Blueprints

 

 

Damn.

Those words you said to me that became our last,

Did you know they knocked the breath right out of me?

You used to take my breath away but that day you left me breathless.

 

In that moment I knew it was over

I knew it because I was done.

I knew we had taken our last knock,

That everything we had so carefully,

                                                        constructively,

                                                                               built.

All the love, all the miles, the thousand upon a thousand miles

we had traversed. Wasn’t enough, they were not enough,

(were they ever enough?) to withstand that final blow.

 

Death by a thousand cuts, death by a thousand miles,

a thousand upon a thousand miles. And more than that

Death by a thousand wishes for each other that we could not fulfil

in this lifetime. In our timeframe.

 

I do wonder, if we had met each other in another moment

would we have lasted?

Would we have built the empire together that we dreamt of building,

or would it still be ruin.

A crane over the sky of this vast, desolate construction site.

Unfulfilled potential is something I hate.

 

I can still see the blueprints

I return to them sometimes in the witching hour,

When I’ve had a glass too much red wine.

Worse, much worse though

Is when they strike me between the eyes

in the midst of experiencing. Falling in soaring in,

scaling the heights of, testing the breadth of—

Something new. And I accidentally compare it to you.

The blueprints of your restaurant, of our holiday home,

of our children, of our marriage.

 

My heart still aches.

 

I sketched the foundation, make it visceral and real

Spread out on the drawing board

In depth and in detail, in granular discussion,

The expert way you rendered them in 3D,

Conjurings, alive and ephemeralteamwork.

 

But what is living in the land of the dead?

 

We light the match and watch it burn.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

 

There is but one pillar left standing:

Mutual Respect.

 

I’ve heard it’s less romantic,

but a lot more solid.

 

—Jennifer McGeever

 

Feature image: Some life drawing sketches, hanging on one of my bedroom walls, taken a few moons back ♥

Let’s Talk About Love

 

 

Below is an adapted version of what I spoke on at the inaugural ‘A Conversation About Womanhood’ event, envisioned and founded by my best friend and visionary Seun Awolowo. To respect privacy (some stories are not just mine to be told), some details have been edited and condensed. After I finished speaking, one of the beautiful women in attendance suggested I write-up the speech on my blog, so here it is, a typed-up version of my notes:

“I want to start with a disclaimer: obviously I am a student of life just like everyone else hearing these words, I am no professed ‘expert’ on love or relationships (lol), so these words are very much delivered in a ‘if my journey could teach you anything’ spirit. This word Seun entrusted me with and asked me to speak on, love, is huge, and therefore in the next few minutes it’s impossible to say everything I would want to on the topic, so instead I’m distilling what has been put on my heart to share as pertinent in this specific environment.

 

What I realised when contemplating this word was that really, at our cores, we are motivated by two things as human beings—love or fear. There are nuances to each of these motivators, but if we strip back the layers, revealed will be one of the two in every decision we make and every choice that we have. To frame everything I’m about to say, I wanted to share words from scripture that Seun actually shared with some of us girls before we attended Colour Conference last year, they seem apt as a preface:

 

To Start All Over Again

 

“And now, here’s what I’m going to do:

I’m going to start all over again.

I’m taking her back out into the wilderness

where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.

I’ll give her bouquets of roses.

I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.

She’ll respond like she did as a young girl,

those days when she was fresh out of Egypt. ~

Hosea 2:14-15 (emphasis added)

 

What I love about these verses is that they show that God always intends love to be romantic, romance is not solely reserved for the realm of ‘significant-other’ relationships, you can have romance in your friendships, your familial relationships, in your relationship with God. He intended romance for us: the giving of reverent attention, extra care, taking us somewhere out of the ordinary to revive our relationship, so that we can start all over again.

 

First dates, I love that reference, I’m going to draw more on that later on; to return to the place where we first met, and the feeling of newness, anticipation and a blank slate that accompanies that. I also want to briefly touch upon the fact that God gets what it is like to be in ‘Heartbreak Valley’ and he will meet us there, in fact, as Psalm 34:18 promises, he will be closer to us than ever before, as he is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. I can testify to this first hand. Anyway, all this to say, let’s reframe what we think of as romantic love and not separate it from any relationship we have.

Tell us your story: what does this word mean to you?

 

I remember learning that before the age of 7, science has proven that we, as children, have developed a blueprint for how we will think about the world and relationships which we will view through for the rest of our lives. I dug deeper into this and discovered UNICEF’s study which shows that our brain at the age of 3 years old is actually twice as active as it will ever be when we are adults, that blew my mind. The architecture of our thinking and the blueprint for how we understand relationships and love is formed at such an early stage of our lives, our earthly pattern can be perverted, and though I firmly believe in the promise of Romans 12:2that we can be transformed by the daily renewing of our mindsthat takes active and conscious work, otherwise we can remain in the patterns of our formative years for the rest of our lives, and sometimes those patterns are extremely negative.

