Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tet - been & gone.

Tet has been and gone this year, and I spent it without my family. The very first time I have done this in all my years on earth.

There was one Tet that I spent with only my eldest brother, when I moved to Melbourne. I was miserable. I rang my mother and father to say "chuc mung nam moi" and started crying. Given that I had fought so hard for the scrap of independence that moving to Melbourne meant to me, I lied when my mother asked if I was okay: "Yes, I just have a cold because the weather here has been changing all over the place." (cue Crowded House’s Four Seasons in One Day).

My brother took me to his wife’s family for Tet lunch and festivities. Although I had previously enjoyed their company, I did not on that day. And I really did not want to play cards with them, or roll the dice on bo cua ca cop game. It was all reminder of what I should have been doing with my real loved ones – not this fake family.

This year, far away from home, I telephoned my parents at midnight my time and 10am their time, to say "chuc mung nam moi" and Ba responded with a hesitant "happy new year". It was very sweet of him to make a nod towards my distance from my family and culture by saying those words in English. Um was in high spirits because the family were coming over, banh chung had been steamed all day and a feast was to be had. Our Tet conversations, like most of our conversations, lasted no more than 5 minutes – me shivering in a telephone booth with my partner beside me and Um & Ba sweating together with the phone to their ears (I can picture it because that’s what they do when they ring someone in Viet Nam and because they were talking over the top of each other at me).

Then I went home and went to sleep.

We had no Tet festivities because it was only the two of us, and we were still in transition at that stage. But I was not sad, and I am not entirely sure why. Possibly because I did not speak to any of my nieces or nephews, who have a remarkable ability to make me cry by saying such charming things as: "Are you coming to mum’s house next weekend?" and then asking "Why?" when I say no, or demanding to know why they have not seen me for a while, or worse still, being quiet because they are shy of me.

Does this mean I will be in transition all year, but stoic about it?

Tseen over at Banana Lounge put on a fabulous feast for her loved ones for her new year. I wish I could say our family feasts look like this, but they are never this organised or beautifully laid out. The food is half eaten before it even hits the table. But I like the chaos, and I miss it too.

I also enjoyed reading how Tet celebrations are held by diverse folk, over at Nha.* I am looking forward to initiating new traditions, and possibly having a belated Tet feast (I can hear your gasps of shocked horror and I defy you all) when I feel more settled (ie. when I have friends - cue violin music). Oh, and I need more crockery, too.

* thanks to Sume for directing me there!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Xenophobia (please explain?)

I do like the UK. I really like London. I'm glad I don't live in London, but I love its buzz, the tube, its architecture, museums, galleries, and its diversity. Just in small doses because I surprise myself by preferring rural things.

In any event, one of the lovely things I had noticed about UK - in general (and not just London in particular) - is that it is reasonably diverse. When we touched down at Heathrow I was gobsmacked. It might have been the jet lag but I felt as if I could stand in the middle of that ariport turning around and around, just to watch it all. There were so many people of apparently different ethnic groups, cultural groups, religious groups, disparate social classes - it was wonderful. Of course, security would have moved me on so I diligently queued, answered Her Majesty's customs' questions, grabbed my bags and then went wandering through tunnels covered in those HSBC 'what's your perspective?' ads to catch a bus to my ultimate destination and new home in the UK (which I like to think of as the Mother Country - but then I grew up on a diet of Shakespeare, John Donne and Chaucer, and I can sing William Blake's Jerusalem with frightening gusto).

But in diversity, there is ugliness. Which leads to some wonderful examples of unique and innovative legal reasoning, balanced with wise judgment (I can hear you cheering):-

In the case of R v Rogers (On Appeal from the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)), the House of Lords held that using the words "bloody foreigners" and "get back to your own country" could transform the offence of using abusive words and behaviour with intent to cause fear or provoke violence, into the racially aggravated form of that offence.

