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Growing Up Asian in Australia        Alice Pung

The anthology Growing up Asian in Australia covers a wide variety of genres, styles, philosophies and experiences. The one thing they have in common is that each of the story tellers brings into their Australian stories their own Asian heritage, and they are able to examine what effect that has on their total identity. And that is the key to looking at this text as the stories are not just about people deciding if they are Asian or Australian or somewhere between the two. These are tales of young men and women (the youngest contributor is 16 years old) who are struggling with issues of identity much broader than just culture and race, they deal with family, with sexuality, with their roles as son, daughter, grandchild, and cousin.

Growing up Asian in Australia   Edited by Alice Pung

“These are not sociological essays, but deeply personal stories told with great literary skill. These stories show us not only what it is like to grow up Asian in Australia, but also what it means to be Asian Australian. And this is exactly the sort of book I wish I had read when I was growing up.”

Alice Pung, Introduction in Growing up Asian in Australia (P4)

This anthology was published in 2008 and is a collection of short pieces from various people who have experienced what it is like to grow up being an Asian person in Australia. Some are set in very recent times and are filled with joy and love for their family, this country and the people they have spent their lives with. Some are stories from times past, of families torn and grieving. Many share some confusion about their identity and how they can belong. Some share memories of being isolated from two cultures, one they live in and one they have left, or have only been told about. There are stories of violence, fear and rejection. Overwhelmingly though, there are stories of love, exploration and discovery and so many of these tales are filled with humour. Alice Pung has edited the anthology and her selection of themes and categorization of these stories is an interesting talking point in itself. Her introduction is a must read of the anthology. It is impossible to teach to every story, nor is it necessary and while these notes include a brief summary of each piece that is included, many of the activities focus on a selection. The choice of which to include in your own explicit teaching is obviously determined by the interest of the teacher, and most importantly, the experience of the students.

• Title

Explore the meaning of the title. Consider these three questions;


What ideas do you  associate with growing up?


What is particular to growing up in Australia?


How would being Asian affect this experience?

 You should either draw, write, cartoon, cut out images, or print coloured images of everything you  associate with each of these questions You can then share your answers to the questions by explaining what you have added to teach question 

Create a list of possible themes that might be explored in this anthology. Don’t  use refer to the book, try to offer your  own suggestions based on your own experiences of what it has been like to grow up in Australia. You may wish to share some of these experiences, with others in the class

• Stereotypes of Asian people

As Alice Pung says in her introduction, “this collection also reveals that there is more than one voice within any given culture (and) these stories show us what it is like beyond the stereotypes”. (P2) Depending on the demographic of the particular classroom this book is being introduced to, you need to address what some of these stereotypes of “Asians” might be. Firstly consider which regions the authors of these writing pieces may come from. With respect to the people from those regions, consider what some of the stereotypes are that people who are not from those cultures may have about them. Then consider the stereotypes that are commonly held about Australian people. This would be a handy list to have displayed in the classroom as you study the text, and refer to see how many stereotypes are addressed.

• Growing up .... in Australia

Given that this is a text that is taught in senior secondary levels, many of you would have already completed quite a few years of growing up already.


 Find a quote from the text that could be considered a common ‘growing up’ experience. (See some examples below.) Write the quote on a sticky note, with the page number and stick these on the walls of the classroom. Students then move around the room and select a quote that they feel some affinity with. It will become the opening line of a personal piece on ‘growing up in Australia’. It may be something funny, heartwarming, cruel, involve parents or school or relationships, anything that might be a common experience among children or teenagers.

These pieces could be written anonymously and entered into a box for others to read. They could be developed into an assessment piece, they could form one snapshot or perspective of an event, they could be an extended homework task, or a ten-minute writing activity. It provides plenty of flexibility and room for extension.

“I’ve been called a lot of things.” (P9)
“I always dreaded eleven o’clock on Saturday mornings.” (P16)
“I was the new animal at the zoo, fenced in by concentric throngs of teenage boys.” (P46)
“I was always angry, feeling a compulsion to withdraw and reach out at the same time.” (P48)
“One of the few benefits of working after school every day was that I became very diligent at homework. It gave me something to do to pass the time.” (P65)
“To this day I feel uncomfortable being around that area.” (P71)
“When the abuse had been directed at me, I had always wanted one of the other kids to hit Barry. I wanted someone to make it all stop, and for the first time I realized that ‘someone’ could be me”. (P78)
“An enormous amount of food would be served.” (P156)
“It was then I began to realize I could never grow up to be exactly like Wonder Woman.” (P177)
“He’s my dad. And I want to grow up to be just like him.” (P185)
“I wondered if my mum was embarrassed by me like I had so often been by her.” (P245)

Black Inc. Books Teaching Notes

• Alice Pung’s Introduction

Read the Introduction written by Alice Pung.  Research her and consider why she has been asked to edit this anthology.