I want you to think quietly for a moment, close your eyes if you need to, and think back to your first experiences of love. When did you first feel loved, when did you initially comprehend what love was? What it felt like to give it? What it felt like to receive? When I did this, I quickly realised that love was not verbalised in my household growing up, it’s a pretty common cultural thread in Chinese upbringings—you don’t tell your children “I love you”—you show them. Love was enacted for me, it was felt and shown through food, pride, acts of service. It was also not particularly physical in my household, we weren’t super tactile with our parents. My early truths about love were therefore: love is enactment, love is sacrifice, love is so much more than a feeling, love is unconditional and beyond mere emotion. I am grateful to have had this as my initial blueprint for love.

It’s interesting to me as well, that though I love words, the gravity of love felt, love enacted, was beyond them. In fact, speaking of language, one thing I’ve realised in the years since my mother’s passing, which, perhaps by virtue of being mixed race, seems to come up in even the most innocuous conversations on almost a daily basis: “where are you from?”, “where do your parents live?” etc. I always find it slightly awkward to answer these questions (for the listener, not for myself, as people often find it difficult to talk about death, particularly in a small-talk context) as it is revealing of bigger truths through the use of different tenses for both parents, present for one and past for the other. Sometimes the listener picks up on this, sometimes they don’t, but even my mouth forming those ‘was’ versus ‘is’ still feels subtly telling of a much deeper truth than the average stranger is prepared for. The one verb I have realised I never have to say in the past tense in reference to my mother though, is love. I love her, she loves me, love is the only thing that outlasts us, it is the only verb that we can always say in the present.

 

Of course, I couldn’t speak on this topic without talking about romantic love. It is the area of love which vastly impacts our everyday lives and changes who we are as people.  One of my most hated phrases in regards to romantic love is “we fell out of love”. No, no, NO— that’s fake news right there— there is no such thing as falling out of love, it is an active choice. Lust and infatuation can be fleeting and they can be hella powerful, but real love is not something we merely fall into and therefore we cannot haphazardly ‘fall out’ of it. It is a choice, there is a moment, conscious or subconscious when we decide to love a person, the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of gaining intimacy and deep knowledge of a person can follow that and your momentary feelings of affection towards someone can waver, but when you choose to love someone for who they are, their inherent being, it goes beyond that to enacting love on the daily, weekly, monthly, year in and year out.

 

I currently have one close friend who is married, and having spoken to her before I spoke on this subject, her insights crystallised everything for me. She verbalised why romantic love is so important and so incredibly powerful and significant in our lives. It’s probably the only type of relationship in your life where the conjoining of all three aspects of our being are fully engaged: the physical, the emotional and the spiritual. Most other relationships in our life will have two of the three, some of them maybe only one, but it’s only really in an S.O context that all three are fully realised, or on their way to being so. But what I want to make clear is that my realisation over time has been that love is not different in different contexts, it is expressed in different ways but the core values of what love is and its essence are very much the same.

 

What has your journey of discovering your feminine power in relation to this word been like?

Funnily enough I’ve always had a lot more male energy in my home life than female, I grew up with three brothers and a father, so my mum and I were the only feminine forces in our home. I have definitely found in the years since her passing that I became more of an emotional conduit for the men in my life, it is something that is partially conditioned by society’s perception of masculinity (which is definitely shifting for the better but still very much in-progress) but I think as much as this can be a burden and I have learnt in recent years to draw my emotional, mental and psychological boundaries when it comes to pouring out of myself (to the point of being empty)—we can encourage the ultimate strength of vulnerability in the men in our lives in a positive and productive way, we can encourage them to talk to each other about real and deep and necessary things rather than just to women. Emotional labour is not just ours to carry, but maybe in this moment of cultural change, ours is still the model they are following for now.

 

What do you know now about this word and yourself that you didn’t know in your teens?

 

A few words to my younger self on love: love isn’t tortuous baby girl, it isn’t melodramatic (it may be beautifully dramatic at times, but there’s a clear difference), love isn’t toxic. If what you’re experiencing is any of the above, it most definitely isn’t love, PSA for both parties: get out while you can! Also, though love is self-sacrificial, it is NOT self-obliteration. I really hope you see the difference and know where to draw the line. Love is synonymous with respect, and a good relationship is the ultimate collaboration. Not only are the best relationships built on mutual respect, but they are corner-stoned by self-respect. Don’t leave your self-respect at the door, again, there’s a key difference between self-respect and pride. One is still loving, the other is putting your ego above your own needs and what you actually want to ascertain in a situation. Sometimes you need to step back and self-evaluate, or do so with someone who knows you better than you know yourself. I came to realise that in relationships we too often place so much value on love and not an equal or greater amount on respect. It takes love and respect in equal measures to have a successful, healthy relationship. Toxicity breeds when respect leaves the room and one is clinging to your notion of love sole. A significant relationship in my early twenties helped me to realise the beauty and the key of having respect and friendship as an integral foundation for love. Even if circumstances lead to the breakdown of a romantic relationship, mutual respect always remains and will allow you to hold love for that person despite a change in your relationship status.

