The Asian Notion of Love

Old Hong Kong - Ocean Park

Living in Australia, perhaps I should think of myself as lucky that most Asians I know wouldn’t find it that odd that, for instance, I like to hold my boyfriend’s hand. But I am very aware that my parents would be much less tolerant of such behaviour and thus I behave accordingly. Jocelyn from Speaking of China is very right and very apt in calling it the embarrassment of love in China.

Growing up, occasionally I would sit on my mother’s knee maybe while we watched a movie, or sometimes I would lie across her lap if we were for some reason hanging out in my parents’ bedroom. It wasn’t often, but they were times I enjoyed being close to my parents. Of course, as I grew older though, that contact stopped and there were times I began to think that I’d never really heard my parents say ‘I love you’ to me the way that I saw others do, even on television.

Being raised in a Western country but essentially Chinese at heart, I’d always considered ‘I love you’ to be something you don’t say lightly, which was why at first I was a bit shocked when friends at high school would say ‘I love you’ freely to their friends. Sure, I loved my friends. Sometimes I felt like they were the only ones that loved me too, but saying it was… too embarrassing! (Was it?)

While I still feel that way to some extent, not having ‘close contact’ however meant that I always (after realising what this ‘hugging thing’ was) felt somewhat hungry for contact, or there was something just lacking. Perhaps it was in a different post that Jocelyn wrote, but Chinese people don’t hug, don’t kiss. They show their emotion in small gestures.. perhaps ones I don’t always appreciate. There were occasions where I wanted to go up and give my grandfather a hug, but I knew that he wouldn’t understand it and on the contrary would find it strange. So I didn’t.

Hamper with Fortuitous Apple

It wasn’t always that way though, in high school it was surprising when friends would come up to hug me, but I found out I didn’t hate it. Even if I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it yet since it was new. But in fact sometimes it was rather nice and I took that openess with me to university where friends would give a farewell hug as they headed home after another event.

They still weren’t quite right though, there was sometimes a distance to them. They weren’t quite what I needed. That’s why it was nice to find Ruben who is happy to always hug me and was wanting for hugs himself. His hugs made feel a lot more ‘whole’ somehow, they brought me comfort and were warm and welcoming and didn’t quite seem as restrained as the others. It seemed like he knew what my starved heart needed. I look forward to his hugs.

While I’m a lot more happy to hug people now, it’s still something I only do with close friends. While I am Chinese/Asian in many ways, growing up in an English-speaking ‘Western’ society has made me a bit of each, as I’m sure many of you understand. In Singapore, which is a blend of Asian and Western too, I’m reliably told by Ruben that people there have no qualms to this kind of contact. Perhaps it is simply us as the contemporary generations, increasingly more globalised, that have started to accept this form of expression.

But to me, saying ‘I love you’ will always still be a big deal.