Halloween Cultural Costumes (My Thoughts)

Continuing on with my last post, the following is my personal thoughts and do not represent what other people of my background or those who share similar experiences think.

About Me

First of all, I’m a mixed kid with tanned skin, Asian eyes but multi-brown (many shades) hair. Some know I’m mixed, others see an Asian girl.

I have German heritage but none of my recent ancestors are from Bavaria. I lived in Munich last year and I’ve always loved dresses, so of course, I bought a dirndl.

Although I’m part Chinese, I’ve never had my own Qipao. I think it’s gorgeous and I’d love to have one someday.

My Thoughts about Others

When I see non-Germans, whether White or not, wearing dirndls and lederhosen:

First of all, it’s the Bavarians and the Austrians who call the dirndls and lederhosen their ‘national costume’. Germany is often incorrectly portrayed as a large sausage-eating blond(e) wearing a dirndl or lederhosen.

During Oktoberfest, everyone wears the traditional costume. In Munich, even when it wasn’t Oktoberfest, some people still wear the traditional costume and it’s not considered unusual. I’ve seen people of all ethnicities wearing the traditional costume. At this point, it seems to be acceptable. The only costumes I’d consider offensive are the Halloween sexy costumes. Those you do not wear to Oktoberfest. End of story.

When I see non-Chinese/Cantonese/Taiwanese (etc.) wearing Qipaos:

I see the Chinese traditional costume (which is pretty modern. I believe it’s from the 1900s?) on non-Chinese/Cantonese, I think it’s just an alternative to a formal dress. Because the Qipao is form-fitting, it shows off the figure perfectly. If I see it worn on Halloween, I assume 1 of 3 things:

1. Person is dressing up as Mulan
2. Person wants an excuse to wear the Qipao
3. Person is representing part of her culture

When I see traditional costumes worn by those who are not from that culture:

Growing up as a TCK, I thought traditional costumes are a free for all sort of thing. When I was 9, I was selected, along with a few British girls, to be part of the Diwali dance. We were provided costumes for the event.

While living in Munich, I went to an international church, which was dominantly African. Our German pastor sometimes wore a traditional African dress, which must’ve been given to her by the attendees or while she visited somewhere in Africa. By wearing it, she was not only showing respect but that she was one with them.
This is similar to a pastor at our church in Vancouver who, though Canadian, feels that he is African at heart.

There are so many examples out there. Yet if you can’t relate, well, unfortunately, you will not be able to understand that some people are actually not being offensive and that some are not feeling offended.


15 years since Hong Kong was returned to China

My family and I moved to Hong Kong in 1992 (work opportunities I think?). We lived in a city full of expats, mostly from the UK, and Hong Kong locals. During the 4 years I’d lived there, I never had to learn Cantonese because all the schools I’d attended were taught by teachers from the UK (mostly from England) and just about everything was in English. Because I was so young, I can’t remember what life was really like except for the fact that there was a major British influence – which became more apparent to me when I returned to HK for a visit in 2003 and discovered how Chinese it had become.

We left at the end of 1996 and the next thing you know, I woke up in a new country in 1997. I attended my last British primary school then finished classes at the end of June. On the eve of June 30 (I know this date now, mind you!), I sat in front of the telly with my family, watching Hong Kong’s ‘handover’ to China. I remember seeing Prince Charles get off the plane (I was sad not to see ‘Princess Diana’ – as I’d called the late Princess of Wales then and will use for this post – but I think I knew they were divorced already), make a speech (seemed solemn to little me) and next thing you know, there was a hoard of Chinese army men marching from who-knows-where. That scene, to me, was one of the saddest things for me to see. Just like that, GB had lost a colony and its influences on a much beloved (for its expat inhabitants) international city.

Flag of Hong Kong 1959

By Designed byEnglish: College of Arms中文: 英國紋章院 (http://flagspot.net/flags/hk-colon.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Not that 1997 was an annus horribilis for me, but there were definitely 2 events that occurred that year that marked the ‘end’ of something. The first, I’ve already mentioned, the second was the death of Princess Diana.