 

What scriptures have encouraged you or brought light to your sense of self in relation to this word?

 

I can’t speak about love without interpolating what the Bible has to say on it, what is commonly referred to, even in secular society, as “the golden rule” is a direct quote of what Jesus said and a clear definition of love as enactment:

““Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others].’ The whole Law and the [writings of the] Prophets depend on these two commandments.”” Matthew 22:37-40 Amplified translation

These verses honestly floor me. They answer every question about legalism, judgment and condemnation that is often associated with religion, when Jesus says that the law and the writings of the prophets (essentially everything within the Old Testament, which he directly quotes from Deuteronomy, also a part of the Torah) hangs upon the commandment he gives, and ties the New Testament with the Old by associating the first commandment issued to the Israelites with the final one he issues during his time on earth. The explanation of love given here is so counterintuitive, the unselfish seeking of the best or higher good for others above ourselves, but not forgetting that we are supposed to love ourselves in this way as well, as this is how God loves us. I love that though self-love can seem very new age, as can vision boards and manifestation, these concepts are all within the ancient scriptures and texts, nothing is new under the sun. e.g. ‘A Course In Miracles’ is actually based on biblical scriptures.

Following on from the above, this verse sums up what I believe to be the definition and embodiment true love: ‘Love makes it impossible to harm another, so love fulfills all that the law requires.’ Romans 13:10-12 The Passion Translation. Obviously, oft-quoted 1 Corinthians 13 defines love in terms of actions and is such a beautiful and definitive map of how to love and what love looks like in its tangibility. I’ve included it below for those who would like to read it afresh:

‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

 

What is a healthy truth we need to remember about this word?

 

To finish, I just want to leave you with the lessons I have learnt about love through personal experience and revelation: it is mysterious but it isn’t illusory, elusive or intangible. Mystery has to do with allure and the ongoing sense of revelation that you have in discovering the many layers of someone’s depth and breadth, that continues to change over time. Love is most definitely tangible and in reality it can be seen. It is not fickle, it is not insecure. Everyone has love languages, and if you take the time to learn those of your friends, family et al. your relationships with them will become infinitely easier to navigate in both how they express and how you show love to them, e.g if theirs is words the way they talk to you (not just in what they say but tone, method and consistency) is an expression of lack thereof of love, if it’s time, they will prioritise and make time for you.

 

When someone shows you who they are, believe them. It can be tough to swallow this truth, as sometimes we have vision for who someone can be/see their potential, but it isn’t our place to necessarily be with them on that journey. Remember, love is sacrificial, but it’s not self-obliterating.

 

Two last slices of learned wisdom to leave you with, firstly a quote from my fave, Bobbie Houston:

 

May love be the last great act to shock the world”.

 

And finally, these words from a previous blog post:

Love isn’t blind. Love is intelligent, love is considered. Love is so much more than a feeling. Love is synonymous with respect. Love is an enactment. Love is tenacious. Love is a moment-by-moment choice. Love is in the doing as much as it is in the being.”

 

Always in love,

 

J x

 

Feature image: Wefie snapped in the English countryside, July 2018 (spot the sibling)

Elevation

 

 

 

I remember, that day you showed up in the bright, beautiful sunshine

Outside the Hôtel des Invalides

And you had brought me a pastry rather than flowers

As you thought it would be easier for me to carry

 

It was so pure.

 

And your intent shone

Golden, before we had even kissed.

 

Before we had even spoken everything that we felt

You loved me.

And you showed it

This is how I knew you were a man

Different from all the boys I’d known before.

 

— Jennifer Weng Han

 

 

Feature image: Taken the morning of my 21st birthday in Paris, in my old neighbourhood of Palais Royal, by my dear coloc and friend Naina Bajekal

Instinct on a Full Moon

 

 

I felt it in my heart.

I held it in my gut.

He whispered to me—

The truth before you told me.

Before you mustered up enough

Strength, courage, boldness.

To let me know yourself

 

How did I know?

Is it because I’m woman?

And you’re male.

Is it because I hold a heightened power of intuition?

(That’s too reductive).

 

Or, is it because I’ve seen you before?

You’re a déjà vu of other men,

Who didn’t have the tenacity.

To hold the truth. To tell the truth

So instead covered it up with half-truths

And an opalescence that they thought was

so distracting, I couldn’t see through the shimmer and the shine.

I do like shiny things.

But

that’s why I’m a connoisseur of the real from the fake

Did you not know? You can tell a real pearl by its grit

When you bite down on it.

