This Face Misplaced



I have always led a duplicitous life. Exotically known as Eurasian in polite circles, a half cast, combination kid, chink, slope or gook in less polite circles. A third generation Australian of mixed Malaysian European descent, I am a coconut, I look Asian but am white inside my head. My self-perception is so white that I never thought being the only Malaysian kid, dressed as a gleaming shamrock singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” was odd. People assumed my family ran a restaurant, they didn’t. I only speak English; my Malaysian is limited to counting to five on my fingers.

Once I was nearly kidnapped by an Indian Airlines tour guide in Canberra. I’m a Public Servant, on my way to Parliament House, in business attire, carrying a briefcase. As she attempted to push me onto her bus I finally convinced her I was not an Indian tourist.

Why are people bewildered by an Asian face with a broad Aussie accent?

Taking work colleagues to Yum Cha in Chinatown I hear “Wow. This place is authentic we are the only white people in here.”

Speak for yourself, white devil.

At one work party a UK prison officer was surprised on meeting me, and said loudly to the room, in her shrill Northern voice.

“Eeee. I can’ believe ‘er accent, comin’ outta ‘er face.”

Darling, I’m not the one with the accent.

At the Sydney Olympics Aussies shook my hand in the street, welcoming me to Sydney. I needed a T shirt “Please don’t help me. I live here.”

Visiting the night zoo with my son, we saw a possum scamper across the roof. A grinning zoo guide blocked our way, pointing to the roof, acting out what we had just witnessed. In slow, broken, rather loud English she explained the possum’s location.

Mitchell was fascinated, he watched intently then suddenly he spoke. “Mum, what is she trying to say?”

“Well darling, I think she is trying to tell us there’s a possum but I don’t think she speaks much English.”

Some Canadian college students in Honolulu once heard me speak and wanted to know where I was from. They insisted on taking a photo of me because their friends would never believe they had met an Asian Australian.

Out shopping once a Malaysian woman stopped me, after exchanging greetings she said “Do you mind if I speak Malaysian? It’s easier.”

“Go ahead, knock yourself out. But don’t expect me to understand you. I don’t speak Malaysian.”