also hear some rare stories of people who have done the medical, law thing but then after a few years, given it up to do music instead.  If “Chinese mothers” are investing so much of their time and effort into their children to learn a musical instrument, and their children are good at it, then shouldn’t they encourage them to follow through with this into their adult lives?

And the other thing I’m frustrated about – as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, I’m seeing younger and younger kids nowadays play musical repetoire that is YEARS beyond their emotional maturity.  Should a 7 year old even be playing The Little White Donkey?  A talented pianist might be able to play the notes, but are they actually making music?  Does it matter if a 5 year old can play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto like a robot with no genuine feeling of love, romance, longing?

As some other blogs have said, this is a complex issue and everyone’s got their own thoughts.  If anything, this has made people reflect on their own parenting styles and how much influence their heritage/ancestry/own upbringing has played on their parenting style.   Also, many of the things Amy raises is not specific to just Chinese parents either.   There’s no doubt that Amy Chua loves her children.  Everyone has different ways of showing love, and ultimately, as long as her children realise that what she is doing is because that’s the way she’s choosing to show her love and dedication, then all is OK right?

The sad thing is that I’ve read that Amy Chua didn’t have any say into the WSJ piece, and that it’s an edited piece of various parts of her book, which coincidentally has launched into the Top 10.   Is this all just a marketing ploy to generate interest in the book?  Have we been sucked in?

Fried Rice

I think every Chinese family must have their own Fried Rice recipe.   My mother’s one, my mother-in-law’s one, our own family one’s, the Chinese takeaway down the road – we all have slightly different takes on this dish.

So, after quite a few adventures in cooking in the school holidays without Wifey, I had to go back to a “staple” that I know the kids would eat heartily.

Frying it up in the wok

Nothing too exotic about this one, but the biggest surprise was when the kids said it tasted just as good as Mum’s 🙂


However, when I described my recipe to my Mum, she was appalled that I didn’t cook the rice the night before and put it in the fridge.  Oops!

Where do you come from?

At a function on the weekend, I got talking to an elderly lady.  One of the first questions she asked me was “Where do you come from?”.

I used to get annoyed when I got this question, but now I prefer to surprise people.  Being an Australian born Chinese (a banana as they say), there’s a few ways I can answer this question.

And so I replied, “I’m from Australia.  I was actually born and raised in Australia!”

Confused look.

“I was born at St John of God’s in Subiaco.  And was raised and went to school here in Perth.”

Surprised look.

“But my parents are from Singapore.  My ancestry is Chinese.”

“But I can’t speak any Cantonese or Mandarin.”

Confused look again.

Yep, although I may “look” Chinese and was raised with Chinese values, I consider myself 100% Australian.  My parents lived in Singapore before they came to Australia, but my Dad was born in Malaysia, and lived in Hong Kong for some of his life.   But I’m “Chinese” – so up my family tree somewhere must be people from China.

I guess it’s a loaded question – the “where do you come from?”   It could mean, where were you born?  Where did you grow up?  Where are your ancestors from?  Or what race are you?

It gets even more confusing when we travel overseas.   In Rome last year, Wifey and I had to explain that we’re from Australia but we look Chinese.  Sometimes people just don’t get that concept.   The funniest experience though was conversing with someone in French when were in Italy.  Yep, a Chinese raced Australian speaking French in Italy to a North African. 

Today, I asked the kids whether they get that question at all, at school or elsewhere.  They’re 2nd generation Australian born Chinese.

Miss 8 looks at me weirdly that shrugs and says no – no-one asks her that.  I think the younger kids don’t really care – they’re more used to multi-culturalism. No – it’s not even that – I think the colour of your skin or how you look doesn’t even matter.

So I asked Miss 8 again, “What would you say if someone asked you ‘Where do you come from?'”.

She has that confused look on her face again, and replied “From Australia.. duhhh!”.


Then I thought – all the people in Australia. Unless you’re Aboriginal, we are only 221 years old – with an average generation of 25 years, you’d be at most an 8th or 9th generation Australian.. only if you are a convict descendant.    Australia is pretty young..  nearly everyone would come from somewhere else.

Maybe in the future I should reply, “so where do YOU come from?”