也許是因為父輩們在商業和經濟上取得了成功，現在的這一代稍稍輕鬆了一些。他們能真正作為孩童享受童年，而不是當個「小大人」。他們成長的環境更舒適，面對的生活壓力和汲取的人生經驗也更適於他們這個年齡。我經常會看到一些人們發在Facebook上的很有意思的圖片。其中一個主題是「第一世界的煩惱」。這實際是改寫了一下「第三世界的問題」這個短語——問題在發展中國家是很常見的，比如說對淨水的最基本的需求。而在第一世界的發達國家裡，年輕一代經歷的卻是完全不同的、更瑣碎的煩惱——儘管有時候根據他們的反應看來，你會覺得他們是在面臨生死抉擇。這些圖片看來滑稽，但它們能表達出內在的事實，展示出新一代年輕人的「權利文化」。比如一幅圖上畫的是一個手拿iPhone的小男孩在哭，因為他想要白色的卻只能勉強接受黑的! 要麼就是另一幅圖，一個小女孩盯著她置滿了衣服的衣櫃，而下面的描述文字卻是「我沒衣服穿」! 當然很多時候這些圖片都有一些誇張的成分，儘管如此，這些圖片還是能揭示出當前這一代一些特質。
原文 (Original text)
Growing up in a takeaway
My memory is not one of my strengths, in particular my memories of my childhood. However, I do remember that a lot of it was spent in and around my parents’ place of work. Like so many Chinese who moved to the UK, my parents made a living through the catering industry. I vaguely remember the Chinese restaurant that my father managed in Germany in the 80s where I was born. We lived in an apartment block with the restaurant on the ground floor, so work was just a lift ride away. When we moved to England, my father changed jobs but not industry. He took over his brother-in-law’s takeaway business, and so began a tradition of spending most weekends at the takeaway, either in the store room situated between the front serving counter and the kitchen, or upstairs watching TV (or doing my homework, depending on who was asking!). I had fun times living and working there. I remember being given the task of bagging the prawn crackers and eating every other one. Bag one, eat one. Bag one, eat one. I could feel the oil coating the inside of my throat! So I would wash them down with a can of coke I took from the fridge – a great example of an unhealthy diet! I’d eat so much that I’d be too full to eat any proper food when it came. I also remember being given a very blunt knife to cut mushrooms with. After about the tenth one, I started to make the job more interesting by cutting them into all sorts of different shapes. Although I was told off, I’m sure I could see a slight grin on my dad’s face. After all, I was only eight years old.
Reflecting back on those times, I don’t have any regrets about the environment in which I was raised. I learned from an early age what discipline meant. I probably understood sooner than my school friends that money has to be earned. It doesn’t magically appear as soon as I ask for it. I learned not to equate parents with wallets or banks. I learned that effort is required: I needed to cut up mushrooms and bag prawn crackers, and that would be worth a pound! Enough for me to buy four chocolate bars and bubblegum! Joking aside, I learned how, as if by magic, the master chef would turn various ingredients sitting in ice cream tubs into juicy, tasty-looking chicken and pineapple chunks of the sweet and sour variety. He was amazing. And he wore a hat. No one else wore hats. That meant he was extra special. Then I would see the food boxed up (sometimes by my very own hands), placed in a bag and exchanged for money. I saw how money was made. At the age of eight, I saw how business works.
Maybe as a consequence of their parents’ business and financial success, the current generation has it slightly easier. They are able to have a childhood where they can be children instead of little adults. They can grow up more comfortably, handling pressures and learning life lessons that are more appropriate to their age. I often come across funny pictures that people post on Facebook. One theme of these pictures is ‘first world problems’. This plays on the term ‘third world issues’ – issues that are very real in developing countries, such as the basic need for clean water. In developed first world countries, the younger generation tend to experience a different and far more trivial set of problems – though sometimes, judging by their reaction, you would think it was a life or death situation. Whilst the intention behind the images is to be humorous, they also contain a lot of truth, exposing the entitlement culture in which the younger generation is growing up. For example, a picture might show a young boy crying while holding an iPhone. He wanted a white one but had to settle for black. Or there might be a photo of a girl staring at her open wardrobe full of clothes with the caption ‘I have nothing to wear’. Of course, these pictures are exaggerated for extra effect, but they nevertheless highlight some characteristics of today’s generation.
I would guess that certain characteristics grown weaker than they were in my parents’ generation. Words like discipline, perseverance, determination, and work ethic were defined and refined through long hours, hard physical labour, dealing with racism, learning and integrating into a new society, a new culture. Working hard back then – as is still the case for so many – meant 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, on your feet. And the reward? To redefine the term work hard for their children. So that for them work hard can mean sitting on their bottom for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. So that the children can have an easier, better life.
The way we grew up forms and moulds us into the people we are today. There is something extremely meaningful in remembering our roots. The 6,000-mile journey that my parents and many others like them undertook, travelling with few savings to a foreign land where they had no community and were unable to speak the language, should never be forgotten. That decision that they made all those years ago has paved a new path. It has changed the direction of those that come after them, and maybe given them a head start.
Against the odds, they managed to carve out not just a living but a life. Yes, it was about survival but it was also about so much more than that. It was about fortune. It was about pride. It was about overcoming the challenge of establishing a foothold in a country where they were the minority. If this is you, then, on behalf of your children, I want to thank you. Thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made. Thank you for persevering. Thank you for all the hardships that you have faced in attempting to build a better future for your family.
So much can change between one generation and the next, and yet so much stays the same. I personally cherish my heritage and I would make a strong case for my peers to do the same. The challenge for us is to balance the tension between claiming our identity in this society into which we have integrated, whilst still holding a deep appreciation for our roots. The best scenario would be one where we have found a purpose in our lives that brings out our full identity as British-born Chinese, not repressing either our British characteristics or our Chinese upbringing, but allowing both to flourish and to express themselves in our daily lives. Just as our parents radically redefined the journey for the generations that now follow them, we would do well to respect their sacrifices by embracing our new-found bi-cultural identities.