Growing Up Asian in Australia

Baked Beans and Burnt Toast; by FAR my favourite story out of Growing up Asian in Australia. From the first few sentences, Jacqui had me engaged into the story and I just couldn’t stop reading (despite the fact that I had to… :/ ). It explores the aspect of being lost in your identity if you don’t know your inheritance. That’s proves further why Winston Churchill said, “A nation without knowledge and understanding of their inheritance has no future.” Her story reminded me of my experience coming to this school and how I’ve been since then. Me being called names almost made me feel insecure  and yet I never had the cowardice to give up my sense of belonging. As hard as it was for her to adapt to a place she hadn’t been before, she wrote as if she felt like she stuck out like an Asian in a room full of white kids (or me and my afro in China).

Through it all, the ending really grabs me; it just goes to show that one perspective isn’t enough to grab the whole story. Pete’s story really opened up Jacqui’s story a bit and, not only for Jacqui, but for the audience as well. The final three sentences give the story a great finishing touch as it relates Pete’s relationship with Jacqui’s. That made me realise that what you see from one aspect of life, doesn’t mean that it will stay the same for the rest of your life. That’s one reason why m self-esteem levels have risen considerably in the last 8 years because I didn’t let go of my identity as a child of Christ. Jacqui’s point of view of Pete was that he was a racist bully with no feelings and someone who made no sense, and yet Jacqui proves it in this short story that you should never judge a book by its cover, but instead, to know the full meaning, you have to actually ‘read the pages’.


To be torn between two cultures is a prevalent theme in which many of the stories in Alice Pung’s “Growing up Asian in Australia”. This theme is particularly displayed in the story “A Call to Arms” written by then only 17 year old Michelle Law. In Australia, she does is teased about her appearance, hairless arms; her hand-me-down, oversized togs; and her peculiar lunches. She tells her mum that she simply wants to be ‘normal’ and I believe that is something we are all looking for in our lives. We are all looking to ‘fit in’ and not be embarrassed by peculiar habits or ashamed by our heritage.

The idea presented by Law that we all want to be ‘normal’ is further delved into when she brings up her experience on a trip to Hong Kong where she blends in and “loses [herself] in a giant swarm of people”. She describes the “anonymity” as euphoric compared to the ‘stand out from the crowd’ she was so used to. However, only her physical attributes served well in this environment as her Australian upbringing made it obvious that she was a foreigner. It’s funny because when I went to visit Hong Kong last year, I sort of felt the same way. My physical appearance allowed me to blend into the crowd as soon as I set foot onto Hong Kong but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak, it was obvious I was a foreigner. I must admit, Hong Kong was like a home where I instantly felt like I belonged, just as Michelle Law had described.

Law finishes with her confusion of whether she is more Australian or more Asian, which I think many Asian-Australians or people with two cultural upbringings feel; to be torn between two cultures.

Wonder Woman,

I too,  just like this story wanted to be like her,

A crimefighter.

But in this story, the Grandmother a bit of a, dream interferer. When you are little your imagination runs wild and you don’t have time to focus on to little details( eg whether your skin color matches Wonder Woman).

For the grandma, to point out that she was Indian and then to imply she couldn’t be Wonder Woman or that she had to change to be approved seemed a little to critical for me.

If my granddaughter came up to me with a dream to be a crime fighter I would go along with it(as my grandparents have with me), enjoy her dream with her. If she was 13 and wanting to wear an outfit like Wonder Woman, i may consider getting a costume covering a little more.


“Baked Beans and Burnt Toast” explores the importance of “home” on identity and belonging. Without a place we call “home” where do we draw our sense of identity and belonging? I thoroughly enjoyed the story with the sense of humor that Jacqui has in her writing and the food metaphors in her story. It is interesting to see how Jacqui present her struggles as an Asian growing up in Australia in such a lighthearted manner. In addition, there are parts of the story where it reminded me of the importance of language to one’s sense of identity and belonging.

Jacqui Larkin tries to present her problems of being “caught in the middle” through giving examples such as her not being able to speak the language of her lineage and being ridiculed by the customs officer. It is in these situations where I am reminded of how important it is to know the language of my lineage, not just because my parents require me to, but it is so that I can understand my culture and be proud to say that I am Chinese. Language plays a pivotal role to a person’s identity as part of the culture is embedded in the language. Then, there is also the example of Mrs. Barton and her prejudices about Asian people. Apart from it being quite humorous to read, I felt relieved that I haven’t met anyone like her yet.  It makes me wonder where did Mrs. Barton get these ideas about Asian people?

