All posts tagged: culture

Inked Identity

When I was 18, I got my first tattoo. Perched on my left hip, where the fleshiness of the tummy starts to flatten over the pelvic muscle, is the Chinese character that means the word ‘half’. As in, half-Chinese. Get it? I had thought about getting this, what I deemed to be very clever, sign of my identity for around a year, and was certain that it would be important for the rest of my life, something I could never regret. My logic came from the simple fact that, unlike a boyfriend or a seemingly poignant song lyric, it represented something that would never change — my being half-Chinese. I was wrong. It didn’t represent my being half-Chinese, but rather how I perceived being half-Chinese at the time. I don’t regret the ink — it’s a thought-provoking reminder of how quickly and drastically we change — but it does not resonate with the current me. I might be, by blood, 50 percent Chinese, but what I didn’t know back then, as I reclined statue-still on the black, leather chair, was that …

When Culture Is Appropriated

It’s 2010, and I’m looking through an old friend’s gap year photos on Facebook. I stop at a photo of him and three friends, all of them wearing conical bamboo hats on a busy street in South East Asia, grinning jokingly at the camera, their faces shiny from the humidity. It makes me feel uneasy. The many times I see a version of this same image over the next few years, whether it’s at the airport or a fancy dress party, I am still bothered. But I don’t know what to call it, what it means, what it is — until now. Last week, two accusations of cultural appropriation were brought to the media. The first was a black student arguing with a white student who had dreadlocks. The second was Justin Bieber, sporting cornrows and saying he looked like a douchebag. Celebrities, particularly musicians, getting interrogated over their choice of props, outfits, music videos etc, is nothing new. Gwen Stefani raised eyebrows in the ‘90s when she wore a bindi, but nobody knew how to have …

The Cultures Within

Last weekend, I relived my recent solo trip to Hong Kong. Turning the pages of my travel journal, I was reminded of something that had happened in a temple. I’d bought a pack of incense sticks to light and pray with. Once I’d lit a handful and placed them in the sand beneath a grid of black and white photographs of the deceased, I realised I had a lot of sticks left. I didn’t feel I could light them for the Godly shrines occupying the rest of the temple floor, simply because I didn’t know what each God stood for, and therefore if I believed in what they represented. But not wanting to waste them, I politely stopped an American couple who were being given a tour. “I bought too many incense sticks, would you like to have these?” I asked, thinking it might add to their experience. The man threw me a look of disgust and annoyance as he replied tersely, “No thank you”, his stiff tone suggesting I was a pest trying to sell him …