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Saturday, 20th July 2024

Irish Born Chinese

What is it like being an IBC "Banana"?

Friday, 16th June 2023, 11:09 | Comments

(This has been updated by adding paragraphs for easy reading)

Being an IBC (Irish born Chinese), and from a background of restauranteurs, I find myself being called a banana (“heung giu” in Cantonese), and all you IBCs out there would know that feeling. Being a second generation IBC growing up was a bit lonely….. (This is partly why I setup Even though the only Chinese people I ever talk to are family and people who worked in the restaurant and other restuarant, I feel that I am glad that at least I can speak Cantonese. (Although I am still teased that I do not speak Hakka, being from a Hakka background.)

I suppose the only downsides being a banana, I found that I keep thinking in Chinese when speaking in English, and vice-versa. Boy, do things come out differently when whatever is spoken is back-to-front, and confusion sets in my friend’s faces. Limerick is not re-knowned for providing IBCs Chinese writing classes (Unlike Dublin and especially Chinatown in London). I tried to learn to read by reading the gossip column in the Chinese paper on Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng! And tried learning the Chinese lyrics from Canto-pop songs. (Yup, did the works…) And we all know we have to at least know how to write our Chinese names, went through so many phases of being dragged kicking and shouting to practice when I was very young. My aunt tried her best to give me, my brother and my cousin (her son) some Chinese lessons during the summer months, with 1st Grade Primary school books. But meeting a friend from Hong Kong changed all that, we spent all of the religion classes in 5th year in secondary school, teaching me how to write. (Ah, the good ol’ days)

Now we are in the age of getting Chinese channel broadcast via satellite. I always dreamt of that, and all those lucky people who get to watch it (as I go home every few weeks or so, I don’t really catch up with the latest dramas. That only happens during my longer holidays spent at home.). Boy, all those soap dramas are really addictive. There goes my studies back then. Gone are the days of renting over-priced videos of dramas, canto-pop concerts, contests etc. Boy, I still wish there is a store that sells cds, vcds, dvds and cute stationary and stickers (Like the ones in London Chinatown). It would be great to have a shop that sells nice “Sai Beng”, a chinese bakery. Heh, at least now Asian supermarkets are opening in the major cities. My mom definately spends most of her time there back at home in Limerick, and what a surprise I got when she came up to visit me and not go down laden with goods from the Dublin Asian supermarket. :)

Ah, the college days, when I am mistaken for an Erasmus student happens quite often. How infuriating! But what I found priceless was there faces when I tell them that “I’m actually Irish!”. But my accent does not give me away, alas, they thought I was American (aagh!). Too many Friends and other American sitcoms I assume.

Now, any IBCs who had friends always wanting to curse in Chinese? Heh, I won’t mention any here, but for some reason, cursing comes easier to them then saying “thank you” in Chinese. But not all is fun and games growing up in a society where being of Chinese desent is the minority. I would think all IBCs would have grown up with abuse of some kind. I thought some Irish folks would have grown-up by now. Some have, but there is another breed of young pubalescent-who-would-grow-up-to-be-incompetent-buffoons who still thinks otherwise. Why do we have to put up with this rubbish. (Doing well so far, no curse words:) ) Anyhoo, ignorance to these cretins is bliss in my mind sometimes. ignoring their bullish-pre-civilised taunts annoys them even more… hah-hah!

Having relatives in Hong Kong has its advantages. Um, where shall I start, long hot summers, nice food (yummy breakfasts, seafood and bbqs), plenty of cool gadgets (video games, md players, cameras), up-to-date wierd Japanese fashion, nice food (I mentioned that somewhere before, didn’t I?), Ocean Park…. and boy the cool high rise buildings. Oh, must not forget cheap vcds, games, dvds, clothes, stationary and other knick-knacks that you can only get in the Far East. But it is always a struggle to get back home with luggage stuffed with mom’s dried mushrooms/shrimp/cuttlefish/mango etc. Praying that the bags don’t have to unpacked to get rid of some stuff. And when we reach Shannon, running through the euro zone with bags piled taller than me and hoping that the airport officials don’t stop me, and fear of unpacking bags fill up my mind again. Then a huge sigh of relief when I get through the doors into the Arrivals lounge, and the look on dad’s face wondering how we are going to fit the luggage in the car.

One thing about being IBC in Hong Kong, is me being pale skinned (thanks to Ireland’s great sunshine) that gives me away that I am born abroad, not my Cantonese. So what is it like being an IBC banana, not bad. I get to mix and choose between two very different cultures, Irish (Western) and the traditional Chinese culture. We get to celebrate two new years, get money in red packets(“lai sees”).. and even more when I am in Hong Kong. Great to be young (and not married :) ). Get to go to Hong Kong and have someone you know to take you around touristy places (and shopping). I still need to get a temporary ID card so I can nip through queues in airport immigration, and carry this instead of a passport. Although my cousin mentioned that it was actually quicker for non-Hong Kong residents to get through immigration.

Being brought up to speak Cantonese only at home is great, I’m bi-lingual and I am crap at languages (although I like speaking French). The other downside, well to tell you the truth, being the only eldest Chinese girl was not easy. My family is still sort of in keeping with Chinese traditions, and living at home when I was younger was pretty restraining. Protectiveness was one word I suppose. But I have full respect for my parents and my ancestors. (Yeah, I am a little partial to some of the Chinese tradition). Moving to Dublin 3 years ago liberated me a bit. But being in a city with so many Chinese people, who are mainly here to study from China, makes me feel even more lonely.

So all you IBCs, feel free to comment on this article. Non-IBCs comments welcome also. Thanks everyone for reading this article.

Folks are welcome to send in articles for me to post up. (All articles will be checked before being put up). If there are enough interest, people can mail me to subscribe them to the blog for adding articles. And to all the IBCs out there, don’t be afraid to chat on my message board, or post articles here in my blog.

— Vicky Lee Wei Kay (2002-09-23) —

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