With Chinese New Year just around the corner, Justin Li takes stock on at least half a dozen ways Chinese Australians have improved modern Australian living.
The Bennelong by-election and Sam Dastyari’s resignation late last year sparked unprecedented media attention on the one million Chinese Australians living in this country. For weeks on end, the Australian public was bombarded with new buzzwords in the media- Chinese influence, dual citizens, foreign agents, political donations, “Chinaphobia” and Shanghai Sam (then later Sichuan Sam).
As a Bennelong voter and Chinese Australian, I’m relieved most of that drama is now behind us. Yes, Chinese influence in Australia is real and undeniable, but it’s mostly found in the more mundane things that are so much part of Australian society today that it’s often taken for granted:
- Chinese food. Australians don’t have Chinaphobia when it comes to their love for dumplings, BBQ pork and the bubble tea. Unlike many overseas countries, decent and authentic Chinese food is readily available at most Australians’ doorsteps. Once considered a Friday night treat and an exotic experience, Chinese food is now as mainstream as pizza and pasta. With the growth of Chinese communities in suburbs like Hurstville and Eastwood in Sydney, Sunnybank in Brisbane and Box Hill in Melbourne, one doesn’t even need to travel to the CBD Chinatowns for Shanghai/Sichuan cuisines. But beware of the waistline, as yummy Chinese food unfortunately doesn’t come with the natural Chinese genes of being slim.
- $2 shops. While they may not be strictly two dollars any more, and it’s unclear which genius race first invented this concept, these discount stores in every suburb have offerings as diverse as IKEA and Bunnings (but occupy just a tiny fraction of floor space). Their made in China gadgets are the answer to almost everything in life from school projects to dress up themed parties, last minute gifts, and home maintenance and decorations.
- Laughter. Chinese Australians have a quirky sense of humour and the ability to laugh at their own cultural habits. While Western people making jokes about the Chinese is no longer considered PC, Chinese Australians still have a free licence to do that. Whether it’s Benjamin Law’s Family Law TV series, International Student Ronnie Chieng, or author Alice Pung’s books, Australia would definitely be a sadder place without these funny people.
- Smart nation. The tall-poppy syndrome may be ingrained in the Australian culture, but Chinese Australians kids are brought up from an early age to value study and learning. There’s an even chance your trusted local GP or hospital surgeon will be a Chinese face. One Chinese Australian Eddie Woo, an Australian of the Year award recipient even managed to make learning maths cool with his videos. Of course, there’s a downside with all the pressure on kids to attain good marks and there’s the burgeoning tuition industry. But getting smarter is surely a better use of your childhood and teenage years compared to vandalising or smoking at the local park.
- Saving the environment. Chinese Australian households with their frugal and financially savvy practices are inadvertently among the most environmentally friendly people in the country. The dish washer is mainly used as a drying rack and rarely switched on. Bottles, jam jars, margarine tubs and biscuit containers are reused to hold dried mushrooms and Chinese medicine. Used supermarket plastic bags are recycled as future carry or garbage bags. Lights are switched off at home to save power costs (this was happening long before electricity prices soared in Australia). Many of these quirky habits are rubbing off with other Australian households.
- Bing Lee. Australians love household appliances, but more importantly, the late Mr Lee and his family taught Australians that everything’s negotiable and it’s perfectly acceptable to haggle in your shopping without feeling any embarrassment.
This year’s Chinese New Year (Year of the Dog) is starting in mid February, providing Australians yet another excuse to eat and celebrate. So as you go about munching your 10th pork bun at the local yum cha and drinking a Tsingtao beer, remember these quiet and subtle ways Chinese Australians have changed the country for the better.