Who I Am: Growing Up in SE Asia
“Family ‘happens’ before friends then shapes future relationships”
“A man is known by the books he reads, by the company he keeps, by the praise he gives, by his dress, by his tastes, by his distastes, by the stories he tells, by his gait, by the notion of his eye, by the look of his house, of his chamber; for nothing on earth is solitary but everything hath affinities infinite.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When I read the quote above, it resonated deeply in my heart. However, if I had to distil my sense of self down to a single factor, I would say the relationships I’ve acquired, sustained or lost over my lifetime have had the largest impact. By deciding on the sort of relationships I am engaged in, I am indirectly making an inherent choice on the sort of person I want to be. I will talk about this in the context of Southeast Asian cultural nuances.
‘Family’ happens before ‘friends’ and thus the family environment you are born into affects the type of friends you keep in the future. There is a relatively larger emphasis placed on family obligations and filial piety in this part of the world and it often translates into a pressure to perform to societal standards to avoid being a disgrace to the family, eg: in terms of academic grades. Growing up in such a family environment results in the easily influenced minds of young people to either judge their friends in the same manner or to seek friends who offer release from those pressures.
However, there are also families who approach love in a different manner, teaching their youths to prioritise strength of character over accolades, career, wealth and material possessions and this in turn affects their friendships. Although there is a lot of pressure on young people in Southeast Asia, having the right relationships to build you up will make sure the pressure doesn’t tear you down.
By Jacqueline Chang, 26, Singapore