Foreigner | Teen Ink


April 3, 2009
By cclarke BRONZE, Hong Kong, Other
cclarke BRONZE, Hong Kong, Other
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

When people tell me they just love my accent, I laugh. I’m never sure what’s so great about the thick foreign sound that comes out of me and coats my tongue. The sound that reflects the culture I was born into but not raised by. A culture where barbequed meat dominates cuisine, and while that’s great for my hundreds of relatives, I’m a vegetarian and struggle to find anything that isn’t red and juicy in the fridge. A culture where the impacts of weather are ignored and young women walk around sun burnt and blistered with latent melanomas. It’s fair enough if they want to ignore the warnings plastered all over doctor’s waiting rooms and chemist windows, but I don’t have an early death wish. I’ve always been more of a city girl anyhow.
I plan on returning to Australia for university, so will my future (but not entirely likely) children be ‘true blue’ Aussies like their peers? I don’t think so. I believe the patchwork of my exotic third culture experiences will weave a unique, new thread into the patchwork of their lives.
I’m Indonesian, yes, I speak the language moderately well and can cook the food, but I don’t look like your typical Indonesian; brown eyed, brown skinned and five foot nothing. I grew up there. I once helped translate for an immigrating Ibu from Jakarta to Sydney in Australia at the transfer desk. I may as well be Indonesian. I appreciate a bowl of Indo Mie as much as the next orang and I could navigate myself around the streets of Pondok Indah with my eyes closed but I can’t assign myself to that. Pieces of me are attached to Indonesia like the visa in my worn out passport but I can’t call myself something I am clearly not.

I am also a mainlander, I speak basic lingo, I know where to shop and I understand the culture, but I don’t join tour groups for family holidays or plan to continue the family business when I finish school. I spent my first few remembered years there. I recall shopping for fleece in the local fabric market that my mother would later use to construct my winter clothes. I can communicate to a street merchant that his price is tai guai le and know exactly what to order when I go for dim sum but I wouldn’t stray far from the term Guilo in a self description.

I’m Cantonese too, I live in Hong Kong after all, and I live like any other third-culture teenager my age here, but I don’t wear the same clothes as the local girls and I don’t favor the same Chinese delicacies they prefer. I enjoy the nightlife and shop in the lanes. I have amazing accuracy in my tones when I tell a taxi driver to take me to ‘hon sam bun do’ but I have to call a friend if I want to say ‘faster’ or ‘turn left.’ When I go home to Australia (not really home) I can never wait to go back home to Hong Kong.
It’s impossible to determine what and who I really am. I don’t carry an accent from any of these places but I can put them on with incredible accuracy. When I move somewhere new I put on the thick Aussie that people love and I fit right in. In Australia I say I’m from Hong Kong. And Indonesia. And China as well. But while I’m here (and here could be any manner of places) I can’t determine my exact origin. So when people comment on my cool accent I have to laugh, because It’s not really who I am. I don’t share the nationalistic values as my fellow Australians. At the same time I’m not one for Chinese or Indonesian codes either. I am pieces of all of them. I’m the Australian who’s never lived there and has grown up in Indonesia under the strict Muslim dictation but who really loves life in Hong Kong and the opportunities that have arisen with it. I am all of these places, and all of the people that I encounter. I have a thick foreign accent, yes, but it is only as foreign as I am familiar.

The author's comments:
This is a cultural memoir

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