That’s a fact. For real. Proof of authenticity.

 

Let me tell you the truth.

It will set you free.

I saw it before you knew it.

I saw it coming weeks in advance.

Because I hold intimate knowledge of you

I’m no fortune teller. I don’t have the gift of foresight.

But—I am a woman who runs with the wolves.

Insight told me, miles ahead of you

Because I am not afraid of the wild,

Or the rhythms of the moon, that dictate change in the tides.

Does it frighten you?

Because I see you for who you are, and I’m not afraid of it.

I don’t walk away without asking you first to look me in the eyes.

Because I could push you stratospherically out of your comfort zone?

“Maybe nothingness is to be without your presence,
without you moving, slicing the noon
like a blue flower, without you walking
later through the fog and the cobbles,” (Neruda)

—I guess you will see, as you feel me walk away.

 

By Jennifer McGeever

Written on the night of a full moon, feature image taken by Florence Chau in Vancouver, Canada.

To Malaysia, with love

 

[…] It gave her shivers even thinking about it, but she loved the rainforest in the daytime, she loved the wildness it spoke of; she felt at home there, way more at home than she felt in the structure of a city, there was something untamed and much more primal within her that she had always known, that she connected to. It made sense to her when she first saw Malaysia—its capital, where her mother grew up— was gritty, it wasn’t beautiful, it was living. It was a vast landscape, her motherland: of beaches, crystal clear water, jungle, mountains, tropical climate, sweet fruit, coconuts, humidity and chaos. It was her, it was within her. She never knew to fit in with the pale whiteness that had taken over London of late, the city she knew was eclectic, it made her sad but resigned to see it lose its colour, to see it stream from its face. Rather than reviving it she knew her energy was better off spent activating in areas that were excited to be alive, living and active. She would use her sword there.

— Jennifer Weng Han

 

A little something in honour of Malaysia’s historic election last week. A lot more where this came from. This isn’t autobiography, c’est tout. Xo —JM

 

 

Feature image: Jennifer McGeever

 

Catch The Vision

‘Where there is no vision, people cast off restraint’ Proverbs 29:18

Vision has been at the forefront of my mind recently. Maybe it’s because it’s towards the start of the new year, in fact, I’m still in the midst of celebrating the Lunar New Year (celebrations officially last 15 days). However vision isn’t just for new beginnings, it can also help to realign us in the midst of doing something or when we feel we’ve lost focus. As Proverbs states, those without vision cast off restraint, and it can become so easy for us to give up on something we used to feel so strongly about, whether it be our purpose, a relationship, or a goal merely because we lost sight of why we began it in the first place.

 

It is key to write down your vision. And actually write it out with a physical pen and paper, the act of writing it manually sears it into your brain and makes it more memorable and real. I actually wrote out a vision for this space last year. Note that vision is not just about what is, in fact it is much more about what will be than what is right now. I wanted to share my vision for this space with you all, so that we can clearly see the aim and where we are heading towards. Sometimes you need to cast the vision, state the intention to those who are along the journey with you in order to connect and resonate with those who catch and support it, and can contribute to its community moving forward. Sharing a vision to begin with isn’t necessarily always right, some things are birthed in our hearts and in order to protect them, we need to be very choosy about who we share them with. Don’t cast your pearls before swine (another Proverb, it’s the book of wise sayings for a reason), in other words, don’t take what is too precious and valuable and put it in front of those who will not fully understand or appreciate it.

 

catch the vision
Photo: Jennifer McGeever, January 2017

 

In its foetal stages, vision needs nourishment and care. One of the most powerful women in the Bible actually didn’t reveal key information about her background, as she had been advised not to do so (“Esther had not revealed her people or family background, because Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it.”
‭‭Esther‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

In fact, if she had revealed this information at the wrong time, her entire purpose would have been thrown off course. Revelation is God’s timing and domain: ‘It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, it is the glory of Kings to reveal it’ (Proverbs 25:2).

SS Vision Statement:

« This is a space for those who don’t see a division between intelligence and investment in style. Who know their taste but are equally informed about the human heart. A place for art and acquiring knowledge, a place where artificial separations are demolished, as SS stands for style with substance and understands that the creative is in every one and every walk of life. In that vein you will find essays on faith alongside articles on where to find the showrooms of the best independent jewellery designers in the world. Feminism alongside food, the best breakfast in Bali side-by-side with informed writing on the mixed race experience. As a 25 year old woman who has lived in both hemispheres and is educated, inquiring and aesthetically astute, I find it harder and harder to find a space and words that combine both style and real substance, that talks to me not only as a peer but as a human, not enticing me with clickbait or SEO-friendly headers but honesty and integrity. I have set out to create media that I want to read and that resonates with my peers who are changing the game in their respective fields.