You have to understand that the late Princess of Wales was my childhood role model. I’d always wanted to meet her and I’d hoped she would visit my school(s) in HK. Sadly, my dreams of meeting her were dashed to the floor when I heard about the car crash in August 1997. I couldn’t have been more devastated. I was even about to visit London that year or the following year – which didn’t happen until 2000.
However, I do remember meeting one staff member at our school named Ms Nurse (or perhaps she was the school nurse?). She was very sweet and caring and she even looked like Princess Diana! Of course, I was absolutely elated and I even asked her if she knew who Princess Diana was. I was surprised that she did not (hmmm….); nevertheless, to a certain extent, meeting Ms Nurse was like meeting Princess Diana. 🙂

I started a new international school, an American one, in the autumn of 1997, which practically purged much of the British influence I’d grown up with. It was the end of the “British era” on me and the start of the “Americana” (which is another story and that concludes my post for the day!).

‘Where are you from?’ – The Dreaded Question for TCKs

Where do you come from?

How often I have been asked that since childhood. As a child (i.e. until I turned 15 and spent more time in my homeland, Canada), it was a question I had NO idea how to answer. And how could I, having been born in one country, then moved to another, and yet another, with plenty of visits home throughout the years?

This is what I mean:


Q: “Where do you come from?”
Mini me: “Umm… I’m from Hong Kong but I was born in Canada.”
Q: “Oh, so your parents are from Hong Kong?”
Mini me: “No, my Dad’s born in Canada and my Mum’s born in Taiwan.”
Q: “Why were you in HK?”
Mini me: ‘Dad’s job? I don’t know!’


Q: “Where do you come from?”
Teen me: “Uhh…I’m from Taiwan.”
Q: “Are you a landed immigrant?”
Teen me: (Thinking: ‘Immigrant – someone who moves to another country. Landed – arrived…’) “What’s that?”
Q: “What passport do you hold?”
Teen me: “Canadian.”
Q: “Where were you born?”
Teen me: “In Vancouver…”
Q: “….Oh.” ‘Why is she so confused herself?’

For many years, probably until I turned 18, I thought I was the only stupid one who couldn’t figure out where she came from / understand the question and answer it simply. I confused so many people because no one could figure out how someone “from Asia” could:

1) speak English fluently
2) attend international/private schools
3) move around so often

It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a forum for third culture kids (internationally-raised/educated kids from foreign countries; expat children, basically) that I realised I was not ALONE in dealing with this STUPID question. You want to know where we’re from? We’ll actually have to tell you a story about our birthplace and all the other places we lived in!

Now (i.e. adult me), it is a question I find both amusing and annoying. Quite often I have found that people did not get the answer they’d expected. There are usually 2 kinds of responses:

1) acceptance of answer followed by other questions of curiosity
2) rejection of answer followed by more questions pertaining to one’s ethnicity (supposedly, one’s “country of origin”)

1a) Someone hears my British/’unique’ accent.

Q: “Where in England are you from?” or “Where are you from?”
Me: “I’m actually from Vancouver / Canada.”
Q: “No! But you sound really British/English!” (Canadians tend to say I sound Australian. I wonder if it’s because it’s far more likely to meet an “Asian” with an accent – who is neither N. American nor Asian.)

This is amusing.

1b) OR sees/meets me for the first time.

Q: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Vancouver / Canada.”
Q: “Oh nice. And what’s your background / ethnicity / heritage (if I may ask)?”
Me: “Chinese (technically Taiwanese too but they’re originally from China) and German.

This is also accepting and polite.

2) Someone sees/meets me for the first time.

Q: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Vancouver / Canada.”
Q: “But you don’t look like you’re from Canada.” *gestures to face*
Me: ‘What’s that supposed to mean? What’s a Canadian supposed to look like? Oh, European. Hmm, I wonder if they include the Natives as Canadians as well.’ *laughs*
Q: “Where are you ORIGINALLY from?”
Me: “I am from Canada. I was born there!”
Q: “… Where are your parents from?” (I’ve had a case where the questioner asked about my father, mother, and grandparents before getting the answer he wanted. What a waste of time!)
Me: “My Dad’s from Canada and my Mum’s from Taiwan.”
Q: “Where are your Dad’s parents from?”
Me: “Chinese father and German mother.” ‘There, clear now?’
Q: “Ohh! Ok, good mix.” *like*
“But you look more Chinese. I thought you were from Japan / Korea / China / etc.” *dislike* Duh! I know what I look more like! And yes, I already KNEW you would think that’s where I’m from. You were just dying for me to say it!

