Written by Ho-Yen Tsang || Image by Frank Zhang, via unsplash.
Does being a British Chinese Christian condition me to want to belong?
True, very true indeed. I would say at the early years, to belong was something that I yearned for. The small town of Irthlingborough is where I live currently and being in the countryside, there isn’t really a Chinese community present. It’s harder to obtain belonging within a rural area and that being a minority felt strange as you feel like an outsider/alien. Not alien in the sense that you look alien, but what you perceive as normal is alien to others and the exact same goes the other way around.
At school, I was the only Chinese kid except from my sister at a later date. There was this sense of loneliness and that no one really understood me through multiple aspects. For instance, culturally wise, my friends wouldn’t understand the burden that I had at home and that my mum acted like my supervisor. I was envious that my friends could be so chill and be best mates with their parents. The joy on their faces as they joke around is what I craved for, I dreamed for that kind of relationship.
In reality, my mum showed her love through work, chores, cooking and cleaning for me. All I wanted was to be hugged and showered with praise and that I felt loved with physical interaction. Nonetheless, I am happy when my mum brags about me about my attainments with the other Chinese families. I gathered that deep down she knew that I’m hardworking, even though I may not clean up after myself all the time.
Some individuals would question how I was so popular at school. I recall one time during sixth form after my classmates and I got off the bus, many other students who were queueing were saying “Hi Ho Yen” as I walked past. One of my peers, said that one of those students never said hi to him even though they have been in the same form for several years. He then said that I was only popular because I was Chinese, which I thought was outrageous. Though there may be some truth to it, I certainly am recognisable in a sea of white faces. I don’t believe that being Chinese is special and in anyway a talent. Though a reason why I was popular was due to me working really hard, giving presentations, winning awards and taking extra classes. I made a name for myself and students were impressed by my dedication and intellect.
However, one part of me feels that people know me as the kid who lost his dad. I didn’t want everyone to pity me, all I sought for was understanding from others. In turn, this heavily gave me an identity crisis. I didn’t have the warmth of my family to support me, my mum stores her feelings away and only cries when I’m not in the same room as her. I wanted her to know that it was okay, and that I wouldn’t think that she was weak, but she saw her grief as her weakness. I didn’t have my friends to support me, they didn’t understand losing a dad and the magnitude of the situation nor could they empathise. My main solace was speaking to teachers as I was cared for by their maturity, kindness and transparency. I didn’t believe in God at that time and when I did think about God, I would always ask why it had to be me. Why did my mum lose a husband? Why did my sister lose a dad? Why did we have to lose our childhoods? Why did we have to suffer?
These questions constantly circled my mind when faith was thrown at me. I blamed God for taking my dad away and I was angry that I lost out on so much, I felt really unlucky and alone. For no one to understand your loss and your reality, it really sucked. Transparency to others was hard but I needed for someone to understand me.
I wanted to belong. I wanted to learn how to read and write and speak more Cantonese. Unfortunately, my parents never had the time and my mum would always busy herself with work. I felt like I wasn’t wanted, and I desired a deeper connection with her through language.
Even though I was well known in school, I would still receive hate from others. I received multiple racist comments and I felt like an outcast in my own country that I was born in. One time, I had stones thrown at me on my way back home by primary school children. On another occasion, an old lady belittled my looks at the bus stop and made a big scene and no one defended me.
I don’t think most of the time the two cultures merge. I would say that they clash. There are different ways of being brought up. In the Chinese household, I had the role of looking after the family as I was now the man of the house. Now that I have a step-dad, that is less so the case, but I feel bad when my mum can’t defend herself in arguments and that she sticks to the view of women need to cook and follow men’s orders. On multiple occasions, I reflect on what kind of example this sets for my sister. Additionally, in the Chinese household, it’s stigmatised to discuss emotions as my mum perceives it as a weakness thus, I can’t open up to her which is especially hard with the language barrier. I’m more proficient in English but it is hard to not be frustrated at the fact I can’t get my point across as my mum can’t understand.
Within western culture, there’s a greater sense of freedom. Children in households can do more stuff and say what they want. Shockingly, they can even question their own parents. There isn’t a requirement of obedience compared to Chinese culture. This is especially challenging when my mum tells me not to ask questions and I’m trying to tell her there’s fake news being sent to her on WhatsApp. I don’t feel that I get respect for how I want to be respected. I want to be seen as a peer rather than be seen as someone who is incompetent. To some degree, western culture allows for that freedom of challenging someone. Nonetheless, when I do this, I’m perceived as being reckless and childish.
Did I belong in Chinese church? I’m not too sure. Certainly, people there were nice and great company, but I didn’t have that sense of belonging maybe because I wasn’t eloquent enough in Cantonese. I seek for deeper bonds but it’s hard to connect to people when there is a lack of understanding. Connection is important in church. Not only for us to grow as people but to be present in the moment and to hear others’ narratives, it makes you want to move forward with them. The last time I went to a western church, I was discriminated against, and people saw me as an odd one out. One individual picked on me, as a result of this I never went back to that church.
In light of the pandemic, I reflect on my gratitudes each day as even though I may not get on perfectly well with my family, I am certainly blessed with a mum that cooks amazing food. She is hardworking and would do anything for me so that I don’t miss out when my friends are having fun. She may not be what I see as perfect, but she is indeed a great mum who will always love her kids. The situation has frightened me that I could lose my mum and that me and my sister will be all alone. But I can’t worry about that. That certainly is not productive or healthy. I have a book of quotes that motivates me during times of need and it really helps to hear peoples inspiring messages. My friend says that I always respond to the question “how are you?” with “pretty average” and that he quoted in my book “pretty average is a mood; happiness is a way of life”
I can be open about my faith to my non-religious friends and they understand where I’m coming from. Lately, I no longer blame my dad’s death on God, but I blame the sin of man. I don’t think that God is evil, but it certainly did hurt and ruin my childhood. I’ve got a long journey ahead and the path is not clear. I can’t promise that I will have a happy ending, but I can surely start with making good beginnings.
We made a call out requesting our university student fellowship to answer this essay title for our blog. Special thank you to Ho Yen for sending this wonderful piece in. If you would like to write for our blog, please get in touch with Ansy!