Many of these pieces are like transcribed extensions of conversations I have had with incredible friends and acquaintances from all walks of life, social stratas and ethnic backgrounds. SS is authentic and representative not because diversity is trendy (*cough cough* every major fashion and beauty brand who is only now diversifying their nude range) or commercially viable, but because this is the world in which I have grown up and thrive within, the world as it should be, is and can become where it is lacking. Style with substance: let’s be men and women making strides to embody this. »

When it is right, casting and sharing vision can allow something to ascend to its next natural progression of growth. Everything growing needs to see the light of day at some point in order to evolve. Thank you for allowing this vision its space to breathe, sit and soar. I hope it resonates with you.

Always in love,

Jennifer McGeever

x

On Being Whole

An Antidote to ‘Dilution’

Feature image: a pixelated version of Jasper Yu‘s photography

Time to get a little raw and uncomfortably real. Definitely easier not to broach the subject. Awkward silences ensue, noses rubbed in anxiety, “shit, did she really just say that?” Definitely easier to stay silent, to not be difficult, to let the small things slide. There’s apparently even a formal term for these things— “microaggressions”, nice to be able to intellectualise something which has gnawed at my edges for a while now. It’s not always easy but sometimes entirely necessary to speak, especially when things have been left unsaid, a narrative unravelled that should have been uprooted long ago. When you’ve allowed others to speak for you, over you and instead of you for one too many chapters. But what if, you are here on this earth, in this very moment, living and breathing alongside 7 billion others “for such a time as this”? (Esther 4:14)

What has prompted me to speak up about an issue where I usually take a curious observer’s backseat is that the dominant discourse right now overwrites the mixed, we are put in one box or another, in my case I have been called everything under the sun. Dependent on where I am in the world and usually how much and what make-up I am wearing (it’s still amazing to me how a little flick of eyeliner can radically change someone’s perception of you) I am ang moh (phrase for white person in Hokkien), Brazilian, Thai, Eastern European, and just recently on a trip to Florida spoken to in Spanish half a dozen times as I guess those people perceived me to be Hispanic. I unfortunately do not speak Spanish. Geography has never defined my identity. Culture crosses borders. I have never felt offended by the question (which I often receive when I meet new people) “where are you from?” Though I know and understand why some people do get offended, I’ve always understood it to come from a place of curiosity and it has often opened up richer conversations for me, though I think I have been fortunate in that case.

I speak for one small corner of the mixed race experience, but I am speaking. The diversity within being of mixed ethnicity is beautiful, complex and underrepresented. Other people’s fascination, attribution and association regarding who I am is interesting in itself. It is important that parents who are raising children within an interracial environment allow them to embrace that, it will pay dividends in later life. The face you see, the features you analyse. In most cases I haven’t seen it as racism, but merely racial study. The external has a big part to play. Trust me I get it. I code differently according to your familiarity with the “Eurasian” face. I also fully recognise that in some senses I have a cultural monopoly due to what has been thrust upon a lot of Eurasians, Pan-Asians (the terminology differs dependent on where you are in the world, another issue altogether), ethnic neutrality, sometimes privilege. Even a surname can discriminate, sorry, ‘help one to discern’.

 

View this post on Instagram

Wholly necessary journalism on #racism experienced by Malaysians in Britain: "I met this guy in a pub. We spoke all night and got on really well. When he asked where I was from, I naturally said Malaysia, as that is my country of origin. We spent the night together. But the next morning he asked why I could speak English so well since I was Malaysian. I told him I was half English. To which he replied. ‘That’s cheating, I thought I was sleeping with a full Asian chick.’ And he got dressed and left." Evelyn Bee, Wadebridge "This guy was telling me how great colonialism was – ‘We gave you justice, railroads, your country wouldn’t be progressive if it wasn’t for us’ – and then he told me: ‘You wouldn’t have gotten into uni if it wasn’t for colonialism’." Izyan Hay, London #LinkInBio for the full piece #colonialism #malaysia #malaysiaboleh #malaysian #speakout #asian #hapa

A post shared by Styleish Substance (@styleishsubstance) on

 

Most of the time I find it amusing and let it be, so I’ll say that it has taken me 25 years of living to reach the point where I felt compelled, truly so, to write this. Simultaneously, I do not take the below lightly, the death-by-a-thousand-cuts incidents that myself and others like me, us “mixed others” who tick that hilarious box on every form, who have grown up straddling an invisible line of others’ perceptions live within. I figured it was time we spoke for ourselves. Following on from recent events, such as casting decisions in Hollywood to the amazing photographs and accounts captured by Daniel Adams on racism experienced by Malaysians in The Guardian, I’ve decided to let this see the light. Some of this I wrote about three years ago in reaction to a specific incident. Some of the below was written as a direct result of marinating upon derogatory terms I read in a prominent newspaper; some of it years ago, some of it just this afternoon.

