lunar new year and diminishing returns

lny1

I went home on the weekend, to celebrate the greatest festival of the year. And today is Day Four, the return to business, so it’s time for some Lunar Festival navel gazing.

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stephanie versus the lambassadors; or, why lee lin chin deserves better

llcLee Lin Chin is a goddamn national hero and an aspiration to Azn-Australian girls, and has been my whole life, and I can’t believe it’s come to this.

This post is the first in a series of Invasion Day posts that No Award will be running this month. (The rest will be more Indigenous-focused than this one, I swear.)

Continue reading “stephanie versus the lambassadors; or, why lee lin chin deserves better”

Therapy for Asian Australians: A guide

This was meant to be a joke but somehow it became genuine. An actual guide! Go forth and find therapists, Azns of Australia. Medicare will pay for it, so at least your parents won’t worry about the expense.

  1. Your therapist will be white. This is okay. They can still be of use to you.
  2. When they say ‘magical thinking’, what they mean is, that thing where your mum tells you not to say a thing out loud, because the spirit of that thing will come for you. Do not believe the therapist when they say you have to stop not saying it (but you can say it in your head. That’s okay. Name that thing) (But don’t say it out loud, come on, you don’t want the spirit of that thing to find you).
  3. Therapists almost always practice in old houses. They are probably haunted, but white ghosts can’t hurt you. Do not be afraid. The ghost will take the therapist and any other clients well before they get to you.
  4. They won’t force you to make eye contact. That’s totally a myth. If they do, find a new therapist.from angry little girls (an excellent comic)
  5. You are not the only Asian Australian with a therapist. I promise. There’s me, at least.
  6. The things that make you specifically your ethnicity are not the problem. You don’t have to become more Australian (“Australian”) to deal with your very real problems.
  7. Your parents will say: are you telling this person our private family issues? (Yes) But they’re private family issues. (Yes) Are you sick? (Your answer may vary) Does anyone you know see you? (Doesn’t matter) What do you mean, your friends know you go to therapy? (My friends know I go to therapy) Do they know there’s something wrong? (They’re my friends, Ma, Ba!)
  8. You may be struck with how some treatments seem like cultural appropriation, particularly around mindfulness and meditation. Yep.
  9. Your therapist might suggest more independence from your family. Feel free to think about the concepts suggested, but remember that you’re Azn and your therapist is not necessarily culturally appropriate.
  10. You will have to explain the following things: family context; family structure; extended family structure; your interdependence on your family; what being Asian means.

    what happens when we fail to function (thanks, haw par villa, for a lifetime of fear)
    what happens when we fail to function (thanks, haw par villa, for a lifetime of fear)
  11. Specifically on mindfulness: you will probably learn how to do this. I find mindfulness helpful. But I sit less with my emotions, because identifying individual emotions is hard, and more with paying attention to my surroundings.
  12. On emotions: I have been known to literally start conversations with ‘I need to tell you a thing and I need you not to react.’ This is probably more Chinese hyphen specific, but that’s because emotions are hard and I’ve definitely grown up not expected to share them. My therapist thinks this is because I’m hiding from my emotions, but in my context you can receive comfort without sharing specifics. Other East Asians may find a familiarity in this.
  13. UGH EMOTIONS. WHY.
  14. You might need meds. You might not. Either is fine.
  15. Your parents will come around. No, seriously.
  16. Your ancestors, too.
  17. I have found the following articles helpful at various points of time in therapy: Culturally competent treatments for Asian Americans: The relevance of mindfulness and acceptance-based therapies, Hall et al, American Psychological Association, 2011; Challenging Stereotypes: culture psychology and the Asian self, Radio National, 2010.

a family situation of dementia

September is Dementia Awareness Month, and I was in the office when I started crying.

We don’t really talk any more because there’s not a lot she has to say. If she does talk to me, it’s usually to ask, “Can you help me? Is today Friday or Wednesday?”

