Stretching for Space

Now that my sunflowers have been repotted, they have a lot of extra space to grow. I’m sure it will grow much quicker now!

Many articles talk about not only the physical but also the mental benefits of exercising. As someone struggling with anxiety, I decided to see if getting back into exercise would help my mental health.

It has been 10 months since I deliberately exercised, excluding hikes and bikes rides to get to places. I have been feeling bad about this for some time, even though I was never an athlete or  the type do exercise daily. I just couldn’t find the motivation to do it. I never let myself go without exercise for so long, though. So, I decided to change that.

For the last week, I have been trying hard to move my body again. Now, I haven’t exercised long enough yet to give you an accurate result of the effect of exercise on anxiety, but I can tell you about my experience after a few times of exercising. I started with a simple 15-minute at-home cardio exercise video, which killed me and seemed to last forever, but I was proud of myself for doing it. I did have to endure the muscle pain for days afterwards though, because I forgot to stretch.

A few days later, I ventured into the gym. It’s an intimidating place for me, as I’ve been to the gym maybe 4 times in my entire lifetime. The complicated equipment seem to challenge me to try to use them, see if I don’t look like an idiot when I use it the wrong way or struggle with the functioning! But I was able to use my boyfriend’s fitness card, and wanted to use the treadmill. Stepping onto it, I thought about how when I used to go jogging, I was able to do 6 km without stopping, which was a personal achievement for me. Would I even be able to do 3 km, having been out of practice for such a long time? Huffing and puffing, I pushed myself and managed 4 km, which I am happy with! Afterwards, I wandered around the rest of the fitness, eyeing the equipment and sometimes daring to go sit on one and tentatively try it out. I didn’t forget to stretch this time, but I’m sure I will have a lot of muscle pain tomorrow.

What I can say is that exercise definitely has a positive impact on my body. When you’re sweating so much and exerting yourself, you cannot start overthinking. You cannot think about all the things you still have to do and overanalyse every situation. You’re just focussed on trying not to die. Kidding.

All jokes aside, I realised it did help me feel better mentally. Maybe sitting idle for 10 months did cause extra anxiety after all. I will definitely continue exercising and try out different types of sports, and I’m positive it will help my anxiety. And with a new hobby, I’m sure my sense of identity will become stronger.

Interested in the evolution of my sunflower? Take a look at the gallery! Or read my next blog post:

Emerging from the Soil

Looking like dinosaurs, the baby sunflowers have started emerging from the soil. Which means, I have more work about my identity to establish, more particularly, my mixed identity.

Do you ever feel guilty as a halfie/person of mixed race when someone asks a question about one of your countries and you can’t really answer?

Let me give you some examples.

  • Going to a Chinese restaurant in Belgium, I’d feel self-conscious when it came to ordering. The waiter or waitress would walk up and a lot of the times, ask in Dutch if I and whoever I was with were ready to order. The friend I’m with, Chinese or not, would look at me expectantly to reply in Mandarin, which is something of an internal struggle for me. Should I just reply in Dutch and skip the hassle? Or should I reply in Mandarin, have a short conversation with the waiter about where I’m from, and then order what I wanted with fake confidence, while I’m secretly hoping that I don’t pronounce the words wrong when I’m reading off the menu? And when the waiter leaves with my order, to feel slightly embarrassed because why am I pretending to be authentically Chinese when I’m not?

  • I’d go to parties in Belgium, sing and dance my heart out to all the party songs I know, and even to the Dutch hip hop songs I’ve gotten acquainted with during my teenage years. But suddenly, “Vriendschapsband”, a Belgian song by Xink is playing and everyone at the party is going wild with nostalgia, hands to their chests and eyes closed, swaying with passion and remembering the moments in which they’ve heard this song as little kids. Even though I know the lyrics long by now, I’d just sway awkwardly to the music and hope the next song will come soon. I didn’t grow up listening to this song, unlike all the other Belgians in this room. The first time I heard it was 8 years ago, and back then everyone was as nostalgic as 16-year-old teenagers as they are now as people in their mid-twenties. And I still feel just as detached.

Growing up mixed means that you never are 100% integrated in the customs or cultures. At least, this was how it was for me. People from both my countries would ask, “What’s your favorite Chinese song?” “What Belgian kid’s shows did you watch growing up?” I’d shake my head and smile awkwardly, feeling like a failure at being both Belgian and Chinese, and tell them I didn’t actually watch Belgian kid’s shows, and that I listened to music in English my entire life. “I’m a fake Chinese/Belgian” I’d say, jokingly, to whoever asked me a genuine question about China or Belgium I was unable to answer. Inside however, I’d experience a small identity crisis for my lack of knowledge.

Even though I want to be accepted by the Belgian/Chinese population, I feel like I don’t have enough knowledge and experiences to represent either one of my countries. “Please take my answer with a grain of salt”, I’d say apologetically when answering a culture-related question, “my answer to this question might be completely different than that of someone who is fully and authentically Belgian/Chinese.”

Recently, my perspective changed when I had a conversation with a friend who is also mixed race. We were sharing our similar experiences when she told me that she, like me, doesn’t feel like she can represent either one of her countries. “And why should I?”, she said, “I am not responsible for representing a country of which I am only half of, I don’t have to choose one of my two cultures. I am me and that’s it. It’s as simple as that!”