It has always darkly humoured me how people make backhanded compliments about the appearance of my mixed heritage and in so doing diminish my being Asian, and Chinese beauty generally. I’ve heard it all: “wah, she’s so European-looking lah” said with reverence at the salon (this disquieted me even as a child as I could sense the implication), “your features are so interesting, it’s like the Asian and white have mixed so they’ve diluted the edges off each other to make this nice fusion of both”. Dilution. I hate that. I’ve heard it from people I love dearly, well-meaning people, Chinese and non-Chinese people alike. I accept that the Eurasian face in particular is commoditised and it can be seen as a ‘privilege’ in these times of globalisation, I actually wrote a whole piece on just this for the Business of Fashion, which will be published at a later date. We in many ways embody the “best of both” that casting directors are looking for, the familiar and the exotic whether a local or foreign audience is onlooking. On my visits to Malaysia I would often be stopped in the mall and asked to be in this “Milo/Nokia/Dove” advert before they realised I wasn’t a citizen or of legal age. In the midst of this talk of commodities and demographics, as a human being and an individual I am well aware that one of the hemispheres I represent is often derogated, so if I use my “so European-looking lah” face to talk about and give voice to those who don’t inherently straddle this ethnically ambiguous line then I will do so. Alongside this ethnic neutrality/privilege is a double-edged sword, as one of my mixed best friends recently said to me, “can I choose to bring out my white ‘half’ when I am being frisked in the airport for the umpteenth time” (she’s got more melanin in her skin than me)? Being mixed is a hodge podge when it comes to many things, from whether I am considered first generation, to being ethnically viable for diversity programmes.

I am a woman who likes things with grit and minus the bullshit. I cook with garlic and ginger as base ingredients like I was taught to. It’s interesting what goes on in the pot, what that mix means. That melding of genetic and cultural and ethnic calculation, appropriation, attribution. A lot of my life I have taken the stance: Allow me to be what you assume me to be. It’s interesting as it tells me so much more about you when you tell me who I am, and I don’t have to say a word but smile warmly and nod. What does it make you comfortable for me to be? I am comfortable in my skin and my identity, but what I’ve realised more and more recently is that others aren’t, and that it is time we had a conversation about it, rather than sitting on the sidelines and allowing others to speak about us, others who don’t inhabit the skin and identity that we do. Others who have tried to make me and others like me feel “less than” over the years and as if the fact that we are “only half” disqualifies us from understanding and participating in our own culture in a meaningful way. It’s an ugly and bigoted reality and perception and is a form of racism like any other.

View this post on Instagram

Batik babes 💗 the traditional technique of using coloured dye and wax to create intricate patterned fabric for clothing, accessories and more is part of the tapestry of Malaya culture. Both Indonesia and Malaysia pride themselves on being #batik greats. Here are some of my personal collection: a dress my mum brought back for me from one of her trips back home to #Malaysia, custom-made jackets that my aunt designed and sourced #fabric for and clutches that I scoured for in #Bali, Indonesia last year. My wardrobe has so many #LoveStories within it, I love clothes that have stories to tell, share and pass on over time. Growing up around this beautiful tradition definitely informed my love of #colour, #print and texture 💛 #treasure #batikprint #malaysian #indonesia #batikbabe #lovestory #custommade #slowfashion #mandarincollar #nonya #peranakan #BatikBabes

A post shared by Styleish Substance (@styleishsubstance) on

I remember the small things easily, I am a person of the details. A strength or weakness like most character traits dependent on how they are exploited. We were at a very crummy Chinese buffet, the kind that no self-respecting Chinese person would ever willingly go to (I was there against my better judgment, kind of like when one used to hang out at Tiger Tiger, Cheapskates and those other not so fun places just because the rest of North London was there). Anyway, I’m sitting there, amongst friends, good friends, some of whom I’ve known since baby ages, eating my sub-par sub-room temperature mediocre “Chinese” food and that’s when I hear: “Oh wow, so you’re really, like, actually in touch with your culture, you’re eating with chopsticks! (Laughter) I never realised you were so Chinese”. Chopsticks and mouth both fall open. This was said by someone I’d known most of my life, who had seen my Chinese mother pick me up from school every day for the last seven years. I had no clue what to say, what do you say to that? Do you bring out that list you’ve been keeping since birth “all the things that make me Chinese even though I may not code it when you look at me 101”? Culture doesn’t appear on demand, it is not always visible, this is what disrupts some people without them realising, the subtle realisation that you cannot be put in a box. These incidents are major-minor but they are also cumulative, we cannot let the conversation and discourse surrounding race and subsequent racism be reduced to one versus another, there are a multitude of mixed others who have a voice and an experience that is equally valid.