Sticking closely to the idea of “home” and its impact on identity and belong. I found one part of the story to be quite interesting though, that Jacqui, an Asian, is born in Australia and is able to relate to the Australian culture (including speaking English) more than her the culture of her lineage. On the other hand, Pete the waiter was born in Sydney but works in Hong Kong and speaks Cantonese. Like how Pete sums it up, “If [Jacqui] is a banana, then [he] is an egg”. They are the antithesis of each other, which let me to wonder how these two people find their sense of identity and belonging in the circumstances that they are in. In Jacqui Larkin’s case, she talked about Hong Kong as her home, “a land [she] never ever visited.” I know for me I have two homes, Singapore and Australia, where I draw my sense of identity and belonging from.

This story really struck me; as humorous as it was. As I read, I could find no abnormalities in the decisions that Diana made, as far as normal life is defined by our society, yet the focus was always on her mothers discontent. As far as my up-bringing goes, all that she described would have been praised, with the exception of a certain wardrobe incident and its origins. She had found her passion at a young age, unlike many will do before they finish school. She worked hard to make her dream a reality, when many would simply give up. She tried hard to put all she could back into the family, when many just take their parents for granted. All of which my parents have been putting into me from a young age so that now I can look back and appreciate just how important and precious those values are, yet not good enough for Diana’s mother.

I am well aware that it is only a stereotype, but Asians are considered to be the more intelligent among races on this earth. It has always confused me that a child can accept that not everyone can be the best – that some, no matter how much they try, wont beat others in a math test – but some parents, not just Asians, cannot. After all, if we were all became doctor’s, who would make our medical equipment? Who would build our hospitals? Who would be picked to coordinate us all when we all are equally as eligible? Does it not cross ones mind that those who build houses for those who cannot are offer more to society than those who design them? Without the designer you still have a house.

I have been blessed into a family that would marvel at my dismay over a single ‘B’ grade on my report. “I would have LOVED to get a ‘B’ when I was at school” they tell me. I’m the star child of sorts because I am the first in generations on my mums side that has aimed for university. I have had direction and determination to achieve my goal. But I yet marvel at the heart that these kids have to strive so hard for a goal that is not their own. I consider myself mediocre compared to them. Such utter love that they show, that they give up their own dreams, wants and desires, just to make their parents happy. If only it were their efforts and not their results, in this one small area of life, that won their parents over. Having been so close, but not apart of one such scenario, I now have such great respect for all who are in a similar situation as Diana. I felt the pain in those words, even though i will never know just how she feels. I’ve seen the tears behind smiling eyes, and it broke my heart.

My point is this: in the beginning Diana says that her mother just wants her to be rich, successful and healthy. By the end of the story it is evident that she is reaching for all those things, but yet she is disowned and lives separated from her family. It makes me wonder, what is it that these parents really want? Do they even know? For what purpose do they want these things? And all of this amounts to nothing due to the fact that I, nor those oppressed kids, can do anything! If you do not believe the pain I feel for these people, then picture this: would you rather watch your best friend be tortured, or be tortured to save your friend? Which one hurts more? The pain is different, but I think they are both just as painful.

This story seems, to me, an extreme case, but what do I know? I know most of us, if any, here aren’t beaten till we are bleeding*; even those who live in similar situations, such as my best friend. But these kids are born into such situations that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, and have done nothing to deserve it. I can do nothing practical, but I can share this:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matt 5:11-12

Those who suffer great on earth will receive a greater reward in heaven, and they deserve no less. God is always with you and has a purpose for you, even if it is beyond your understanding. I believe this whole heartedly, and I wish only blessing upon you.


*After losing access to my booklet for the weekend, I found the story on Google books, discovering that it was double the length in the actual book than the booklet we had been given. These parts were cut out for good reason, and I do not endorse reading it due to its harsh nature. Thanks.

Choose three of the eleven stories from the booklet to be on your team.  For each of the three stories on your team, complete the following:

  • Fill in the matrix to determine which topics it relates to
  • Record the critical incident(s) on page 13 in your booklet
  • Write two context prompts of your own that connect with ideas from the writing
  • Determine the “voice” of the writer-How would you describe his ir her personality and approach?
  • Make a note of any writing techniques or elements that are particularly effective or engaging

Be ready to discuss them tomorrow in class!

See you there!

Miss McClimens


Wanna see something awesome from Tan Le?