Blogtember – Who am I and Where do I Come From

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Prompt:

Tuesday, Sept. 3: Describe where or what you come from. The people, the places, and/or the factors that make up who you are.

I know this prompt was for Tuesday, but I’m trying to catch up because I only found out about “Blogtember” yesterday.

So here I go. I was born in Germany, to a German father and Indonesian Chinese mother. My parents got divorced when I was about 5 and my mum, step dad and me moved back to Indonesia when I was almost seven.

Castle Neuschwanstein

Castle Neuschwanstein

Up until this time German was my first language and I could only understand some very basic Indonesian. I didn’t look particularly “German” but when we moved to Indonesia, I stood out like a sore thumb. I guess it’s just that everybody else is 100% Asian, so even though in the western world nobody would think of me as looking Caucasian, I looked very foreign in Indonesia.

Jakarta

Jakarta

I think this is one of the main things that made me who I am today. I really did not like being “bule”. This is the Indonesian slang term for “white”. It is not a rude word, just a descriptive word but it took me a long time to feel comfortable with that word. Moreover, the Chinese Indonesian population is a minority in Indonesia and to some extent has always kept themselves separate from the locals. So I was not only “bule”, I was a Chinese Indonesian bule.

When I was little, I used to love watching Chinese period TV series. It was my greatest desire to be a Chinese princess, or a Chinese warrior woman. I longed for thick black long hair, but my hair was decidedly brown, and thin and limp and short. Anybody could see I was not Chinese, but I clung to all things Chinese. I used to lock myself in my room and play pretend. I’d wrap my hair in a long thin shawl and pretend that it was my beautiful long black hair. It was a long time before I realised that many of the people around me envied me precisely because I looked different and because I had life experiences that were quite different from a regular Indonesian girl’s .

Later on I moved to Singapore where I attended 4 years of schooling, (age 12-16) and I felt even more distinct. Now, I was not only one of the few foreign looking girls in my school, I was a German-Indonesian-Chinese living in Singapore, trying to understand the Singaporean culture. Indeed Singapore is a melting pot of ethnic groups, but my first hand experience clearly showed that more often than not, the different ethnic groups kept to themselves.

Singapore travelerfolio.com

Singapore travelerfolio.com

When I turned 16, my family and I moved to New Zealand. It was good to be reunited with my family. My family now consisted of my mum and step dad and my two little sisters. My sisters are quite some years younger than me (7 and 11 years difference) but within my immediate family I never felt like an outsider.

Harbour Bridge, Auckland, NZ

Harbour Bridge, Auckland, NZ

I have now lived in NZ for over 17 years, more than half my life. Living among “white” people, I have now become to look very Asian. Nobody would mistake me as a Caucasian. Isn’t it funny how we always look for what’s different between us and only upon closer inspection do we seek out our similarities.

My experience in NZ is that even though it is made up of immigrants, overall, everybody is more accepting of each other. Kiwis are generous people and tend to give you the benefit of the doubt, instead of drawing conclusions based solely on outward appearances. There is a real effort made to look at things from somebody else’s point of view.

Today, at 33 years of age, I don’t feel German at all. I lost the language a long time ago. When I visited Germany I felt like a foreigner. I still enjoy some German things in my life. Sometimes we cook German food, buy German bread. We celebrate Christmas on the 24th December, German style and I bake German Christmas cookies every year. I don’t feel particularly Chinese either, I am still drawn to books with Chinese themes. I enjoy Amy Tan’s and more recently have been reading Lisa See’s books. I don’t speak any Chinese, I understand a tiny bit of Mandarin and Chinese people often start conversations with me because I look Chinese enough in NZ.

I think in English but within my family, we speak a mix of English and Indonesian, we eat a lot of Asian inspired foods and I married an Indonesian Chinese Kiwi. But that doesn’t mean I identify most with my Indonesian culture. I think through all the different places I have been, I have found my little corner of the world in NZ.  It is a kind and generous country and I am proud and glad to be a kiwi.

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8 responses »

  1. What a lovely article. I bet you have very special, unique look. I mean, you stood out “like a sore thumb” among the Asians and Caucasians. How cool is that?! 😀
    I have been mistaken for a Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malay, Balinese, etc. My friend said that I should take it as a compliment (and I did). She said, “Dah-ling, it means you look like a multinational citizen!” L-O-L!!!

    • Thank you 🙂
      I think we tend to focus on contrasts, we always seem to notice what’s most different from ourselves. And sometimes it’s nice to be different 🙂

  2. That’s awesome! Here, everyone is practically everything, by which I mean, most Caucasians probably have like 5 different nationalities in their blood at least, and it makes you such a small percentage of everything that you have just about nothing to identify with, if that makes since. Gosh, that’s seriously awesome how much you got to travel and get to know the countries you’re from. Like I said in my last country, I’ve never been outside America, but it’s definitely on my to-do list.

    • Ya, it is more like that in NZ too, I feel a lot less special here 🙂
      So many interracial marriages between Chinese and kiwis so there are plenty of people with my look 🙂

  3. Dear Debra,

    How I enjoy this post — you wonderfully presented your journeys through many countries with us, your struggles and now your peaceful acceptance of your new life in New Zealand. It has not been easy. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I can relate to you in many parts. Now I’ve been away from home for about 25 years from Malaysia, and I’m living in England, and treat it as my home.

    As I grew up in Johor Bahru, next to Singapore, I could relate to you about your experiences in Singapore. A multi-racial community doesn’t always mean integration. There are a lot of hurdles for a newcomer in a big city. Racism takes many forms, everywhere.

    Being called a ‘bule’ — sometimes people are not aware that labelling or silly remarks can cause pain. Well done for rising above negativity and finding yourself.

    I love Lisa See’s stories — she is such a fine writer.

    I’m fascinated by your journey and your thought. I’ll be back for more of your stories. I’m glad that I’ve found you here.

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