A Gai Shan Life and My Thoughts of Being An Asian in An Increasingly Western Society

I meant to write this post a long, long time ago, but I never quite got hold of the proper motivation to put my thoughts down on paper. Seeing Revanche’s comments  on my blog made the impetus to write this post even stronger, but as you can see, I didn’t manage to get it down the way I wanted until now. Blame it on slow processing speed.

I found Revanche’s blog early last year and have read her entire archives. Her blog is one of my favorites, not only because of her writing style, but because some of the topics she touches are close to my heart, specifically Asian values and family in a Western setting, and her internal conflicts relating to these.

I think a lot about the place of traditional Asian values in cosmopolitan Singapore, where the ideas of Western individualism are fast gaining traction among the younger generation. I ponder, in particular, over the Asian values that dictate family as the main motivation of our actions and decisions, and the society or community in close second place.

I think my generation is the most highly conflicted, having been educated for most of our early lives by these traditional values, yet feeling the pull to pursue the rest of our lives independent of what our family and/or society demand as our responsibilities. There is a feeling of intense guilt in abandoning the former, contrasted with the immense satisfaction in being able to achieve the latter. I think many of us are still struggling for a proper balance between the two; whether there is even one, remains to be seen.

This struggle is doubly hard for the women of my generation in Singapore. The demands of a family oriented versus an individual oriented lifestyle are virtually at opposite ends for a woman.

I myself have chosen to take a more individualistic approach, and declined the marriage and kids route, though the decision did come with plenty of guilt, made worse by Singapore’s low birth rates, one of the lowest in the world. I feel that I am failing my parents and ancestors (by not continuing the circle of life) and also failing my country. But not enough to abandon the decision; I really don’t think I have what it takes to love a child that way, and I don’t want to have that confirmed only when it is too late for the child.

On the other aspect of my parents, there was never any doubt that I would undertake their support fully in their old age and retirement, both financially and physically.  However, I would not be entirely honest if I didn’t confess that there are times when I contemplate the fact that I would easily have been on my way to retirement at 45 years old if I didn’t have the responsibility of my parents. Guilt.

My parents are still relatively healthy yet, but the shadow of dementia/Alzheimers and other age related health issues are never far from my mind. I have accepted the fact that I will eventually come to be fully responsible for their care, and my traditional upbringing dictates that I need to be the actual caregiver in the event when their health desert them. I love my parents and want them with me for as long as possible. Yet, I am also cognizant of the impact of their longevity on my own life and sometimes panic a little when I think about the future with my parents. Can I not to have my life to myself? More guilt.

Given my own conflicts, I am particularly interested in how Asian immigrants in Western countries and their first generation offspring deal with this. Do they still act as their traditional upbringing demand, or have they embraced their values of their new country fully? Or maybe they are also struggling to reconcile the two, the same way we are struggling across the world.

Therefore, I felt a sense of kinship on first reading A Gai Shan Life; there seems to be a parallel in some of our thoughts and feelings, even though our experiences are far from the same. I definitely do not have the same challenges she faces with her family, but can definitely appreciate her struggle to do what her Asian upbringing requires, especially in the face of “stop enabling” comments from some of her readers.

Anyway, there is really no conclusion to my thoughts, just an ongoing exercise in finding the balance between the new world and the old.

And of course, continuing my stalking of Revanche at her blog. 🙂


2 comments on “A Gai Shan Life and My Thoughts of Being An Asian in An Increasingly Western Society

  1. Revanche says:

    I felt (feel?) a little sheepish commenting here 🙂 but thank you for reading and I hope to hear your thoughts over at my blog as well. As you’ve probably noticed, there aren’t necessarily a whole lot of people who quite understand the cultural dynamic here as more of my readers tend to be more modern or from a Western style background. I look forward to hearing more of your experiences as well – the struggle itself is quite similar even if the individual experience by itself isn’t.

  2. eemusings says:

    Yes, yes and yes!

    Okay, so I just found your blog today, and am subscribing.

    I don’t talk about this a whole lot, but it’s something I ponder from time to time (http://eemusings.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/thoughts-from-a-first-generation-immigrant/ / http://eemusings.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/chewing-over-battle-hymn-of-the-tiger-mother/) I don’t consider myself very traditionally Asian at all, but it would be a lie to say that I’m totally westernised, either.

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