I remember that same friend diminishing an internship I got through my own shameless teenage persistence as due to racial preference in front of my peers, I laughed it off though it jarred with me, and upon later reflection realised how jealous and petty a statement that was. On a piece of paper you can’t tell anything of my ethnicity, most people think my surname is Scottish. This was the very same friend who voiced their shock at my “Chinese-ness” earlier that year. I quickly learnt that I needed to know and stand firm in who I am internally, as BOY will others thrust their definitions on you, utilise your perceived ethnic ambiguity to their own agenda and if you aren’t secure in your identity you will lose yourself in the confusion of others that attempt to categorise you.

View this post on Instagram

Mood(y). 🖤

A post shared by Styleish Substance (@styleishsubstance) on

 

These so-called micro-agressions started getting even more up in my grill when I read some ridiculously derogatory comments about a mixed race actor’s casting (Henry Golding) being published in Hong Kong’s most prominent English-language newspaper SCMP (South China Morning Post) and I finally realised that all these small small incidents that I had been playing down my whole life were actually death-by-a-thousand-cuts and that if we stand by and let it, the experience of being mixed will be written off as one of privilege, commodification and without real nuance or genuine understanding. As Maya Angelou said, they bite and blow, take a bite out of you so small you feel embarrassed to comment for fear of “overreacting” and then blow on it to ease the pain. The process continues until the wound is irrevocably deep. The headline reads “Hollywood adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians has cast its Chinese male lead – and he’s half white”, the sub-head goes on to talk about “whitewashing” and the whole piece is full of passive aggressive jibes about his mixed heritage. I get the backlash regarding the casting to an extent, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the acidic nature of some of the comments that the piece reports on: “Guess this film will be two steps forward and one step back for diversity. We still aren’t at a point where a Hollywood film can have a full Asian male lead. Do Asian males need to be half white to be ‘good looking’ enough for the big screen?”, “Golding’s newfound stardom could at least be considered half a step forward from the diversity problem”.

“The message is clear; you simply CANNOT be a full-blooded Asian male in a romantic lead in Hollywood.” This last comment made me laugh out loud at first at the ludicrous notion of being “full-blooded” and feeling like I’d stepped into Harry Potter and its world of “half-bloods”, which I guess is what anyone of any kind of mixed heritage would be considered. Let me just stop and say here as a side note that there are many seriously, objectively HOT Asian men in the public eye: Ross Butler, Hayden Szeto, Godfrey Gao, Harry Shum Jr., Charles Melton to name but a few. Hayden Szeto was the romantic lead in The Edge Of Seventeen, granted this is the first time in a very long time. But anyway this side note is just to clarify that Asian men, like every other ethnicity can be hot, and we need to get over this idea of them as effeminate/unattractive rn, please and thank you.

 

Anyway, can we address the fact that these terms are derogatory: “Could at least be considered half a step forward”, “whitewashing” in regards to a mixed race person? I can firmly say I am half of nothing, I am neither a division or a dilution, the result of an equation or an experiment and I am sick and tired of these terms being used to describe my personhood and to make me more palatable, less other. There is no internal line running down the middle of a biracial or multiracial person marked “quarter Chinese” “7% Polynesian” “just half Indian”. Is there a chance we can be more creative? Is there a chance we can make more room than binary terms of biracial, half of this, a quarter this and accept people for who they are without having to categorise what we can’t understand? The above also completely dismisses the struggle of “not being Asian enough” or “not being white enough” that mixed actors such as Chloe Bennet (who had to change her name from Wang to even get a casting call for non-Asian roles) go through in the industry. Being of mixed heritage and a product of a mixed race marriage is something that wasn’t even legally recognised in the US until 50 years ago. Louise Hung wrote an incredible piece called ‘The Privileges and Pitfalls of Being Eurasian’. She speaks about the history of being mixed in East Asia, specifically Hong Kong with its British colonialist history being very recent, and how dependent on the situation you may be “called white and your Asianess discounted” or barred from living in certain parts of the city because of your Chinese blood. There is often a third culture in a lot of Asian countries, where generations of Eurasians have their own customs, traditions and communities due to being both. Some key and poignant extracts below:

“Yet, amidst the strides Eurasian families made in Hong Kong in the colonial era, it was death that, instead of being the great equalizer, was the reminder that Eurasians were neither European nor Chinese in the eyes of Hong Kong. Eurasians could not be buried in colonial cemeteries due to their Chinese ancestry, but were also not allowed to be interred in Chinese cemeteries.

Mixed-race Asians are typically just glossed over as “Asian”. Western media is not yet equipped to understand what it is to be mixed-race – be it Asian, Mexican, Black, etc. Because of this lack of visibility and understanding, many hapa and Eurasian people still strive to find acceptance in the two or more cultures they simultaneously inhabit.

Eurasians, hapas, mixed-race Asians are pressed to choose a race to embrace – usually the one they most physically present as. One might make the argument that forcing a mixed-race person to choose the race they most physically “resemble” is a way for dominant races to make it easier on themselves.

