Bad Asian

Sweet and sour academia (from Thesis Whisperer’s tmblr, “Refreshments will be provided”)

When I was chatting with the lovely people at Radio National’s Life Matters program the other week, I realised that what I really want to say about national belonging and cultural citizenship was this:

Having full cultural citizenship as an Asian Australian should mean that it’s fine to be a ‘bad’ citizen, as well as celebrating those deemed ‘good’.

‘Asian’ shouldn’t be the first point of categorisation, and the heaviness of migrant expectation and stereotyping of migrants shouldn’t curtail a person’s liberty to be, say, a slacker.

Or to ‘Anglicise’ their name (sez she, who has a coffee name of “Jen”).

Or – (hushed tones) – to be monolingual.

We’re not all economic ‘bridge-builders’, heart-surgeons, and superhero Senators, though I’m hardly complaining that we can be those.

Where is the liberty and comfort of feeling at home with mediocrity or failure?

And I’m talking here both about the bar being set by the broader community as well as the one cultural communities set for themselves. That ‘Model Minority myth‘ cuts both ways.


Genealogy of cake

Cakeworld hardware (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Regular readers of this blog – and people who know me IRL – will know that my family’s obsessed with food in general, and cake decoration in particular.

I’ve previously posted photos of (mostly) my partner’s work in the novelty cake department (see HERE and HERE).

What I haven’t talked about is my mother’s devotion to sugar-art and cake-decorating for a couple of decades when we were younger. And she was younger, and her hands steadier.

Her toolkit of icing implements is still here, fully tricked out with all the nozzle sizes and shapes for piping that you could desire – all metal, and to be screwed into old-school icing bags. She’s still got the coloured twine and wires that were for the miniature icing flowers she’d make by hand. There are even beaded stalks that are meant be flower styles or stamens.

For most of the 1980s and part of the 1990s, my mother was the go-to person in our clan for engagement, 21st and special birthday cakes. I think she may have done a wedding cake here or there as well.


A simple story

Photo sourced from shaundon (

This is a simple, possibly simplistic story, about being a mother and having a career that’s invested in universities.

I believe the rhetoric about universities being good employers for women.

I have benefited twice from generous maternity leave provisions and a phasing-in period of part-time work before becoming full-time once again.

Those who came before me fought long and hard for parental leave entitlements. These entitlements meant the jarring transition from being a non-parent to parent was smoother.

I was a research fellow at the time I had my kids. I had an office to myself at the university with a lockable, opaque door. I could quite easily express for my babies, and kept an ice-blocked esky with me at work. It was a private and self-sustained system that turned out OK. Would I have preferred a formal room that was set aside for mothers that had all the right plumbing and a comfy chair? Of-bloody-course.


When is a career interruption not a career interruption?

One of these is not like the other (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

The issue of career interruptions is a difficult one in higher education. Particularly given the gendered nature of many ‘interruptions’ (i.e. maternity leave, and who often ends up as the carer for family), I think this is a facet of life that funding bodies – and promotion systems in universities in general – don’t handle particularly well.

Major funding bodies churn through a lot of applications and are most often desperately under-staffed. So, in writing this post, I’m not looking to blame them for not being incredibly considerate of every snowflake situation.

I do wish, though, that there were more effective overall systems in place to consider the nuances of people’s track-records. Or at least a smidge more honesty in what they’re really looking for: unproblematic high performers without ongoing (or potential for) negative issues/conditions.

It bothers (and angers) me that accommodating the interruptions that life sometimes throws at you is often inadequate and perfunctory in research and higher education. Because some basic processes are in place, it feels as if this is assumed to take care of things.

The opacity of how funding bodies decide what counts as an ‘eligibility exemption’ (whether your career interruption justification is accepted) is frustrating.


AWW 2012 – Australian women writers of diverse heritage

After a request for titles from @ElizabethLhuede ( for Australian women writers of diverse backgrounds for the AWW 2012 challenge, I thought a blogpost might be in order (as opposed to a squillion tweets).

