Thanks for having me on your blog today Megan! I was a teen of the 90s, but the 80s are very special to me because those were the years I spent my childhood. 1988 in particular is significant as it was the year my family emigrated to Perth, Australia. It’s also the same year that features in Preloved as a catalyst of a very traumatic chain of events that reverberate right into the present that my MC, Amy, lives in. I think it slipped in there semi-consciously which is interesting, so today I’m going to talk about me, the great brown nation and the late 80s! As my novel is called Preloved, I will wear my heart on my sleeve a little bit today!
I was born on Christmas Island and I grew up to the age of six in a pretty idyllic early childhood, surrounded by rain forests and absolutely no danger because our community consisted of only a few hundred people, and we knew everyone. I remember playing by myself at twilight in an empty park all to myself, unaware that anyone should be keeping an eye on me. It was almost a Jungle Book existence for me. I spent my time up many tree and I think this was about the time my imagination started to develop. I didn’t have many toys because quite simply there weren’t any to be had. It was hard enough to get food, as the cargo ships only docked every once in a long while so I had to make up my own fun in my head.
When my father decided it was time for us to emigrate, for the sake of me and my sister getting a “Western Education” (as many a sacrificing Chinese parent had done in the past), I had no great opinion. My only question was “is it true that they have winter and all the leaves on the trees fall off?” and “Will I get a horse toy?” That “horse toy” of course being a My Little Pony, an 80s Holy Grail for young girls, even those as far away from civilisation as me. I was going to miss my friends, but I knew that I would see them again one day as everyone was going to eventually emigrate to Australia, so off our family went on that little jet plane.
Life in Perth, Australia 1988 was both incredibly wonderful and also incredibly hard. Being poor, my parents could only afford to move into a modest house in what I fully know now as a “full-on Bogan neighbourhood”, but luckily that suburb also had an incredibly progressive primary school which had just set up a new and flourishing “ESL” (English as a Second Language) program for kids such as me. I came knowing nary a scrap of English. Despite being Chinese and unable to communicate, I was incredibly welcomed by the community. The nation was celebrating it’s Bicentennial and it was a prosperous time. It was also the time that Australians were embracing the concept of multiculturalism and a wave of immigrants arriving by “choice”, different to what was seen in the 70s and earlier. The school, our neighbours and the people we met – were incredibly accepting. My parents brought me my first My Little Pony and my first Barbie Doll. And a Care Bear. They would become very symbolic to me of “the Australian dream” and little things like this ended up bleeding onto the pages of Preloved.
But as expected, every era like the 80s is only seen as sentimental through the reflection of rose-coloured glasses – the 80s also contained the unrest, violence and socio-economic problems prevalent in every era. The first thing my parents did was put up a pair of stone Chinese Temple Dogs outside our house. The first thing to happen to them was the dumping of yoghurt and eggs. I can remember my Mum tirelessly scrubbing them down, before they were smeared over again. There was also a little Chinese restaurant down the road – it is amazing when I think how popular and widespread Chinese food is now – back then, that little restaurant was firebombed at least 3 times. I remember going past it and seeing the front brick face of it charred black from fire. And there was one time my family got attacked by two teen boys trying to steal our Mitsubishi Colt with a barrage of racist remarks.
Unfortunately the racist factor was a regular occurrence, on the streets and in daily life, but you know what? I am surprised how easily I let it slide off me. Maybe it was because I was a child, maybe it’s my disposition as a person. I was just extremely grateful to be given a chance to do my thing and live my life. I decided quite early on (despite my poor English) that I was going to be a writer one day and I set off to do it despite anyone else thinking it could not be done. I had all sorts of remarks hurled at me and one day I knew enough English to read the “Go Home” leaflets pinned up to the telephone poles around the neighbourhood. But I knew not everyone was like that. I ploughed on a head, got my Dux for English in High School and started my dream of becoming an author.
And that is me today. I look back on the 80s, despite the pitfalls, with a great deal of fondness at such a life changing experience. And I am proud to be a first generation Australian. I still get the occasional bit of abuse hurled at me from passing Commodores, but I just shout something as derogatory back and then I marvel at my ability to command “Aussie slang” and I feel strangely proud and I laugh. In a way, Preloved is a love story to my past and my heritage. Instead of writing a “woe is poor Chinese Cinderella me” I wanted to write something contemporary which was more of a celebration. Which is well, “me”.
So thanks for listening to my story today – I hope it helps in a way to make you understand me and my writing better. And oh, there’s a happy ending to this post because that little Chinese restaurant is still standing today and is right now open for lunch. And since the 90s and beyond, no one has tried to destroy it since.
Join me tomorrow as the Preloved Blog Tour continues to The Midnight Garden (www.themidnightgarden.net). It’s my birthday tomorrow on the 18th and there will be a special celebration and a birthday gift from me to you. You don’t want to miss out!
If you’d like to win a copy of Preloved, simply either email me or leave a comment below explaining what your favourite decade is and why (you can’t have the 80s, by the way, as Shirley and myself have taken that! I was born in the 80s!).
Competition is open internationally ends 7 May.
Stay tuned later this week for my review of Preloved.
The Preloved Blog Tour is on for two weeks – follow the rest of the tour below!
16th April Vegan YA Nerds
17th April Literary Life
18th April The Midnight Garden
19th April The Tales Compendium
20th April My Girl Friday
23rd April Wear the Old Coat
24th April The Readventurer
25th April Inkcrush
26th April Hey! Teenager of the Year
27th April The Nocturnal Library