Or should I say Asian Canadian childhood? Though I’m sure my Vietnamese, Filipino and Korean friends would be quick to point out how different we may be.

Vancouver has always had a significant Chinese population, though the makeup of the Chinese community has changed a lot over the years. So, I never really felt all that out of place. Even so, as a kid, I was far more interested in the “Canadian” side of my identity. At the same time, I felt compelled to observe all sorts of weird superstitions with no real explanation as to why. I just had to accept them at face value.

Looking back and especially in conversing with my more “typical” Canadian (Caucasian) friends, our childhoods were quite different. But I don’t think my Chinese Canadian childhood was completely “Asian” either. Instead, it was life as a CBC (Canadian-born Chinese), with all the quirks and fusions that come with that combination.

Do you identify with any of these subtle Asian traits?

  1. “If you’re not going to finish your dinner,” my parents often told me, “at least finish the meat. It’s the most expensive part.” I never got the “starving kids in Africa” talk.
  2. We always had a kitchen drawer filled with old plastic shopping bags. They were mostly used for lining our trash bins around the house.
  3. The oven is used only for storing unused pots and pans. Through all those years, I think my parents only used the oven in our house once. And I only know about that one time because my brother told me it happened; I don’t actually have a memory of it myself.
  4. To my recollection, I only ever had two birthday parties with friends. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have very many friends. We’d always go out for dinner as a family though.
  5. Public displays of affection (PDAs) weren’t ever a thing. Ever. Not between adults, nor with their kids. It’s just understood.
  6. Before I was allowed to bring my Game Boy, the way I’d entertain myself at family gatherings was to doodle. Except we never had the foresight to bring an actual notepad, so my mom would rip me a cheque from her cheque book. Or I’d use a restaurant napkin.
  7. Along with our shoes, we’d keep our indoor slippers by the door. No one was ever allowed to wear shoes in the house. Ever. Socks are okay. And you’d slip on your slippers as soon as you slipped off your shoes. It was always the same cheap Chinese slippers; I hated the one with the bit that goes between your toes.
  8. When my mom called us to help with the groceries, we’d almost never put on our shoes. We’d just slip on a random pair of designated outdoor slippers, even if they didn’t fit properly.
  9. Christmas dinner at my aunt’s house consisted of roast turkey, takeout sushi, braised shiitake mushrooms, some gai lan, and sticky rice. And put chai ko for dessert.
  10. I cried so hard at the mere mention of it that my parents gave up on registering me for Chinese school. That’s probably why my command of Cantonese today consists mostly of ordering my favorite dishes at Hong Kong style cafes.
  11. I started working at my parents’ restaurant when I was 9 years old. Leaning how to operate the commercial dishwasher with my grandpa, how to peel potatoes by hand with my dad, or how to make a milkshake from scratch with my mom was my idea of fun. Apparently.

From a cultural standpoint, was there anything particularly unique about your upbringing? Something you just took for granted only to realize that other people didn’t do that?