What the charming Mr Rogers did was yell the above words of abuse at three Spanish women who were blocking his path, before "aggressively pursuing" them into a kebab shop where they took refuge from him. Counsel for Mr Rogers argued that, had Mr Rogers called the three women perjorative words identifying that they were Spanish or otherwise from the Iberian peninsula, then that would have made what he did a racially aggravated offence. But his use of "bloody foreigners" and "get back to your own country" was motivated by xenophobia, not racialism, and therefore could not be an offence.

Clever, huh?

Luckily, the House of Lords is brimming with clever men and one woman (who by the by wrote the main decision) and they said that "the definition of racial group extends beyond a group defined by colour, race or ethnic origin. It encompasses both nationality (including citizenship) and national origins." Baroness Hale (or as I like to think of her, Law Lord Brenda) also said that the aggravated version of the offence is intended to deal with the mischiefs of "racism and xenophobia. Their essence is the denial of equal respect and dignity to people who are seen as "other". This is more deeply hurtful, damaging and disrespectful to the victims than the simple versions of these offences. It is also more damaging to the community as a whole, by denying acceptance to members of certain groups not for their own sake but for the sake of something they can do nothing about."

I think her judgment is wonderful. And I have nothing to add to it, except for slow nodding of my head in awe at her simple, yet sage, words.

And I've heard those words plenty of times, directed at me. Although now I guess I am a bloody foreigner.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I'm back!

But I make no promises about regularity of posting because of good reasons and stuff.

I am in the UK! It is cold - although getting less cold. There are all kinds of mundane things I could tell you about how I've been and what I've been up to and and and ... but why?

Let me tell you some other things instead.

My favourite exchange so far on a topic related to some of the topics of this blog:-

Random woman in the store: Are you from the far east?

Me (honestly innocent, rather than just being smart): [thinking hard. I'm not very good at geography]. Um. Well I guess it depends which direction you are heading to. [smiling because a stranger is talking to me] But if you mean what country, I am from Australia.

RWIS: [looking perplexed] Sorry? I meant are you from The Far East. You know where Orientals come from. I would like to travel to the Far East some day.

Me [realisation dawns; now being smartarse]: Oh. Right. Yes. No. Maybe. Kind of. Not really. I guess Australia is east of here. But in those terms, it is probably the Near West, rather then the Far East. har har.

RWIS [looks at me again like I am lint on her clothes ie. how did that get there? it wasn't there when I left the house this morning]: mmm.

Me [brightly, a little too brightly]: Nice to chat. See you later!

My next favourite exchange, to show that I am a little clueless, and unrelated to the topics of this blog other than that it is about ME:-

Me: May I please have a cheddar cheese sandwich with red onion, tomato and capsicum?

Sandwich-gal: Sorry?

Me: A cheddar cheese sandwich with red onion, tomato and capsicum.

Sandwich-gal: I don't understand?

Me [a little louder and a little slower, after all I have an Australian drawl (or so they say)]: A cheddar cheese sandwich with red onion [pointing], tomato [pointing] and capsicum [pointing].

Sandwich-gal: Oh right. A cheddar cheese sandwich. Would you like any salad with that?

Me: Yes please. Red onion. Tomato. Capsicum.

Sandwich-gal: [very slowly] Red onion. Tomato. And what else?

Me: Capsicum.

Sandwich-gal: Sorry?

My partner steps in: Pepper.

Me: Ooh yes. I would like some pepper too.

Both my partner and the Sandwich-Gal looks at me like I'm thick.

When we sit down, my partner patiently explains: Oanh, they call capsicum pepper here.

Me, to show off that I know things: Oh yes, and zucchini is courgette and eggplant is aubergine, and they have a real funny name for snow peas. Mangy something.

My partner: Mange tout. Means ready to eat in French.

Me (still stupid and blithely munching sandwich): Yes. Isn't that odd?

Only after my coffee did I realise how dumb I'd been.

Welcome to the mother country, Oanh. They do things differently here. *smack forehead*

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