This time of year, in back streets and cul-de-sacs, the grass is crunchy underfoot and tinsel sparkles lazily in the heat. Behind closed doors, in air-conditioned living rooms, in backyard pools and under coloured party lights - in quiet moments - people are taking stock. Singer/songwriter Rainbow Chan muses on what it’s like to move between cultures and discover a new identity in the everything and nothing of the Australian suburbs. Photos and styling by Anna Mould.
In 1996 I was an inquisitive, tomboy-looking child. I loved watching Cantopop music videos on repeat and eating too many pork buns at yum-cha. I was mostly known as “Chun Yin” and my other (Westernised) name, “Rainbow”, lay dormant. Although it was printed on my passport, I didn't yet know or wear it. I couldn't even spell it.
I remember the day when my mum showed me a home video of my cousins in Australia. She said that we would be going there for a while. I said goodbye to my Chinese relatives on July 19, 1996, and remember getting travel sickness on the plane.
Australian houses looked different to what I had imagined. Space was a luxury in densely populated Hong Kong and I wasn't quite prepared for the tree-lined streets and redbrick houses with not one but two garages. Santa had actual chimneys to climb down here. I could smell the firewood burning. I could see sprinklers on impeccable front lawns. It was impressive, but it didn't feel anything like home for me.
We would often visit display homes and take family photos in their show rooms. Sometimes we would go for drives around the suburbs and take portraits in people's front yards. For a family of six, this was no subtle manoeuvre. These photos were delicately collated and put into albums, and their duplicates were mailed to my relatives in Hong Kong, who also ogled the double garages, chimneys and neat lawns.
Over the years, my parents were slowly saving up to buy their “dream house”. By the time my Cantonese accent had been subsumed by an Australian one (I had finally mastered the “th” phoneme), we had moved into a modest three-bedroom dwelling. I’m glad that my family house looks nothing like a model home, and while it's tempting to sometimes reinvent or erase your roots, I'm glad that those old photo albums are still on display.
Article originally published on The Ladies Network