Create  ten ‘fat’ questions that you could ask Alice about the process she has gone through in selecting and organising the text that she might have considered when writing this introduction. (A fat question often begins with why, how, what if, justify, explain, who and requires a detailed answer, rather than a brief, skinny one.)


This section of the text is one that will be referred to frequently, and is certainly one that students could refer to in their final assessment. Then read the introduction again and try and capture the essence of her intention through either a poem, song, artwork or short speech.

summary of each piece  ( Quick reference ) 

Where do we get our belonging?

  • Family [parents/ grandparents / siblings / extended family]

  • Peer group / friendship circles / social networks

  • Clubs [personal interest, community service / motorcycle / choir / service]

  • Sport [playing / coaching / umpiring / spectating / administrating]

  • Political associations / community action groups

  • Education [school / university etc]

  • Media [notions of identity from news, current affairs, fictional media texts]

  • Commercial organization [employer/employee / customer]

  • Professional organization

  • Profession [lawyer, truck driver, teacher]

  • Skills and abilities

  • Ethnicity

  • Society [dominant values / cultural practices]

  • Nationality

  • Gender

  • Spiritual faith

  • Generation [Baby-boomer / Generation X / Generation Y]

  • Location [street / neighbourhood / village / town / city]

  • Civilization [western / eastern ]

Consider the lack of belonging:


Disconnection, disconnectedness, break, discontinuity, disintegration, dissolution, dissociation, withdrawal, moving apart, growing apart, split, detachment, isolation, seclusion, avoidance, lack of unity, separateness, separatism, no connection, no common ground, unrelatedness, distance apart, breach, rift, split, disjoining, severance, breaking up, splitting up, segregation, displacement, disjointing, dislocation, breakdown, rupture, fracture, partition, cutting off, dissection.

Alien, foreigner, loner, nonperson, nonconformist, misfit.

Gathering ideas

You will need to put a file together over time that addresses the issues in our text start a file.

  • keep notes from class discussions and brainstorm sessions.

  • take notes from wider reading, viewing and listening, wherever that may be:

  • other texts, newspapers, magazines, websites, images, films, documentaries, television programs, radio programs etc.

  • note particular words and phrases used by others that may be useful to your understanding of the topic and that you may use in your writing.

  • also keep key quotes from texts that you may be able to use.

  • Make comprehensive notes to begin with. You never know what may be useful in time as you consider and develop your understanding of the issues. It is important to consider the many different issues that are related to the context, and not only those that are presented to you in the associated text.




Identity table

A good idea is to start with  yourself.


Complete the following.

Name: Ethnicity/Nationality:


Born and raised:

Mother’s and father’s occupations:


Moulding background events:

Happy memories:

Sad memories:

Proudest moment:

Most shameful moment:

Expressed emotions:
Closest people:

Who has loved:

Who has disliked:

Positive personality attributes:

Negative personality attributes:

Who do you influence:
Who influences you:

Occupation [student/part-time job]:


Accomplishments: Professional: Sporting: Artistic: Academic: Other:

Greatest achievement:
Biggest failure:
Opinions and ideas about current issues: Physical identity – hair style / clothes / etc:


Growing of Asian in Australia : 

Strine : explores the difficulties of navigating  a different language : In class Reading 

The Relative Advantages of Learning my Language p.7

Author: Amy Choi



  • Main character Amy young Chinese girl, twelve years old, lives in Australia.

  • Doesn’t want to spend time with her grandfather even when he wanted her to read his poems.

  • She didn’t see the point of speaking Chinese.

  • Watched her grandfather age as he ventured out to the City every day from Monday to Friday.

  • He hit his head one day and Amy had to go with him.

  • He was diagnosed with a brain tumour and three years later he died.

  • Amy later in life felt regret that she was never able to give her grandfather the commonest kindness.