Since then, I’ve thought a lot about that conversation. True, why do I feel like a failure just because I don’t know everything about my 2 countries? That’s twice as many countries that most people know! Twice as much knowledge, twice as many cultures, twice as many languages. Isn’t it normal that I don’t know everything about China, normal that I didn’t grow up with every Belgian song, normal that I struggle with reading books in Mandarin? Why do I have to feel guilty about it, explain myself to everyone, feel like a phony?

Even though a lot of research states how national identity is important for many people, not everyone has that. A lack of national identity often leads to or is the beginning of an identity crisis, at least, that’s the consensus I see in the mixed race/halfie community. What I need to realise more, is that there are other things in which people find their identity in, such as hobbies, passions, likes and dislikes, personality… I’m planning to find a stronger sense of identity in these things.

Until then, I am me.

Here you can find my next blog post:

Start from the Roots

Now that I have planted the seeds of the sunflower, it’s time to start exploring the roots, which have just started growing.

So, what are my roots?

As you probably already know, I’m half-Belgian and half-Chinese, and I live in Belgium. “Halfie” is the unofficial official name for people like me, people who have a mother from one race and a father from another. “Wasian” would be a more specific name, referring to people who have a white parent and an Asian parent.

Most halfies I know struggle with fitting in either one of their countries. We’re not Chinese enough for China, and not Belgian enough for Belgium, for example. Contradictorily, we’re too Chinese for Belgium and too Belgian for China. Where I live in Belgium, it has happened countless times when Belgians meet me, they’d ask me immediately if I’m Chinese. I’d always nod my head dejectedly, knowing that the only reason they ‘guessed’ right is because of the ignorant assumption that all people with Asian features are Chinese. If I’m unlucky enough, they proceed to bring their fingers to their eyes and pull them in the offensive slanted way that I’m sure many of my fellow Asians have had to encounter. “You have eyes like this”, they’d say, proud of their oh-so-original discovery. 

What does one even reply to something like that? Or to the loud “Ni haos” one gets from laughing men on sidewalks who think they’re terribly funny and charming?

In China, contradictorily, people tell me I am pretty and many times it’s followed up with “you have big eyes, where are you from?”. I’ve realized how often beauty is associated with race, at least in general settings. Western beauty standards simply dominate many parts of the world. In China, people tell me that I’m pretty because I have Western features, and in Belgium people think I’m less because I have Asian features. I think you can imagine how growing up in settings like this made me want to reject my Chinese side. In Belgium, I wanted to fit in, I hated the reminder that I look different, that people treated me differently. When people in Belgium tell me I look completely Chinese, I’d actually feel offended because, in my mind, I am only half and I’d rather hear that I looked Thai, or Iranian, or even Indian, rather than that I look 100% Chinese. And can you even blame me for feeling offended, when most of the time people mean their “Chinese” comments negatively, derogatorily? I’d tell them and myself, I don’t look Chinese, I have other features than Chinese people. I have lighter hair, different eyes, a higher nose bridge. I know I don’t look Belgian and I accepted that, but how could I look Chinese, when the Chinese don’t even think I look Chinese!

I’d secretly enjoy every comment when people told me I don’t look Chinese. I listened with satisfaction when I heard I looked Afghani, Spanish, Brazilian, even American. I was pushed back into reality when a few years ago on an exchange semester, I was discussing the differences between Europe and China with a friend from China. During the conversation, she told me in all earnestness: “I don’t think you look very mixed, you look quite Chinese. I’ve seen other mixed people who look way more Western than you.” I was shocked when I heard that, never have I had a Chinese person tell me that!  That was a turning point for me. And she wasn’t complimenting or insulting me, just stating it as a fact of her perception. I realized I didn’t like hearing it, and I didn’t want to believe it, even though I tried my best not to show my feelings. 

Why did I not want to be called Chinese? If I accept that I don’t look Belgian, but I dislike it when people say I look Chinese, what does that make me? What would I be?

Looking back, I realized that I was inherently pushing myself away from both my cultures, making myself an alien to my roots. I was being internally racist towards myself. After all, I am 50% Chinese. I have a beautiful mother who is Chinese. Obviously, certainly, definitely, I have Chinese features. Why did I try to deny them? I had convinced myself that the reason I didn’t like being called Chinese was because I have different features than most Chinese people, not because I actually believed that being Chinese was something to be ashamed of. I embraced my Chinese culture, but I didn’t embrace my Chinese features. I have darker skin, and I have my mother’s face structure. I have black eyes. All the small and big comments about race I received all my life have influenced me after all. Being complimented on my Western features in China and the discrimination I faced because of my Chinese features in Belgium made me instinctively believe that looking Chinese was a bad thing.

But how could it be a bad thing? How could I let corrupt beauty standards and ignorant comments influence the way I see myself? 

Recognizing my own internal racism was a big step for me. It sits deep, and getting rid of it is not an easy task. It’s hard to shut out your surroundings concerning China and listen to yourself and your own community. Eventually, I’ve realized that my citizenship as a Belgian will never be accepted without a grain of doubt or an ignorant comment from other people because of my appearance. I need to not let outside influences sway me, and I can only grow and become proud of my Chinese features.

My nationality is Belgian, but I navigate the Western world as an Asian woman. One of my parents is Chinese, the other is Belgian. I am a mixture of both cultures. There are many other mixed people like me, maybe with the same experience. This is a fact and now I just need to get accustomed to accepting that this is who I am and this is how I look like. These are my roots. 

It’s time to focus on my identity with how I experience it.

(P.S: I would love to hear if anyone has the same experience, or the complete opposite. You can DM me on Instagram @mixedsunflowerseeds, and I would really appreciate it if you give it a follow 🙂 )

You can find my next blog post here: