Matter out of place

Lien Hoang is a second-generation Vietnamese-Australian, born and raised in Newcastle, New South Wales. Her parents immigrated to Australia following the Viet Nam war in the late 1970s. A social and health researcher who dabbles in fiction-writing, she currently resides on the fringes of her favourite city, Sydney. This fictional piece was inspired by a story that transpired during a focus group interview with second-generation Asian-Australians recounting their experiences living in Australia.

Image: © Dunja Kaczmarek, 2020

I remember that day. It was during the school holidays. Mum had brought out the gas burner to boil hot water to make cup noodles for us. Someone once told me there were 200 million servings of instant noodles consumed every day. And on any other day, eating cup noodles would have been just fine by me. Any flavour even. Beef. Onion. Pork.

I was a teenager that first time I saw snow. Perisher Mountains. Population: two thousand. A place as white as the grounds beneath us – aesthetically and culturally speaking. Mum had always wanted to see snow because it was not something you could experience growing up in the southern parts of Viet Nam. So here we were – twelve or so of us – six hundred kilometres away from home with nothing familiar but our gas burner, bottle, and pot.

I remember watching the water boil and dreading what was to follow. As the sounds of slurping became louder around me, I stopped noticing the cold in my hands and feet. But not because the temperature on the ski fields had suddenly risen by any degree. By this stage, there was no further misunderstanding about what we were doing amidst the skiers and snowboarders zooming past us. I could feel the glares of thousands. I felt at once torn between wishing to be more like mum and her friends who were unapologetically slurping away, oblivious to their surroundings, and wishing to be the other, observing from afar with voices of superiority. There is something to be said about my mum’s generation. They went through war: to see and feel the snow was enough.

My desires betrayed me when my uncle asked, “Why aren’t you eating any?” I had somehow rationalised that not partaking in this activity that happens a mere 200 million times a day would remove me from the present party. I think now, in hindsight, what difference would it have made? There is no escaping these physical markers I wear daily. Maybe not even for my brother who was always more artful than me at dissociation. By then, he was already riding the ski lift with his snowboard, far away from the scene.

I will never forget that first time I saw snow. Sitting there in the middle of the ski fields, wishing the Styrofoam cups were instead full of hot cocoa, I wondered where on this planet I would ever stop feeling like matter out of place.

© Lien Hoang, 2020