As another year passes, I’ve been thinking about my up bringing. There are things which to this day I’m discovering from the way I grew up that other child of immigrant parents may relate to, but may not be ‘normal’ compared to those who have had generations of family in the one place.
To give some context my father came over to Sydney, Australia whilst I was a few months old, and then my mum a year later. I finally followed, at the age of about 2 and half.
My parents immigrated with very little in terms of possessions, but their work ethic to make a living in a foreign country has my upmost respect and gratitude.
Dad apprenticed and became a chef, whilst mum was worked as seamstress making clothes. With no full time carer outside of my parents, mum brought work home. She bought the sewing machines needed for her work instead of going into the factory. In the evenings she’d go to TAFE and study English. Dad would leave early in the morning or come home late in the evenings.
Make it yourself > Bring from China > Buy locally – That was the priority of how things were obtained.
Because of mum’s occupation, there’d always be piles of cloth and spools of thread around. It meant that with the spare material, she’d make clothes for me as well as other household items like bed linen, pillows covers and curtains.
Clothing was much cheaper in China, so whatever wasn’t home made would be brought from China whenever relatives or friends came to Sydney. I hardly remember any times my parents took me out for clothes shopping for me in Sydney outside of school uniforms. The first time I remember would’ve been when they bought a suit for me.
Most dinners were home cooked, with spam being a regular item on the dinner table along with traditional Chinese dishes made by mum and dad. I miss the homemade food now, one of the few downsides of living out of home for me.
Sometimes I’d be treated to McDonald’s, which I thought was the best place to eat back then. I’d be jealous of other kids who get lunch orders from the school canteen whilst I was stuck with packed boring 2 layer sandwiches in my lunchbox.
My parents hardly had any time for themselves, if they weren’t working they’d be taking care of me, or doing house chores. I was comfortable, always had a roof under my head and food on the table, but it was a lot of work to make sure that wouldn’t change.
There was almost no time to “relax” which meant the idea of “having a hobby” was strange to me growing up. What could adults be doing besides watching TV when they don’t have responsibilities that require their attention?
Besides visiting family back in China, we never went on family holidays. During the school holidays, I knew other kids would be at those holiday camps. I, on the other-hand, had to keep myself occupied at home playing with toys and watching TV whilst both parents worked. I probably helped develop my imagination and creativity.
It also meant traveling in another country, eating in a fancy restaurant, staying at a hotel, being in airport lounges, hiring leisure equipment were all things I never experienced until I began working.
When we did go for road trips, like taking relatives to Canberra, we’d have the food prepared to bring with us instead of eating out.
That’s all for this part, more to follow!