This is just plain rude! 😡 And such a time-waster.

How to ask about one’s country of origin or one’s ethnic background

What to do:

  • Start with a friendly/casual “Where are you from?”
  • If you are curious about one’s ethnical background, ask, “What’s your background/heritage?”
  • Accept the responder’s replies. You should be satisfied. What you thought they were or where you thought they’re from should be kept to yourself, unless you tell them and apologise for your honest mistake.
  • It’s fine to ask about one’s surname – check where it comes from! *BUT please bear in mind that it could still be a one-sided answer. You either determine a part of one’s heritage OR find out the heritage of his/her adoptive parents/grandparents, etc.

What to avoid:

  • Don’t disagree with the responder’s answer(s). You know NOTHING about the person you’re asking.
  • Don’t tell someone that they don’t look like they’re from their country of origin. We live in the 21st Century – people can come from anywhere! Also, the responder is not STUPID – esp. if he/she is aware that his/her country of origin has a majority of people whom he/she does not resemble. In fact, don’t tell them what they look like. They know, they’ve seen their reflections. There are mirrors.
  • So you want to know what one’s ethnic background is. Don’t go asking where each parent or grandparent or great-grandparent and so forth is from. It could go back generations!

Ich hab’ mein Herz in DEUTSCHLAND gelassen…

S.O.S.! I am experiencing Reverse Culture Shock… in my HOMELAND! =O
For a girl who’s travelled all her life, lived in 3 continents, 5 countries, 6 cities, innumerable homes, and attended 3 different educational systems, 9 schools, and 2 universities (in 3 different locations), I really should be used to this.

What I miss about Germany:

  • RECYCLING! (Mülltrennung) – not that Vancouver doesn’t recycle; we’re quite green and we certainly separate paper from rubbish. Yesterday I was looking for “Verpackung” (packaged recyclables) outside but found to my horror that everything was mixed into one general bin (with the exception of cans/bottles to the side)! How appalling! People, RECYCLE! Think of the environment, this BEAUTIFUL EARTH in which you live! It’s really NOT that DIFFICULT and it’ll become a WONDERFUL habit!
  • German language – There are lots of Germans (tourists and German-Canadians) in Vancouver. However, I can’t seem to find them at the moment. I must’ve missed the tourism-peak in Vancouver (usually end of June, all of July)… Still, I kept throwing in German words here and there yesterday. (Luckily, one guy could speak German… but instead of “wirklich?” I replied “echt?” Hence, no response…) It’s just so strange to be in an Anglophone city.
  • Historical architecture – WHERE ARE THE QUAINT houses, buildings, churches (ok, fine. but our oldest churches are from the late 19th C.)? What are these skyscrapers doing, blocking OUR view? Come to think of it, the ‘historical’ part of Vancouver would be a section called ‘historical downtown’, which really isn’t that historical, since the historical buildings have been renovated one way or another… then there’s the obvious Gastown. Hmm, maybe I shall visit that soon!
  • Currywurst! – Yes, I gave a huge tube of curry-ketchup-sauce to my brother 2 months ago and now he’s 3/4 done with it… :/ Why didn’t I send another one home?
  • organic/natural stuff – Not much of a selection here… But a few more brands are springing out.

At the same time, I seem to be slowly readjusting myself in Canada. I realised that there have been some things that I’ve missed from home:

  • FEW smokers! – yay! I don’t have to keep holding my breath as I walk through the city. Instead, I can breathe in the fresh Canadian air that I’ve missed so much! Now I can finally reduce my chances of dying early from second-hand smoking. OR maybe I shall now suffer from second-hand marijuana-smoking. :/
  • Water refillsfreies Leistungswasser! No more having to pay for a beer because it’s cheaper than water 😛 No more worrying about drinking water with Kalk (lime/chalk)!
  • Longer opening hours – Some places stay open til 9pm! Yay!

One thing I NEVER missed about Canada is taxes. I keep thinking that I should be paying for the price LISTED. Imagine my mini-schock when I realised I had to pull out more change. I hate not being prepared!
Perhaps the biggest shock for me – and please, I’m NOT racist – was being in a city that’s dominantly populated by Orientals. Everywhere I go, I see Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese. No wonder Vancouver’s nicknamed Vanasia.
And that is Day 2 of Life Back in Vancouver.