Though for Asians, being mixed race may be seen as “favorable” in certain circles, let’s not forget that Eurasian and hapa people also fight for visibility and equality, often from both sides of the racial divide.”

One evening at university I was at a late night exec committee meeting for one of my societies and half zoning out as the meeting wrapped up after an extremely long day. I was packing up my stuff to head home, when I caught wind of a conversation by a fellow exec member who was semi-addressing the group (including me) still in the room. She was venting about the class she was teaching and how there were a lot of international Chinese students who couldn’t really grab the dance routine, perhaps due to language issues (after taking dance classes in French —trust me— trying to coordinate your body, remember choreography and simultaneously translate instructions in your head is DIFFICULT). Instead of explaining the situation as I just did however, she said acidly: “These Chinese people have no idea what they’re doing and just don’t get life. They’re a fucking nightmare”. I actually felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I sat there. Silent, shocked and wondering how and if to explain my rage about this ridiculous statement. I was the only ethnic minority on this committee and those who know me know that I am not one to not have the words, but quite honestly in that situation I didn’t have them. I packed up my things, left the room and walked home angry, upset and disappointed that people felt comfortable saying things like that full-stop, let alone in my presence.

It is sad but not surprising that at a very intellectual university – one which prides itself on diversity and is more integrated than many others in the U.K – home students in particular, those who did not grow up in major cities, are still largely ignorant of anything beyond their sphere of reference. Maybe I’m too harsh on people who don’t understand what they don’t know, but isn’t that the point of encountering those different from you in environments that foster interaction, to engage and learn? Not judge and dismiss? I honestly don’t believe in pleading ignorance in this day of constant information, there is a key difference between being curious about what you do not know or understand and coming at something or someone with an arrogance and assumption. It made me wonder for the umpteenth time in my life if my eyes were more monolid, my heritage tattooed on my skin, if people would still say these things to my face? The hurt that racist behaviour incites isn’t less “because I’m just half” it cuts as deep and penetrates as much, not half as much. I was also shocked as it made me realise again that others will use my perceived ethnic ambiguity to their own agenda. Perhaps if I used my Chinese middle name in public life, or had my mother’s maiden name, I would more easily “code” as Chinese, perhaps she wouldn’t have felt comfortable saying that in front of me then? In her eyes I was white, or off-white, but I certainly wasn’t Chinese, or perhaps because I can speak perfect English, I’m “acceptable”. How arbitrary. Because I have European blood in me, therefore I am neutralised from being ‘other’? Sometimes people try to treat us like some kind of chemistry lab experiment, a few drops of this to make you more alkaline and palatable and somehow you are transformed into something that you don’t recognise yourself in. We can be chameleons.

View this post on Instagram

There is infinite value in your being.

A post shared by Styleish Substance (@styleishsubstance) on

 

I could cite many more incidents, much more vicious, vitriolic examples of racism myself and other Chinese people have directly experienced in our every day. However, this isn’t about blame and definitely not about naming. This is about opening up the dialogue, speaking for ourselves and expanding the conversation. As P. P. Wong wrote in ‘A Life of a Banana’ and a good friend reminded me recently: “Chinese have mouths”.

Who doesn’t prefer people to ask them who they are rather than thrusting your perception of their identity upon them? It is a real conversation to discover someone rather than a monologue when you decide who someone is. Assumption results in small talk and small mindsets. As I said, the irony is it tells me so much more about you when you tell me who I am, and funnily enough, you end up knowing nothing about me or anything new. I love how Priyanka Chopra put it in her recent interview with US Glamour:

When somebody else calls you exotic, exotic is a box—it’s the stereotype of snake charmers and face jewelry. You’re just that stereotype. But I don’t get offended anymore. I used to get offended by things that were said to me, or how I was seen. Now I educate. If I get pissed off, I’ll educate in a sassy way. Other times I educate in a Gandhi-like way. You know—I have my moods. [Laughs.]”

There are layers, there is nuance. Let’s not drown each other out in whose voice is the loudest or the most commonly heard. Don’t speak for others, I represent myself. It’s just skin, it’s just eye shape, it’s just a nose. We’re mad to be honest, and we’re also obsessed. Before publishing this I spoke to a good friend about censorship, I felt blocked and like I couldn’t write my own experience as I could foresee the backlash in writing about something which has little mainstream commentary or traction. However her advice was the best: she reminded me that we all have a seat at the table, and that I can speak from my own experience resolutely, in fact as we become an ever more globalised society and mixed kids are more and more common, it is high time our voices are heard with clarity and an open ear. This one’s for all my Hapa brothers and sisters, to beating more bold, beautiful and nuanced paths.

Who knows, maybe you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this and for this very occasion? (Esther 4:14)

Don’t remain silent at this time.