The saddest part has been losing the person you go to when your world falls apart. No matter how old they get, a lot of girls think, “Mum will know how to fix that.”

[x]

I was a daddy’s girl, growing up. I tagged along with my dad to train shows and plane shows; we walked on ahead of my mum and my sister on family bushwalks and stomped on ant nests together; we’d look at books of airplane schematics and exchange thick spy novels and murder mysteries.

A few years ago, my father started to change. He was a little slower; a little angrier. He made wildly out of character accusations (but not completely out of character. Just enough). He stopped answering questions.

When I was seven, his parents died. They both had degenerative mental illnesses when they went and, oh, how I was ready for this day. I have been ready since I was seven.

**

When daddy got the diagnosis, I was told (not by my dad) not to talk about it. Nobody needs to know. But now that it’s a part of our daily lives I’ve overruled that request more times than I can say, so many times that I don’t even try to hide it any more. When people ask ‘how was your trip to Perth?’ or ‘how are your parents?’, I tell the truth. “Dad has Alzheimer’s,” I say, if they don’t already know. “And we’re getting by.”

I talk about the ups and the downs. I talk about his slowness and his distance. I talk about the toll it’s taking on my mother, his primary caregiver; on my sister, for whom he now plays up, like a child. I talk about how he needs to be told what to do, sometimes, but how I don’t want to take away his autonomy and I don’t know how to balance that. I talk about how my family is struggling and I’m 3000 kilometres away, but I worked hard for this life and I’m not sure I’m willing to give it up.

I talk about how I’m Chinese and Chinese daughters don’t put their fathers in homes; how can I be a good Chinese daughter if I even think about it? But my dad’s not Chinese, so does that mean I can?

**

Instead of moving back to Perth, right now the compromise is flying there once every 4-6 weeks. I rearrange my work week and I go straight from the office to Tullamarine and from there into four days of family time, giving my mum some breathing space and my sister some room. And I sit beside my father, asking questions and paying attention, letting him be ‘naughty’ but not too far, not far enough to hurt himself. Which he sometimes does. Late on Monday, I fly back to Melbourne, tumble into bed in time for a 7am wake up and back to work.

I thought I’d been open about it, talking about it despite the anguish burning inside, the shame nibbling at the edges. But still my friends ask how my visit home was, genuinely expecting to find it was a fun holiday in the sun and sand. Still other friends ask me to spend time with them in Perth, as if I’m there with moments to spare. So I’m obviously not talking enough.

**

I was walking through Flinders Street Station on Friday, and saw a bunch of people handing out things. They’re things for September, their blue declaring that it’s Dementia Awareness Month. By Friday, I’d been back from my most recent visit to Perth by three and a half days, and I was exhausted because I hadn’t had a weekend for a while. And there they were, raising awareness about dementia.

My dad has Alzheimer’s. And when I started telling people that he has it, there’s always someone who has been touched by it, too. The woman I call Nan (not my actual Nan). My friend Nic. People at work, who understand when I suddenly disappear to take a half hour call from a family member.

Maybe I’ll get it, too. Maybe I won’t. But if we talk about it, maybe we’ll all be a little better prepared.

**

What’s really important to me is that we get to treat my dad (and others, of course, with dementia) in a way that respects them, in a way that still allows them autonomy and decision-making. Sometimes I catch myself talking to him as if he doesn’t understand, and it’s not that; he’s just changing, and I can accommodate that.

People with dementia often feel isolated, because they don’t get visited so much – a person with dementia can be confronting, and scary for a host of reasons. But that’s why I want to talk about it. I’m always trying to get people to visit my dad when I can’t be there, and being with my dad all the time is wearying on my mum and my sister.

Alzheimer’s Australia has a bunch of dementia-friendly resources for creating a dementia-friendly Australia.

I’m super into dementia enabling environments (the subtle changes I plan to make on my next visit to the family home are not major but they will, I hope, help).