The list below is composed mainly of Asian Australian women writers as they are the ones I’m most familiar with, having done my Masters thesis on this topic. My PhD also included Asian Australian women writers, though I must admit to not being totally dedicated to keeping up since I moved away from literary studies (about five or so years ago). Apologies if I’ve missed any out – feel free to add them in the comments. Broadly, the authors are women of Asian descent who are based in Australia, and most of the texts are novels.


Gaming my name

"Latte + 1 sugar for Jen"

When I was ordering at a busy cafe the other morning, I did what I usually do: I gave my name as Jen.

“Jen” is my coffee name (see photo on left).

I started using it about ten years ago, when coffee-carts on the university campus became all the vogue. I discovered that I’d often be holding up tetchy, under-caffeinated queues with the repeated pronunciation and spellings of my given name for my order. It got rather tedious.

I had used “Jen” years before that, as a one-off thing for a job that involved a lot of cold-calling (*shudder*). I quickly got irritated with always having to enter into a conversation about my name with perfect strangers with whom I would never again cross paths. At the time, offering a fake name felt like an efficient compromise to get through the job.

It also felt like I was ‘selling out’ my heritage for convenience’s sake. Which, to some extent, I was. I’ve made myself more convenient for the society in which I live. That said, my day is less frustrating when I occasionally swap my name with another that’s instantly understood and easily spelt; so, I’ve made my everyday less annoying in general and means I choose my battles. Is this pandering to hegemonic expectations? Self-policing or internal colonisation? A smidge of all these things? Possibly.

Coming from an academic field that interrogates cultural identity politics, notions of authenticity, diasporic ‘fluidity’, etc, I had to stop myself from shoring up this post with numerous references and quotes from critics. I will, however, point you to this great post (with its bevy of spot-on links) at Calvin Ho’s blog, The Plaid Bag Connection.


Forking road (warning: career angst ahead)

Every time I meet with anyone these days, whether it’s for a work or social chat, I end up talking about my career angst.

I started a job earlier this year that meant I was now on the other side of the fence in academia. I’m no longer the researcher who applies for grants and publishes, but one who advises and assists researchers to apply for grants and publish. For the most part, the change has been positive. I love the location of my workplace, my colleagues range from decent to excellent, the mortgage gets paid, and the work is fun + challenging + I can leave it at the office. Continue reading “Forking road (warning: career angst ahead)”

Online publications: Diasporic Asian writing

I’m in a list-y mood. This is what happens when I’m juggling too many serious tasks. My brain skives off to play with things that are ordered and contained.

Hence this:

Online Writing: Diasporic Asian publications


Hong Kong-based 



There’s also Asia Literary Review, which features diasporic writers but doesn’t necessarily focus on them in its remit.

This list is by no means exhaustive. These are just the publications I know about, and (semi-)regularly read. Feel free to tout others in the comments. I know I’ve mixed up ‘literary’ with pop.cultural publications. So be it.

Australia also used to have Faan (glossy, youth-oriented, hard-copy Asian Australian lifestyle mag), but it lived a short life. Publications like Faan and Audrey beg the question of whether a niche-ethnicity glossy can compete against ostensibly ‘non-ethnic’ magazines. I get antsy and annoyed when a magazine is clumsily trying to compete for my ‘ethnic’ dollar; if they do it well and savvily, however, I’d subscribe and spruik them endlessly.

Doing some googling for this entry, I found Asiance Magazine – “Connecting Asian American Women to the World” – and have to say that it got me antsy and annoyed. Perhaps it was the concept of peddling ‘asiance’ (“Modern America with an Asian Twist!”) that did me in. Its aspirational statements are commendable on some levels, but the reality of the marketing and ethnic ‘pitching’ just sits uneasily with me. Never mind, I’m out of their demographic age-range anyway!