What defining characteristics do your friends have? Do you have a squad? Whom do you seek out for conversation? Why are you drawn to certain people? I still remember coming to the realisation, during my childhood, that I couldn’t “play with all of the kids in the sandbox.” It wasn’t easy growing-up in Minnesota which was a mix of long-descended Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons. I was called a “chink,” told that I had a flat face and complimented on my excellent English throughout my childhood and adolescence.
Fortunately, I had a few close friends, despite being one of a handful of non-white kids in my large suburban high school. I chose education to find another city and then an international career which aided me on my search to belong. Whenever my Perth-born, white-Australian husband and I would fly to Minneapolis from Sydney to visit my parents, he always noted the decline in diversity in the departure lounges from Los Angeles to Minneapolis via San Francisco, Denver, Chicago.
When I attended the University of Chicago, I was gratified to discover that the world was not populated by Olsons, Larsons, Johnsons, Swansons, Nelsons as it was in Minnesota. Instead, I discovered that the most popular surname at university was Kim, a Korean one. The undergraduate population was American and ethnically diverse. The international students were yet another diverse group. Still, students segregated themselves into their own ethnic factions. I recall a beautiful Chinese-American boy from New Jersey who hit on me during orientation week. But because I had not been around Asian people, I couldn’t see how gorgeous he was. Instead, my first boyfriend was a cute WASP who wrote poetry and had attended Andover Academy, an elite prep-school in Massachusetts.
The African-American, Korean-American, Chinese-American etc. and International students had their own parties. Everyone was welcome, of course, but why the need to self-segregate? For me, the best combination for an evening would be dinner with the Chinese students, a dance party with the African-Americans (the best music and vibe) and a soothing breakfast of bulgogi, kimchee and seaweed soup with the Koreans after a night of continuous dancing.
Fast forward through my investment banking career in New York, London and Sydney. My time in Minnesota and the ethnically diverse cities of Chicago and New York, showed me how people are drawn to similarity, like for like. It also showed me that education and ambition can surmount traditional socio-economic divisions. I was one of many Asians in the analyst class at Morgan Stanley. Later I noted who held positions of power in all of these cities.
I like to think that I’ve managed pretty well to have made many friends everywhere but even then, I’ve been surprised at people’s attitudes. We’re all racist. We can’t help it unless we educate ourselves. In New York, I learned that some African-Americans believe that Asian women’s genitalia is horizontal, “like their eyes”. The joke in London was, “Do you have any English friends?” because the City held so many ethnicities and cultures. A man swimming in my lane at Cook and Phillip Pool struck up a conversation with me and then insisted that I was from Singapore because of my American accent. Someone in my husband’s family stated that she didn’t like how the pool was reserved once a week for local Muslim women. To which my response was, “Am I an acceptable immigrant then?” A local man in a pub just outside Cessnock took a liking to me while my husband and I were watching an AFL game over a decade ago. He said, amongst many un-repeat-ables, “You have such beautiful skin. It must be all the rice that you eat.” My response? “Well, you had better go and eat some more.”
When I met Jules, one of the founders of Sydney Night Rides, via Twitter a year ago, I was intrigued because she’s ethnically Korean like me and also steadfastly Australian. She has lived, worked and adventured in many countries. Consequently, a meeting was in order. We had lunch together and because of our association with bicycles and cultural experience of being “교포” or “overseas Koreans,” we had much to discuss.
The wonderful thing about this group is that it represents a social demographic that is missing from all of the bicycle advocacy organisations in Australia. I’ve enjoyed long rides with this group before and travelled to Cabramatta and Parramatta for tasty food. (Sydney Night Rides not Just at Night)
Consequently, when SNR announced the Hanson HSP ride, I was in! I hadn’t yet tried the halal snack pack but I had seen the exchange on television during the recent election between Pauline Hanson and Sam Dastyari. I first read about Ms. Hanson in the Economist in 1996 when I was living in New York. I was shocked at her entry in Australian politics given the country’s proximity to Asia. Sadly, her return seems aligned with the global rise of xenophobia and isolationism.
SNR created this ride to make light of these issues. The evening with the group was awesome. I was late leaving the CBD but organised to meet them at the gates of Centennial Park.
Riding in the dark park is pretty spooky but exhilarating. I’ve done it before with my husband and kids coming back after dinner in Bondi after an entire day at the beach. With a chatty group and well lit bicycles, it was less spooky and more social. We quickly made our way to Randwick.
When we reached Alison Road, we took the entire centre lane which was an amazing feeling. I never approach the High Street this way. Instead, I always take Doncaster Avenue and usually ride an e-bike to deal with the hill. We all slogged our way up together.
It was great to see some old friends and make new ones at our destination, Soulburger. When the HSP arrived, it was enormous and delicious. I ate too many chips but fortunately, shared it with Jules so there was less damage. For vegan lamb, it was pretty tasty but I think I’ll have to plan to try another HSP with lamb, now that my curiosity has been piqued.
We rode back via Doncaster Avenue to Surry Hills and Ryan had music rigged to his backpack. Suddenly, the endless Boyz II Men song, “End of the Road” was audible.
Bellies full of yummy food, safety in numbers on a quiet street, bicycling with an ethnically diverse group of lovely people on a warm Sydney evening with a nostalgic R&B song playing, I started singing and so did everyone else. It was one of the best Sydney Night Rides ever.
The well-lit and expensive Albert “Tibby” Cotter Bridge. Use it as often as possible to gain maximum value!
Follow Sydney Night Rides and join them on one of their Tuesday Night Rides.