  • She starts to begin learning Chinese again so that the next time an elderly relative wants her to listen she will be able to listen to them.



Amy – young teenage girl who later regrets not listening to her grandfather while he was alive.

Grandfather – elderly Chinese man who wants his granddaughter to listen to his poems. She doesn’t and later on he starts to ignore her. Passes away.


Family and relationships – Relationship between Amy and her Grandfather and how it changed over time. Also how she changed as he passed away.

Regret – Realising that she hadn’t given her grandfather the kindness that he deserved when he was alive.

Language and Style: Personal reflection – author talking about her own personal experience. Reflecting on her relationship with her Grandfather.


Issues of Identity and Belonging:

Identity: Her identity changes as her grandfather passes away. She starts to want to learn Chinese and before her grandfather passed away she was happy just speaking English. This shows how her identity as a young Chinese girl growing up in Australia changed. It changed from wanting to only know English to relearning Chinese so that if she ever had another opportunity with another elderly relative she would give them her time.



Ideas for Writing Piece:


Select one of the following writing Tasks  150 words 

Creative: Narrative about the relationship between a father and a son or Mother and daughter  and how it changes over time.


Expository: Personal reflective. Talking about my current relationships with my family and how they have changed over time.

Persuasive: A piece trying to persuade people to take the opportunities that they can while they can as they will not be there forever.



Chinese Lessons p.16

Author: Ivy Tseng is Chinese with a Taiwanese father. Ivy’s father is an Asian migrant who didn’t speak English very well, who didn’t have shoes until halfway through primary school, who didn’t have electricity until high school, and who had to help his parents every day. Ivy was a bratty kid who wanted to muck around on weekends instead of doing Chinese lessons. She wished she had normal parents who could speak perfect English. Adored her older sisters.

Storyline: Ivy absolutely despises Chinese lessons on a Saturday morning. She can’t understand why her father wants her to learn the language when every other kid can speak English. At one point, her father stops trying and Ivy makes the excuse of having a lot of homework. Later on, she realises that it’s important to learn one’s heritage and culture, to have a kind of authenticity that is her own. She wishes she can belong, eat at a Chinese restaurant and eavesdrop on mandarin conversations. She feels conflicted because she wants to speak English but there is also a part of her that wants to learn why her father was so persistent in teaching her the language. Now she is learning mandarin because she wants to understand her father.

Characters: Ivy, Jona, Lin, Ivy’s mother and father.

Themes: Belonging and authenticity. Pressured by parents to learn mandarin.

Language and style: It is a first person, personal recount with a reflective attribute. Ivy talks about hating mandarin lessons but gradually comes to accept the fact that she is different from people who speak “perfect English”. She comes to realise that she is mandarin and nothing will change that.

Issues of identity and belonging:

Identity: the experiences that affect Ivy are her father’s Chinese lessons. At one point she looks into a mirror and saw a Chinese girl who is tanned by the Australian sun yet has the blood of Taiwan and china.

Belonging: Ivy wishes she could feel more authentic. She wishes she could relate to her culture and background in some way. Before this, she wished she could’ve had normal parents who could speak perfect English. She wished she didn’t have to take mandarin lessons. But there will always be a part her that will question her why.


Why do you not accept your heritage?


Why do you not want to be different?

What is personal essay writing?

Personal essay writing is the easiest style of essay writing to do because it is about the subject we all know the most:  ourselves!

When writing a personal essay, we write about an experience we have had, sometimes by ourselves and sometimes with other people, perhaps with out family or with our friends.  It is often the most interesting style of writing for others to read and it should also be the most interesting style of writing for each of us to write in because we are interested in the subject we are writing about.

What sorts of personal experiences make useful subject matter for personal essay writing?  Just about any experience.  Think about the following situations as possibilities:


  • a holiday you have had with your family

  • an unpleasant experience you have had at school

  • life with your pet or pets

  • an adventure you have had such as when you might have been lost

  • your first time leaving your family

  • arriving in Melbourne

  • your first day at a new school

  • what you do with your best friend or friends

  • living with your grandparents

  • the death of someone important to you


In no more than 50 words, write about two of the following:


1.The day I had to say goodbye to a close friend.

2.My favourite childhood place.

3 A holiday at my grandparents’ house

4 The time I wanted revenge against someone who had hurt me.

5.My mother.

6.My Father

Now, choose one of these topics and rewrite it in 100 words.

