Tying in with my previous editorial on being an older Kpop fangirl, this time I will discuss how my ethnic background affects my Hallyu fangirling in real life.
I’ve noticed something rather interesting with non-Asians and fellow Chinese when I tell them the music I often listen to. The reaction I receive tends to be a mix of disbelief and disgust. Understandably the relatives who are disgusted just dislike the craziness Koreaboos of all shapes and sizes demonstrate and think it’s overhyped/plastic/evil. Their face is mostly on the lines of OMG you’re into crazy stuff like the Japanese and Koreans, How dare you listen to that kind of music or Why the hell are you into a different culture that isn’t Chinese?. It’s like they’re more accepting when an Asian born in the West like myself is into British culture (to coincide with the fact I’m a “banana”) but will judge you severely if you’re into Hallyu or Japanese pop culture.
My relatives in the UK, Australia and Malaysia are baffled with why I go for such obscure pop music, assuming I’m “one of those hyperactive fangirls in school.” OK to be fair I did have a temporary crazy teenage fangirl phase, albeit in secret and never declared my love for numerous boybands publicly to everyone. I don’t judge my younger cousins for idolizing an actor who is old enough to be an Ahjussi to them so why the distaste in me fangirling Korean guys who dress wildly and sing pop songs? As far as I can tell these relatives have never seen a Kpop boyband before. They’re too used to the common Asian stereotypes that Western media pull off.
With the non-Asians their reaction is similar to my relatives but there is also surprise and confusion. As if they’re saying, How can you like those kinds of guys with make-up or an androgynous face? or How can you be into something so weird? They think I could do better in the guys department…and then the whole negative portrayal of Asian guys kicks in.
On the other hand, encountering old-fashioned, traditional relatives is another predicament I have to deal with and that’s where I draw the line on my personal interests. Sorry dear cousins, Uncles and Aunties if you can’t deal with my Gothic men and metrosexual Korean guys
I have funny taste indeed we really can’t talk any further if all you ever do is tell me how ugly or untalented they are without actually getting to know them. I make an effort to listen to your “good” music open-mindedly, can’t you do the same?
In all honesty if I did not dig deep into something like Hallyu, I’d most likely be a massive white wannabe to the point of dying my hair blonde, eating only Western food or wearing different coloured contacts daily to eliminate as much of my “yellow”-ness as possible. These things could have been the most dramatic response to my early self-hating at a young age. My whole life has mostly consisted of wanting to achieve some balance between my Chinese side and Britishness. A large population of British Born Chinese get it really hard when people refuse to believe some were actually born here. We’re also nowhere near as prominent as other ethnic minority communities in the UK.
I recall how I once told my next door neighbour/my then BFF a very random statement that went on the lines of, “I wonder what Japanese and Korean culture is like. Sounds interesting.” There was no actual reasoning behind it because back then I barely scratched the surface on those countries’ cultures. At that time I only knew about Japanese people through cookery shows and Korean people through badminton tournaments. But I believe this curious thought just came out of the blue, namely in response to being rather self-conscious on my Chinese background because the endless Chink and Ching Chong made me so numb from Monday to Friday in the classroom and playground. Thinking back to this memory, it’s quite bizarre. One simple sentence had bloomed over time and now here I am. I don’t think my own family saw that coming.
My early struggles for being different in terms of personality as well as skin colour undoubtedly made me have no faith in society. Combining my ethnic background issue at school I also resented the Asian supremacy because I was not clever enough to meet the standards of my elders who endlessly compared me to their smart children. I was not your typical Chinese. Aside from being extremely poor at Cantonese and Mandarin
sadly I still am but that’s another topic entirely I did not excel at Maths, Science or music. Glee‘s Mike Chang wasn’t lying about the Asian F. I suffered from that. Even when I genuinely attempted to speak the family’s mothertongue to some people I still got grilled for it.
So I didn’t have a victory both ways for my British upbringing and my Chinese ethnicity. But then I got into Japanese and Korean pop culture a few years later. It shed some light that being Asian was not necessarily a bad thing. Of course you’ll get your pros and cons regarding that, which I intend to elaborate in my next editorial, but the main thing that listening to Korean and Japanese music did was allow me to appreciate genuine Asian singing and dancing talent existed. It was okay to express Aegyo if you had the natural touch for it and that dressing up in crazy coloured clothes was generally acceptable. I seemed to have found my personal haven.
As I got older and continued to pursue Hallyu I discovered alternative dreams and became inspired. I even wanted to be an idol and start up a multi-cultural Asian band. Or become an overseas Chinese actress in a Kdrama if I had the confidence and artistic talent. But then I realised after much reflecting…would the Korean agencies look at me? It wouldn’t be an easy task to become an idol. Unless you’re not an exotic European/Westerner/Eurasian or perhaps an exotic, sexy/super cute Asian what chance do you have of breaking into the world of Hallyu? The competition is huge anyway. Obviously doing the Asian equivalent of The X Factor, Idol or The Voice would mean sacrificing a lot of things to make it the top spot and if I did go on Britain’s Got Talent or The X Factor for example, do I want to risk being seen as another Goldie Cheung or American Idol’s William Hung?
I am often in awe when I spot enthusiastic Western and native Asian fangirls because they’re able to fangirl as much as they want and ignore the naysayers in their direction. They have a culture to back themselves up. For me, an individual who has had to take *small steps* to be ok with my skin colour, I’ve had to deal with cynical folk who think my Hallyu fangirling is a waste of time and that at my age I should have a prosperous career that will let me earn a lot of money and settle down to start a family or else I’m doomed to be a “leftover woman.”
In a nutshell – my “career” is certainly on my list of priorities, as is looking for a significant other, but I also have to do some soul-searching in this evolving world before I can do these normalities. Despite what my family and relatives think, I don’t want to drop my Hallyu fangirling permanently if it can help me with my ethnic identity crisis a teeny bit. Give me some time and trust me, family. I’ll get there eventually.
Coming up in part 2 – dealing with stereotypes and fetishes