(It would be unthinkable to write this article if I was a white person.)
In honour of Lunar New Year, I wanted to compile a gratitude list for those of us whose heritage originates from the world’s largest continent.
Now to all you fellow yellows reading this article, let's celebrate the Year of the Monkey with a slight smirk on our faces. We are ridiculously lucky for a gamut of reasons, purely because we hit a genetic lottery...
Might I remind you of the:
7 Benefits of Being Asian
1. You get red packets on Lunar New Year.
These are significant, purely because said red packets have lucky money inside of them. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to combat evil spirits.
On Lunar New Year, red envelopes are usually given out by married couples to single people, regardless of age, or by older to younger ones during holidays and festivals.
This means my generous, financially savvy mother gifts my sister and I with ang pao every Lunar New Year.
In Standard Mandarin red packages are called hongbao. Different Asian languages call it different things, all with varying definitions, but it basically means “red package". Here are a few examples:
Mandarin - hongbao
Burmese - an-pao
Korean - sae bae don
Japanese - otoshidama-bukuroshūgi-bukuro
Filipino/Indonesian - ang pao
Who doesn’t want culture induced, undeserved, tradition-steeped good-luck money?
2. You're bilingual.
You probably take it for granted that you can speak both fluent English AND Cantonese.
Anybody knows that learning a new language requires immersing oneself in that country.
However for you to learn Cantonese, you didn't need to go to China, hire a guide and buy a foreign language dictionary. All you had to do was stay at home and eat kai lan with your Dad.
Purely English speaking households did not have this advantage! So embrace it. You are much more socially and culturally literate and attuned to foreign tongues. Pretty neat gift.
3. You’re good at maths.
For instance: 'eleven' in Cantonese is "sahp-yat" literally meaning ten (sahp) and one (yat), twelve is "sahp-yih" meaning ten (sahp) and two (yih) and so on.
Ask an Asian child to add three-tens-seven and two tens-two, and then the necessary equation is right there, embedded in the sentence.
No number translation is necessary: It’s five-tens nine.
- Malcolm Gladwell
On the contrary, 4-year-old American children can only count up to fifteen, because they have to convert whole words into numbers, which Asian minors don’t have to deal with.
I had a very logical Maths-teaching Mother. So while I dropped 2-unit Maths when I could in Year 11...
4. Your parents valued your education.
Asian American PhD student Philip Guo says in his article, "Understanding and dealing with overbearing Asian parents"
I assert that Asian parents' obsessive emphasis on grades, test scores, and college rankings originate from their upbringing in a poor, oppressive, and politically-unstable third-world society.
I then encourage kids growing up under these overbearing parents to try to understand why their parents feel so strongly about such issues, and then try to accept them for who they are rather than rebelling against or trying to change them.
This article is a fantastic comfort piece to those of us who have ended up in screaming matches with our first generation Asian parents.
I’m not saying you should bend to their ideas, but it will give you insight and understanding into your Mother’s volatile disagreement on why you quit your Accounting career to pursue acting, or your law career to go to creative writing school.
So be thankful that you have a resume full of extracurricular activities and comparably good grades to take into your adulthood.
5. You have strong work ethic.
While I have heard of crazy, overbearing and emotionally dysfunctional Asian parents, I have never heard of unloving or lazy Asian parents.
I recall no memory of my parents arising after 6am. They dreamed of a prosperous, comfortable life in Australia, escaping the corrupt Indonesian 1970s government, buying a house and leaving an inheritance for their children.
They relished in the opportunity to work, save and build wealth. Western families take this for granted, but this was not possible in their home country.
So when I was at the legal working age of 14 and 9 months, I started looking for a part-time job.
I was taught that being a hard worker was necessary for survival and success.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” asserts that this originates back to the rice paddy fields, where Chinese Rice Farmers would construct tiny rice paddies on mountainsides in an elaborate series of terraces, or painstakingly constructed from marshland or river plains.
Strong work ethic is by no means exclusive to Asian people!
Alas I mention rice cultivation history to provide context as to why the Chinese proverbs say things like “no one who can rise before dawn three hundred and sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.”
(If you’re interested in reading about the complex process of rice farming, I suggest you read Gladwell’s book or read more here.)
Rice agriculture was skill oriented, due to Japanese and Chinese rice farmers not having the funds to buy fancy equipment like their Western farmer counterparts. It was heavily 'skill oriented’, so they harvested bigger crops by becoming smarter at fertilising and monitoring water levels.
Rice farmers are historically known to work harder than any other type of farmer.
Wheat field simply open up while rice paddies must be carefully built by hand. Hunter gatherers like the !Kung bushmen of Botswana subsisted on a rich assortment of fruits, berries and nuts which grew effortlessly from the fertile ground.
In sum - this beset the culture for the hard working Asian stereotype.
6. You're reasonably good with your money.
Piggybacking off your Asian parents crazy work ethic, you were taught to underspend and over save on every pay cheque.
Their long term influence over you is the reason why you can’t pass up a good 2-for-1 deal; or no matter how big your salary, you’re still susceptible to researching every possible avenue for a new Dyson vacuum cleaner at the most competitive price possible.
You always check the discounts on the back of your Woollies receipts and you can’t justify spending $150 on a T-shirt.
You love haggling at the markets and think it should be considered an Olympic sport.
Getting ripped off is a heinous crime!
So you have armed yourself with an innate sense of Sale & Bargain, a skill you developed over years of discount shopping with your parents where they trained you on assessing the greatest amount of value for any singular item.
7. You'll look young forever...(until you turn 60), and other aesthetic benefits.
Perhaps the Asian diet does keep skin wrinkles at bay. Asians are eating their way to a younger version of themselves.
Fellow Asian Australian blogger Mabel Kwong writes about a study conducted by Monash University: it was found that Greek-born Australians who consumed more green leafy vegetables, eggplant, garlic, dried fruits and less mono-unsaturated fat, milk and coffee had less skin wrinkling than Anglo-Celtic Australians who lived in sun-exposed places.
Coincidentally, the former foods are major components of Asian diets.
Kai lan, bok choy, tofu and eggplant are very popular ingredients in Asian dishes. Preserved and flattened prunes, dates and mangoes are popular with many Asian tastebuds with countless shops in Asia solely dedicated to selling them.
Asians also have easy-to-maintain black hair (unless they go to the trouble of going blonde or ombre-ing the hair tips), a small petite build and tan-a-able skin. Lucky for us Asians, these physical characteristics are in fashion in the Western world.
(When I go to Indonesia to visit my relatives, I am by far the darkest person there, and dark skin is associated with the lower classes. Ironic, hey?)
So in summary -
I gingerly assert that Asian people are these culturally fortunate, family-attached, financially savvy, overachieving bilinguals.
I have outlined these 7 Benefits as a Gratitude List for when frustration arrives at miscommunications, pre-judgments and feeling suffocated by your Asian parents.
Jokes! Just be glad they will always have your back, and point out your weaknesses. Acts of service and critiques for improvement is how Asian people show their love.
Gong Xi Fa Cai! Make sure you check out the Lunar Markets at the Sydney Chinese New Year Festival this year! It ends on Feb 21.
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