Disclaimer: I have no grudges or qualms with the people (they will remain nameless) who may gather that this blog is about them. You gotta remember these memoirs and you, are a part of my story. I may get some of these details wrong or seem like i’m elaborating but that’s what story tellers do. Feel free to correct me if i’m completely wrong or over reacting. This is just how I remember it.
I’m going to go in deep about how, sometimes, growing up British and Asian sucked. You heard it straight from the Caribou’s mouth. Sometimes, it really sucked.
I’m sure those who grew up with international members of family can relate to me in one way or another when I admit that as a pre-teen / teen, there were phases where I wanted to be white and on top of that moments I was ABSOLUTELY DESPERATE to be white. This isn’t one of those blogger’s “cry for attention” with a sad story about how I was continuously bullied because I was Asian and Wah Wah Wah. It’s just a memory of a couple situations that sucked absolute balls. Y’know those small moments where someone or a group of people would just remind me of how much I didn’t want to be Filipino. But like everyone else, it was just a part of life.
Being completely honest, I genuinely think I was bullying myself for my differences worse than any other kid was capable of doing. When you’re younger, everyone find’s their differences and calls them out, not knowing how hurtful and ignorant they can be. They’re simply learning (the hard way) what’s socially acceptable and what isn’t.
Now that I’m an adult, I’m spending more time trying to get in touch with my roots, ever-learning new things about my culture, my heritage, my history on both sides. Nowadays, It’s a lot easier to be multi-cultural in the UK. People are so much more understanding than they were when I was younger. As an example, I only remember only 2 other Eastern / South-Eastern Asians in my year (of about 90 children) at Primary School. Actually it might be one, I may have to look at a school photograph to be more accurate- Either way, lots of children, not many Asians.
I’m gonna start this off with ‘the basic bitch’ of all problems that every international or multicultural kid had to deal with. The packed lunch.
My parents household earning’s were not much, but just enough for me and my older sister to not be eligible for “EMA” which would’ve meant we had free school lunches. We, as a family, had only enough money to scrape by. We definitely didn’t get enough pocket money to we couldn’t afford school lunch. I was on £2 a day from government child benefit (I didn’t get any other pocket money) and in secondary school, that would mean I could either buy delicious half burnt jacket potato, slothered in outrageous amounts of butter and topped with not-even-heinz baked beans or I could save it have £10 to go to the cinema with friends on the weekend. I’m hoping with my satire you could tell what my priorities were. School lunches were a “luxury” that to be honest I never really wanted. They didn’t look appetising and were absolutely tasteless, cooked and served from (at the time) a grubby-tiled outdated snack bar (They updated the canteen and the menu during the last year of my GCSE’s *rolls eyes*).
It was totally standard Mum would make my packed lunch because my dad had to work. So, with my mum being Filipino, this didn’t mean I’d get a Sandwich, with fruit and a pack of crisps. No way! It meant I would come in with whatever leftovers we had from the night before. In primary school, I didn’t particularly care, like packed lunches didn’t matter and a lot of the time, kids would see all the colours and be like “WOW, I love noodles” But it’s different in secondary school. Sometimes I’d have western foods, like pasta, cous cous, and if I was lucky, I’d have leftover roast dinner or bangers and mash. But most of the time my lunch would consist of rice with pinakbet, adobo, pancit, scrambled egg and ketchup, something predominantly Filipino in nature. I especially dreaded having fried fish with tomatoes and spinach, because I know, just as much as those around me, it wasn’t quite socially acceptable in any western communal establishment to eat fish and it did smell offensive to those who didn’t live off it.
I watched too many mean-girl’s style movies and I continuously imagined myself becoming Cady Heron sitting in a toilet cubicle eating my lunch. The realisation that “people don’t eat this stuff” was petrifying and I felt ashamed that my lunches were like everyone elses.
So much so I made my own techniques to eat lunch. I had practically mastered the art of using the lid of my lunchbox as a shield. I’d lift the lid slightly, scoop a bit of rice and whatever-I-had-with-it onto my fork or spoon and the moment the spoon left the opaque Tupperware (this was important), it was covered again, until the next mouthful. If I was on my own in the school hall, I’d eat as fast as I could so by the time my friends had joined me, they wouldn’t have to witness me munching on questionable foods.
Reflecting on those bad habits and how I’d wolf down a full lunch in the space of a minute and a half it’s clear as day why I have digestion-issues as an adult (that and not being brave enough to do a “Number 2” at school). But man, the effort I would go to eat my lunch, hoping people wouldn’t notice were so carefully developed and extra, simply to avoid any potential judgement that never actually came to fruition. That was until one lunch…
I was probably 12 and I came into school with a Tupperware full of Pancit and Rice (carb on carb, i know, but that’s just how us Fili’s do it). Pancit is one of the tamest Filipino dishes as it is just stir-fried noodles with whatever meat or veggies are laying about the fridge. I knew my close mates absolutely loved a good ol’ Chinese takeaway so in my mind, it compared. I was comfortable enough around my friends because most of them were multicultural themselves, so with this particular meal, I felt brave enough just whip it out from my bag and start eating it. There was some paranoia but I felt well prepared to face being made a butt of stereotypical inaccurate Asian joke but I got halfway through my food, walang problema (No problem).