Sample essay in the PERSONAL style.




I had arrived.  The plane had landed and everybody around me was getting ready to leave the plane.  I was still in my seat because I could not move.  I was terrified.  I wanted to go home immediately.  I know it was a mistake coming thousands of miles and leaving my family and friends at home.  I wanted to cry.


But I left the plane and found myself in the arrival hall of Melbourne airport.  Everyone looked so strange.  There were some other Asian people but most people looked European and were speaking in languages I could not understand.  My head was banging with the sounds of a new country and a different culture.  I could not speak to anyone and I could not ask anyone for help.  The signs did not tell me what to do or where to go.  I wanted to go home.  I still wanted to cry.


I took out from my bad the piece of paper with instructions I had been given before leaving home and looked for the person who was supposed to greet me and take me to my hostel.  But everybody looked the same.  So I began looking for my national airline’s desk so that I could get a ticket back home straight away.  I could not stay in this horrible, strange, unwelcoming place one minute longer.  And then I did cry.


Then I felt something familiar.  A hand was touching mine and I heard a voice say, “It’s okay.  You’ll be fine” and I looked up into a kind, smiling, welcoming face, the face of the person who had come to greet me.


I was still crying but I knew that things would be okay, soon.



There are certain steps in writing any essay which you must remember and which you must always follow.  But there are special steps in writing a personal essay which you must learn to follow:


*          You must make the subject matter interesting for the reader.  Just because you are interested in the subject matter does not mean that you can afford to bore your reader.


                        Compare the following opening sentences:


  1. When I was 12 I went to my grandparents’ house.  I went there for a holiday.  It was good at my grandparents’ house.  There was lots to do at my grandparents’ house.


  1. Do you remember a time in your life when you were really happy?  Do you remember a time in your life when you knew you were safe and protected and … loved.  That’s how I felt when I was staying in the most special place in the world: at my grandparents’ house.


*          You should write about something which actually happened to you or about something which you remember being involved in.


*          Because you are writing about yourself in a personal essay, you should write in the first person.  This means that you should write your essay using            “I”, “me” and “my”.


*          You should try to include as much description as possible of the place or the people or the situation you are describing.


*          Your essay should have a framework.  This means that the beginning and the end of your essay should help the reader to understand what it is t                 that you are writing about.  A good conclusion to a personal essay is one which tells the reader how you changed as a result of the experience                   you have described in your essay.  Example:


When I look back on my experience I feel embarrassed and sometimes I even feel hurt and angry.  But I know that without that experience I would not be the person I am today.


Writing Folio



Choose one of the following topics and write your first Writing Folio piece on that topic.  Your essay should be 250-350 words long. 



1.The last day I saw my family.


2.The saddest day of my life.


3.My best friend.


4.Write a letter to your family – in English!  Telling them about how you are settling in to life in Melbourne and studying at Taylors College.


5.The most memorable birthday I have had.


6.Life at home with my family.


7.Write an essay which ends with the line “It was the end of a beautiful friendship”.


8.Write an essay which opens with the line “The most valuable lesson I ever learned was …”


9.What is it like being a girl?


10.What have been the best – and worst – things about being a teenager so far?






Growing up Asian in Australia edited by Alice Pung Teaching Notes by Laura Gordon


    Identity and Belonging

    This text is one of four selected to explore the theme of Identity and Belonging  The theme runs through most of the stories in this anthology and is at the core of many people’s experience of ‘growing up’. The sense of identity for many of the characters is tied to their culture, or the culture their parents have passed on to them. Some of these people like Francis Lee in An Upside-Down Year have arrived in Australia as a foreign place, but one of promise and hope and opportunity. Many others, including Michelle Law in A Call to Arms, are born in this country and yet it doesn’t feel as a place they belong to for some time. Many of the writers describe how their identity is connected to appearance and that sense of looking different, yet not feeling different until the taunts of the school yard make it painfully clear. This difference undermines any chance of fitting in and damages many possible connections to others. It is stories like Exotic Rissole and Wei-Lei and Me that reveal just how much human connection can define oneself and help to bring meaning to the cruel world around them. Baked Beans and Burnt Toast uses imagery and language beautifully to show how you might never feel like you really belong until someone reaches out to include you.

