At the Northcote Social Club last night waiting for Sime Nugent to come on and chatting to various strangers at the bar, I half noticed a dark haired woman staring at me but was in the middle of a conversation and really didn’t think about it at all. But those sub-cortical structures were beavering away and I found myself at a lull in the conversation looking back at her without any conscious decision to do so. She turned out to be someone I’d gone to university with, an ex-girlfriend of a good friend, someone I’d not seen in eight or so years.
She had been wondering if it was me but had hesitated to approach because my appearance had changed so much since she’d last seen me. At some point in the conversation I did my usual pulling out my driver’s licence which is now coming up to renewal after ten years and showing it to one of her friends. I’m pretty much unrecognisable in that photo and I enjoy people’s reactions when they look at it and then look back at me. Her friend had the normal wow you look totally different reaction. Mel, however, did something I’d never seen before, she nodded at that photo like that person was someone she knew better.
In a strange way, I felt both touched and saddened.
One of the main reasons beneath the whole driver’s licence routine is that it confirms and validates through the reaction of others that that ten year old self, the geeky guy in dorky glasses and very bad hair cut is long gone replaced by way cooler and funkier updated current self (or so I would like to think).
I’ve only ever really thought about it seriously as nerd to hippy transition terms. But my reaction to Mel’s nod last night brought up the underlying implication of ethnicity shame in a way that I’d never quite understood until then.
Which is strange because, one of the most common reactions I get from that photo trick from people who don’t know me goes along the lines of how that guy looks really asian, much like any of the overseas students you see around campuses or in the city. These days, I still look asian of course (difficult to not do), but I look assimilated asian.
So, now I don’t quite know how much of the joy I get from reactions is because of the nerd to hippy transformation and how much of it is asian (not one of us) to Australian (one of us). For me, nerd to hippy is ok, it’s all surface anyway, my real self hasn’t changed that much over all those years but I feel uncomfortable thinking about how much could be about Asian to Australian. Growth and change are fine things but assimilation isnt something to be proud of.