The word ‘diversity’ has been bandied about in the romance genre in the last few years. Of course, diversity encompasses more than cultural differences. Indeed, I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed novels where the romance is between two men, or where the hero is blind or suffers from a psychological trauma. In this article, though, I will be focussing on some characteristics which, if I may be so bold as to suggest, you might like to keep in mind when writing an Asian character.
Before you ask why it is that I think I am qualified to give this advice, I can tell you that well, first and foremost, I am Asian. Chinese-Malaysian, to be exact, for those of you who like specifics. So I have first-hand experience of growing up in an Asian household. Not only am I related to a large number of Asians (my mother has 8 brothers and sisters), I have many Asian friends from a number of different Asian countries.
Writing about a character from a cultural background that is different from yours will always be a challenge. You don’t want to make your character a stereotype or a caricature, but keep in mind that there are often reasons why there is a stereotype. So where do you draw the line? I don’t pretend to be able to give you all the answers but I can say with a large degree of confidence that with enough research, you can write that Asian/African/insert-the-relevant-continent character. I say this because the first novel of mine that was published is a historical romance set in eighteenth-century England. It should therefore come as no surprise to you that my hero and heroine are two English aristocrats. My love of historical romance meant that I had immersed myself in this world so completely that when I finally wrote about it, I found my characters came quite easily to me.
I can tell that you are now impatiently tapping your fingers and frowning at the screen on your favourite mobile device because the sole reason you clicked on this article is because you really want to know how – and perhaps why – one needs to pimp 2-minute noodles. Well, I suppose it’s like asking why a chocolate cake needs chocolate ganache or why a banana split needs whipped cream as well as ice-cream. It’s just soooo much better.
So, let’s get started.
1. How to pimp your 2-minute noodles
Let’s be honest. Asians love their 2-minute noodles. I don’t even have to say this is a generality and may not necessarily be true for some Asians. Asians cannot live without 2-minute noodles. It’s not an exaggeration. My Asian grocer apologised to me profusely when I commented that my favourite brand was not in stock. He was literally mortified. 2-minute noodles, dear readers, is serious business. But I digress. You want to know about the pimp.
Egg is probably the number one pimp. A fried egg on top of your Indomie noodles is classic. Dan Hong, a chef, does a version featuring a fried egg with melted cheese which he serves on top of noodles which has been stir-fried with preserved cabbage and sliced up frankfurt. It really has to be seen to be believed (check it out here…).
You can basically put anything your heart desires, or whatever you have on hand, in your noodles. You can jazz it up with anything from wagyu steak to Chinese fish balls to fried chicken. Pretty much everything will taste good with it. All because of three letters. MSG. Need I say more?
2. The Asian Mother
The Asian mother comes in many different forms and shares many characteristics with other non-Asian mothers. Asian mothers though, are constantly torn between being a Tiger Mum and molly-coddling their children. Nothing strikes more fear in an Asian child’s heart than the look of disappointment on your mum’s face when she sees that lone B on your otherwise straight A report card. (This is no exaggeration.)
Yet this is the mother who lays out your uniform, packs your not-a-sandwich lunch, cooks up an incredible bowl of fried rice for breakfast and a five-course dinner every night because nutrition is incredibly important and this is basically the only way she can support her child’s studies.
An Asian mother will nag her child to distraction, and push him or her to their limits. Yet she would not hesitate to donate her heart if it would save her child’s life.
Her family is her life.
3. Are all Asians bad drivers? Nature or nurture?
What a very good question. Is bad driving something that is inbuilt in our genes like poor eyesight? Or is it because the places in which we, or our parents, learned to drive has minimal road rules? I don’t know the answer. I have Asian friends who are bad drivers, and Asian friends who are good drivers. I’m not an awesome driver like my mum whose spatial skills are just amazing, but I can reverse park without a rear vision camera. That’s not bad, right?
Look, I think we Asians just like the rest of the population, some are good drivers, some not so good. We just have a bad rep and really should improve our image. Think of it this way, it could be fun to imagine what driving skills your Asian character should have. He or she could even be a professional race car driver! Turn the stereotype on its head.
4. Never pay full price
This is the motto every Asian lives by. Unless of course you are one of the super-rich. We are brought up to be thrifty, to save wherever and whenever we can. I remember being told by my grandmother that leaving grains of rice on my plate will mean that my future husband would have a bad complexion. Yikes! Naturally, I finished every single grain of rice on my plate every single time because of that tale!
Another memory I have is my aunt deciding whether to buy a bottle of water from one shop over another because of a mere difference of ten cents. And my extended family is what I suppose you can describe as upper middle-class. Although I’m very fortunate that I needn’t go to such extremes to save, I am grateful for all the lessons I learnt growing up. It is only now that I have children of my own that I have come to realise teaching them about the value of money and the hard work required to earn such money is actually a very challenging task.
5. How to win friends and …
Well, I don’t really care about the influencing people part. How to win friends, though? I seem to be pretty good at it, if I may say so myself. I’m told it’s because of the Hainanese chicken rice that I cook for my friends. I’ve cooked this so many times that I’m actually sick of eating it. For those of you who know what this dish consists of, would call that blasphemy.
Hainanese chicken rice is an incredibly fragrant rice which has been cooked in sesame oil, ginger and garlic, and chicken stock. It is served with poached chicken dressed with sesame oil and soy, accompanied by a chilli sauce which is made especially for this dish. It is absolutely scrumptious, and if you are ever in Singapore or Malaysia, you must try it.
It seems fitting then, that I have come full circle, finishing this post with another food topic. The Chinese greet each other not with ‘How are you?’ but ‘Have you eaten?’. Food is a very important part of our lives, and sharing food with family and friends is always a joyous occasion and a celebration. I don’t know about other people, but to me, there is no better compliment than my friends telling me how much they enjoyed the meal I cooked for them.
Till next time, good luck pimping your 2-minute noodles and do tell me how you went!
By Rose Chen