  • Generational difference

  • The sacrifice of the generation that arrived here, desperate for a new life with more possibility for their children, is not lost on the writers, the recipients of such sacrifice. Many writing pieces offer gratitude for the intention of their parents to offer them so much more than these parents could have ever dreamed of for themselves. They feel the weight of expectation heavily, like Cindy Pan, whose father believes she can be the first person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in every category. And they please and disappoint parents in equal amounts. Vanessa Woods and Diana Nguyen both feel the overwhelming disapproval of failing in the eyes of their mothers, while Shalini Akhil is blessed with the acceptance of a grandmother who helps her consider what sort of Wonder Woman she might grow up to become. The sexual awakening of teenagers also causes the wrath of some parents who are horrified at the news their son or daughter is gay. This rejection has lasting and tragic consequences on these relationships. The typical embarrassment that teenagers feel toward their parents knows no cultural limitations, and for some of these writers, their difference was only exacerbated by the food, language, expectations, occupations and traditions their parents had. And like many teenagers, it is only time and the cycle of life that softens this

  • Death and Loss

  • This anthology shares many precious memories of loved ones who have passed away. These writers share their pain and the futile realization that comes with the loss of someone so significant. Regret features prominently in many of these stories as the longing for just one more conversation, particularly in a common language, becomes out of reach. The demise of a parent or a grandparent can be a powerful reminder of the culture that is part of them, yet now even further out of reach. Ivy Tseng shares the passionate dislike of the “Chinese lessons” her father inflicts upon her teenage self. As she sits at the bedside of her dying father she is filled with regret that those lessons weren’t valued more as now all she wants is to “understand (her) father”. The passing of this generation who straddled two cultures, kept traditions alive and grappled with two languages is felt even more keenly with the arrival of their own children, or a return to a country that filled the stories of their childhood. They finally see first hand, as Kylie Kwong does, the place of her parents’ youth, their own connection to that distant land takes on new meaning.

  • Responsibility and Expectation

  • Growing up is often about meeting the expectations of those around you so that you can belong, identify and be accepted as part of the group. When the expectations of your family, directly contradict what the other teenagers or children are doing, then growing up becomes even more of a minefield to navigate. These writers share many recollections of the horrid and cruel bullying they are exposed to in the school-yard. Their painful memories become even more poignant with the beauty of hindsight to recall them. Daily torture at school only ends for many with their after school occupations running their parents restaurants. And of course study must take priority over them all. For many of the Asian-Australians that feature in the chapter ‘Tall Poppies’, their endeavours reap rewards as they achieve success in the fields they have labored away in. But for others, even fitting in to the Australian way of life is still not enough to feel accepted. James Chong shares his story of Anzac Day and the pride he felt marching on that national day, until he features in the media with the headline “True

• Writing Tasks SAC


1. Select a title from the anthology and write a new piece of writing, fact or fiction,that explores the title in an alternative way.

2. Select a style to mimic and write an original piece of writing, but one that uses the style, language and features of this piece. The key to this is selecting a story that has something notable about the way it is written.

3. Choose a place that has a significant meaning for your childhood. Describe the place in as much detail as possible, consider sights, smells, sounds, emotions as well as a narrative about a specific experience there.

4. The generational divide is a frequently recurring idea in many of these pieces. Select either an event from one of the stories, or from your own ‘growing up’ and retell the event from three different generations. Consider the silences of each generation, what each different age group would value and judge, and the language that would differentiate between each.

  • ‘Having a sense of being different makes it difficult to belong.’

    ‘Without connection to others there is no me.’

    ‘Each person has different identities for different relationships and situations.’


  • Analytical Responses

  • Students could take on the persona of many of the writers featured in the anthology and write analytical pieces on a recent event or issue. These could take the form of letters to the editor, columns, opinion pieces, speeches or blog entries. They could respond to other pieces that have been published, comments that have been made or an experience they have recently shared. Using many of the writing tasks that have been mentioned, students could develop extended pieces of writing that address the prompts for this context.

  • Creative Responses

  • Students can write a series of Snapshots  This is where the same event is told by a number of alternative perspectives. Or each voice can pick up the narrative where the last voice finished and so the story is told progressively through different voices. The event can come directly from one of the pieces, or can be inspired by one that is referred to. 


Alice Pung is the author of Laurinda, Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter and the editor of the anthology Growing Up Asian in Australia. Alice’s work has appeared in the Monthly, Good Weekend, the Age, e Best Australian Stories and Meanjin.

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