**

For example, she says a recent survey showed over 50 percent of Australians think a person with dementia can’t have a meaningful conversation.

“We really need to challenge that, so we would encourage more understanding about the function of the brain, that the messages are just not getting through with dementia,” Mary says.

“So we would try and encourage people to understand some of those behaviours, to take it quietly, to slow things down, and people will understand, to just give people time to respond.”

David and Lennyce both encourage carers and people who have recently been diagnosed with dementia to access all available services, educate themselves and attend support groups.

[x]

It’s hard going, but I have hope.

[a photo of me and my dad is going to go here later. but it turns out i don’t have any electronically, and isn’t that an interesting thing]

fearing the familiar; and bitter suites, by otto fong

I am a superstitious being.

I hold my breath as I pass by cemeteries; I won’t go near a number which contains 4; there is an upside-down 福 by my door and I’d hang a 八卦 mirror by my door if I thought I required it. I don’t wear black to weddings; I bow before the buddhas and the red altars I pass, just in case. At 春节 I stuff the mouth of the Kitchen God so he can’t tattle on me to the Jade Emperor.

But

I walk under ladders, I don’t throw salt and I don’t care about mirrors breaking. I don’t understand the thing about magpies, or umbrellas inside, and I forget about thirteen until it’s come and gone.

Because

I am afraid of Chinese ghosts.

This is, in many ways but entirely anecdotally, a peculiarity of overseas Chinese. It’s something I didn’t encounter quite so much when I was living in Beijing, wandering through its old hutongs and talking to old Beijingren who have lived in those alleys their whole lives. But it’s something I’ve lived and breathed all through Singapore and Malaysia, through growing up part of the Chinese diaspora in Sydney and Perth. Even now, as an adult in Melbourne, it’s something I often glimpse out of the corner of my eye.

In part this could be due to the nature of the media – horror movies and etc are restricted in China, and this could feed into a lack of ghost discussion? But surely not that much.

In Singapore this fear of ghosts is best captured in my memories by Haw Par Villa, a theme park dedicated to Chinese mythology, religion and Confucianism. It was designed as a place to teach about traditional Chinese values, but mostly all I remember is fear, twisted faces, decrepit models and the ten courts of hell.

The ten courts of hell can be found in a ‘cave’, ten separate dioramas of molten faces, rendered corpses, and disjointed limbs. I wanted to tell you more, but reading about it online to get my facts straight caused my stomach to turn and my breath to quicken, so I shall simply link you to this walk through and say that if I were ever religious, and pious, and motivated by my religion, it would be fear of the courts of hell and their kings that would prompt me to be a beautiful person.

I picked up Bitter Suites, by Otto Fong, on a recent jaunt to Singapore. It’s a very Singaporean book in so many ways, not only in its every day Singaporean setting and the Singaporean ridiculousness of its main characters, but in the way it wove Haw Par Villa into the plot and speared my heart through with a childhood fear I hadn’t realised would come back.

I found Bitter Suites terrifying and compelling, mostly through my growing horror as I realised just how important a role the early visit to the Haw Par Villa and the ten Chinese hells would play in the story, as those who had committed a cruel practical joke were slowly and eventually, eternally, punished for their crimes. I found the writing adequate but it was the illustrations that sold me, and the little softer asides.

I fear, however, that this is a very specific book. I suspect that one might need to be overseas Chinese, and specifically SEAzn Chinese, familiar with the ridiculousness of Haw Par Villa’s decay and yet indoctrinated from childhood of the ever-presence of spirits, their constant needs for placation and the reality of the hells until reincarnation.

It’s not that it’s a book opaque to outsiders. It’s that it’s a book that plays very specifically to one thing, and it’s a thing that I will probably always hold in the depths of my psyche, and probably looks ridiculous to everyone else.

Horror is, after all, subjective.

If you want to read it, let me know; I have a copy hiding under several piles of paper where I cannot see it.