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  • Koreen Liew-Young

China: the final frontier

In the past, I never felt very Chinese.

I had very humble beginnings growing up in Napier, New Zealand, then I hit Intermediate. Kids do what they do best because they don't know you. Be mean.

The point out the obvious, I'm ASIAN. Stereotypically I'm the yellow skinned, slitty eyed one. I've been told by some, that I don't belong here and to "Go Home".    And to many mainland Chinese,  I don't belong there, how can you not know how to speak, how do you not know your heritage, your ancestry, your roots?  And my mannerisms, the way I dress, my style is "not very chinese".

My ancestors came to New Zealand in the late 1800's, so over five generations, cantonese and customs have been lost through time, and buried with the bigger incentive to make the most of the opportunities ahead of us. This leaves me in this weird space where I've felt I'm an alien in both lands.

Since then I've gone through the very colourful voyage of self discovery.  One of innocence, resentment, anger, through to reflection.  For further insight, feel free to read my slightly confrontational speech that I did at the Rising Dragons, Soaring Bananas International Conference in 2009. I think many NZ Chinese can relate to what I spoke about.

Star Trek ship on a China flag
China: The final frontier

Now- I stand at the edge of what has already been chartered, ready to explore a new world. China. Just for a taster.

We will be learning mandarin at the Beijing Mandarin Academy through China Study Abroad. Going through their website - it was a very user friendly experience, helping me to put my anxieties aside and also customise our programme to when we were available.  CSA also allows us to tag on extra tourist activities and tutoring time, it's very flexible which also allows us to travel around Asia while we are there. On the one hand it is very exciting, to go and experience a completely new culture foreign to me, but on the other hand...heck it scares the hell out of me.

To be honest - I've previously been ashamed of not knowing how to speak chinese...the busy life that we lead, the careers that we pursue has put me in the "too busy to learn chinese" category.  However, I've now decided to accept the mission, even though the whole thing seems very daunting.

To make sure I'm not a total newbie when I get there, I've joined a mandarin class on Monday evenings....Julian has started sending me a CSOTD, (Chinese song of the day) and I've downloaded a fantastic app by Brainscape.

Brainscape uses Confidence Based Repetition or (CBR), where I click to reveal the correct answer when ready and then rate between 1-5 on how confident I am in getting it right.  The lower the rating, the more repetitive the flashcard appears. Genius's currently dominating my bus rides to and from work at the moment, knocking Candy Crush off it's pedestal.

So I'm building my vocab slowly and the more I learn the more passionate I become about going. China even though it will be a huge culture shock, it is becoming less and less foreign.  I look forward to broadening my horizons and my perspectives about how I see the world. At the end of the day I believe it's not about trying to find where you belong, finding your anchor or trying to assimilate, it is about increasing your knowledge and experience of another culture - whatever it may be- so you can take the best of both worlds and share that with other people.  It only enriches our own cultural identity, and I cannot wait for what is ahead.

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