A close friend or actually, it may have been my high-school-sweetheart-“boyfriend” at the time, lent over the table and was like “Hey, you got noodles!” and in proudly explained “Yeah, it’s Pancit they’re like Filipino stir-fried noodles, almost like a chow mein.” In that moment I just knew by being Asian, eating noodles and saying chow mien that I’d already opened an opportunity to be made a joke. He didn’t instantly react with quick wit so I thought I had gotten away with it. I felt brave and proud, like he’s silent, the conversation can move on “What could he possibly say apart from a stupid Asian stereotype?” My expectations were beyond me because although delayed, there was a completely different response to what I had expected. “…Wait, PANSHIT?!” Oh F*CK. That was it. A slow clap of laughter, slowly erupting into an applause of comments like “Haha, Omg, Panshit!” and “You eat shit from a pan!” from those sitting at the table. You know when you watch TV or Movies and the person getting teased shrinks and everyone just grows over you looking down, pointing and laughing all warped. I felt that. I just sat there in silence, fake smiling like I was enjoying the attention when really I was waiting for it all to… die. Just like the noodles, I ate myself up until I got home. I was so embarrassed and upset. It was as if never wanted to eat Asian food at school ever again (I mean, I got over it pretty quickly because I liked the food too much). But why was it, in the one moment I felt comfortable enough and let my Tupperware-lid-shield down that I was hit with my very own Panshit.
That the first of two ‘Panshit’ experiences…
It was my 13th Birthday and I had my friends over for a Barbecue and Karaoke (I realise now how adapted to a Filipino stereotype i was). Every Filipino knows that it would be extremely well catered by mother. We had English BBQ (sausages and burgers), Filipino BBQ (chicken legs, pork bbq sticks and hotdogs, also on sticks), Rice, Veggie Lumpia, Lumpia Shanghai and the traditional birthday food- PANCIT. Pancit on a Filipino birthday is like the birthday cake at anyone else’s birthday (I had a cake too, but still). My mum had slaved away in the kitchen for hours that morning, like any occasion hosted at my house, when all the food was on the table, in her Filipino finery was calling everyone to eat.
Everyone came inside to see an absolute abundance of both British and Filipino delights, spread across my dining table in buffet format. Now again, I mentioned these friends included those who were multicultural too, so they weren’t hesitant in serving themselves, taking basically one of everything and a scoop of whatever was offered. With their enthusiasm to (at least) try everything, I felt so warm and humble, like I’ve now introduced them to a big part of me and my culture.
Now, I originally thought that, y’know, you gotta respect other people’s household when you’re a guest so there would be NO comments at all. But oh man, was I wrong. The same big mouth who commented at my lunch that one time, with no filter and complete disregard to whether my mum was standing there or not just comedically announces “HEY! IS THAT PANSHIT?!” and again, everyone laughed. But I could deal with it this time because, it was plain to see that he was just an ignorant idiot. Like 1, It was my birthday and 2, He was dissing my f*cking food, in my f*cking house. In that moment I honestly wanted to kick his ignorant ass out of my house, and it was lucky my mum wasn’t in the room to hear it because not only did she hate swearing, she wouldn’t have tolerated the ignorance. (Believe me when I say, my mum would not hold back on telling this kid what’s what- I’ve watched her make me and other people’s children cry even in their teens.) But the difference with this situation is that people were actually trying it, eating it and enjoying it (some even took leftovers), despite it being ridiculed for it’s silly made up name.
You might be thinking there are worse things to be teased about like “being called a slut because you had your first kiss behind the bins” “you started your period” or “you had no boobs.” Yeah there were moments for me like that too, but this is a food blog and I have to keep my blog content relevant.
I also want to just say that as much as it was a little bit of ‘harmless’ banter- this was, even in it’s innocence, still discrimination. I still see some of the people who were involved and I definitely don’t expect those people to act that way around me anymore. We have reminisced about it and now I do find it quite petty how much it affected me and honestly quite funny. Some of them are in / have been to the Philippines themselves which is great to hear. But I mean, even if they were still like that, I’m so much stronger to get hot headed about some panshit and also quick to snap back (ooh, look at me getting all sassy.) But as you can tell, it was something that was stuck in my head because why else would I be writing this dumb blog about it 10 years later at 23 years old.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and there will be more of these memoirs throughout my time blogging. Not necessarily about being teased or bullied because that’ll just make me sad- but just more stories about my relationship to food, my relationships around food and just memories that trigger through food.