2019 is just around the corner so I thought I should write something. This is the first, the last and the only post of 2018. I didn’t write anything at all this past year I think because there are so many things jumbling in my mind at once and it is hard at times to articulate each and everything, let alone putting it out on paper. Writing is a way for me to process my thoughts but it also really reflects my state of mind, whether clear and calm, or confused, stressed and depressed. If the latter, I normally do not choose to write.

2018 again was full of milestones, ups and downs. It started with the passing of my grandfather right during Lunar New Year. Not long after that in April, I moved to Australia and got married in June. Our wedding was small, intimate, beautiful and perfect in every way.

Family and relationships

Our wedding photo at One Tree Hill, Maleny. Photo by Bellakee J Photography

Many people asked my partner and me how it felt finally being married. Honestly, both of us feel the same, getting married really doesn’t change our love for each other or our relationship. I am still cheeky and sassy and he is still a forgetful bum and we still tease each other and bicker every day. If anything has changed, it’s that we can be together now and it is something we treasure every day after almost 3 years of long distance.

Marriage to me is something you build, it takes effort and dedication. It is not a happily-ever-after fairy tale which is very much a Western concept where people expect their spouse to be their everything and their marriage to be happy and flawless without doing any work just because they are “the one”. Fortunately, my partner and I are fully aware of this, we embrace and respect our differences and individuality, and at the same time, we build upon an “us”. We strive to be better persons and support each other to be our best selves every day.

In August, I cooked a Vietnamese feast and had a small gathering for my dad’s first death anniversary. Needless to say, his passing is still fresh in my mind after just 1 year. I still have nightmares or flashbacks of his bed-ridden days at times. It is hard when the last memories you have of your loved ones are of them being bed bound, not cognitive, and unconscious. My dad was a very taciturn man, he never talked much when he was still cognitive. As his condition deteriorated so quickly towards the end, he didn’t even get to say his last words or share his last wills. He just silently passed onto the other world, just like that. Wherever he is, I just hope he is free from the wheel of life now and has reached a higher level of being.

Life in Australia

Sunset at magical Uluru. Photo by me

Anyway I think that is enough on the home front, I thought I should write a bit about my new life in Australia. I moved here around 8 – 9 months ago. The first few months, I was really struggling with the excessive display of consumerism and capitalism and the over-abundance of literally everything. To me, it feels like it’s all so abundant that it becomes redundant; people just spend and spend mindlessly on things before throwing them away soon after because they can buy new things.

I would think of my students back in Sapa who walk for hours through mountains wearing flip flops just to go to school, or the kids selling stuff on the street in the freezing cold weather wearing only a short sleeve and thin pants, or the girl I met who was a victim of child bride, or the many youngsters you see on the street of Vietnam and India begging or working in small shops and restaurants to make ends meet.

This all makes me feel angry, even sickened seeing how entitled people here can be and how much they take for granted, from things like clean water, fresh air, nature to good infrastructure, education, access to opportunities. I feel it is a privilege to be here but it is also guilt knowing how much shit is going on back home and remembering all the disadvantaged and marginalized communities that I have worked with and that I am the lucky minority.

I feel marginalized myself at times being a young woman of color in a so-called multicultural, yet literally and historically “whitewashed” country. It really saddens and disgusts me learning about what happened to the Indigenous people of Australia but it is a constant reminder to myself how lucky and privileged I am to be here today because so many people and generations had had to fall, be stolen and even wiped out. Ironically, this country was built upon immigration yet many people can be racist and xenophobic towards non-white people, and people can be judged just by their non-Anglo names alone.

I myself have experienced this firsthand. The first time I heard a racist comment towards me was when my partner and I were on a road trip. Our campervan didn’t have a toilet and we had to stay the night at a camping spot without a toilet. A woman approached me and started talking to me. Even I speak English with no accent and she didn’t ask me where I am from, she said we couldn’t camp there because we didn’t have a toilet and that it’s because people can just come over to Australia, defecate wherever that it’d “stink up the whole country”.

I was saddened by that encounter but what really upset me was when I found out a couple of people have asked my partner if he had bought me because he couldn’t find anyone here. They might think that it is a funny joke but it really hurts and it says a lot about the stereotypes white people have of Asian women, that they’re all prostitutes and gold diggers that can be bought in a whim.

People seem to think we migrants are here to steal jobs, to “leech off benefits” and benefit from Australian lifestyle and generosity without having to work or contribute to society, despite countless reports and researches showing that immigration is critical to economic growth (Full report from the Australia Government HERE).

A reflection on identity

Self-portrait. Early 2018

As I was growing up, I often felt confused about my identity and who I was in the world as many times I found myself not agreeing with the values I was brought up around. Since I moved to Australia, I have asked myself more often who I am, where I am and where I want to be; I have had more insights into myself and my values. I feel like I do not really fully fit it with the traditional values back home but at the same time, I do not agree with many values embraced by Western society.

It is needed to say that all my time living abroad, I have always been a proud Asian, I am so proud of the unique culture, the family-centered values, the cuisine that I grew up with. On the other hand, I embrace and strive for the independence and freedom of expression upheld by Western individualistic culture. However, at the end of the day, I question myself where do I belong? Because it’s certainly not either/or, but also not neither/nor.

What I realized since I moved to Australia was that my Oriental values are just as strong as my Western values; how I refused to change my name after marriage because I love my name and it is very meaningful and important to me, and I still sign everything with my Vietnamese signature, how I take so much pride in Vietnamese cuisine and how I am happy to share and explain my culture to anyone that is open enough to ask and willing to listen.

I came to this realization I think because I have seen how Western society functions and how their value system falls into place; it is also confronting for me to see my Oriental values be looked down and discriminated, being a migrant, a woman, and an Asian. It hurts. This somehow has triggered a strong sense of identity in me.

On the other side, as I live in Western society, I get to be independent and have the freedom to pursue what I want in life without being constantly hassled and reminded that I am a woman and I am not worthy till I have a man in my life. This is something I am truly grateful for because I know there are so millions of women and young girls out there unable to realize their dreams and reach their potential because of so many different reasons.

Having written all that, this all left me without a sense of belonging. I often say I know the best of both worlds and I have always tried to find a balance of both collectivist and individualist cultures. But where do I belong?

Saying goodbye to 2018 with a lot of reminiscences, scrambled thoughts and a bit of nostalgia, I welcome 2019 with many exciting opportunities and adventures await. For now, I will count down till the new year, snuggling up in my partner’s arms where I call home and looking forward to another precious year together.

Happy New Year everyone!

Cover picture: Noosa National Park – Taken by me

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Posted by:Hanh Lam

I am a young Vietnamese woman with a passion for development work and social change, a desire to explore the world and a love for storytelling.

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