Given I was a scrawny, gangly Asian poof with an under-bite, it’s weird to look back on my primary school days to realise I was popular.
By
Benjamin Law

10 Feb 2016 - 11:14 AM  UPDATED 10 Feb 2016 - 11:14 AM

For my Year One birthday, my entire class – as well two Year 7 kids, randomly – came to my party at Hungry Jack’s. It was huge. The party finished memorably when my friend Brett – whose fascist health-freak parents were due to pick him up any second – inhaled the entire contents of his lolly bag in one hit. Feeling woozy, he started swaying from side to side, then finally projectile vomited all over the restaurant in giant arcs. We all screamed, then ran out of the restaurant shrieking with glee.

If I’d attended any other school at any other time, things probably wouldn’t have worked out so well, though. I started school in 1988 – the year the World Expo came to Brisbane – and multiculturalism just happened to be in. As one of the few non-white kids in my year level, I came with cred and novelty value. Girls liked me because I taught them how to use chopsticks at recess and helped them plait their hair. Boys liked me because I knew a lot of swear words and heaps about sex, thanks to my educational and oversharing mother and the fact Candy and I read Dolly Doctor together.

A teenage Ben Law with friends (courtesy of Benjamin Law)
 

Still, maybe there’s something genetic going on too. By all accounts, Mum was the most popular girl in her year level in Ipoh, Malaysia. She was elected house captain and, going off old photographs, was objectively the prettiest girl in her class. She was surrounded by girls who adored and wanted to be her. Cut to her teen years though, and hatred of the Chinese in Malaysia had gotten so intense, my grandparents took Mum and her six siblings to Hong Kong. And just in time too: shortly after, hundreds of Chinese were massacred in a Kuala Lumpur riot.

From there, Mum didn’t really have any time for friends. The entire family was squeezed into a one bedroom apartment in Kowloon, my Mum finished high school, started working straight away, fell in love with a near-stranger named Danny, then moved to Australia to start a new life. Soon after, she was working seven days a week while pregnant. Forget popularity. How do you even have time for a single friend when you’re working so goddamn hard?

This happens to a lot of people of my parents’ generation, I suspect. You make a life, work hard, your kids become independent and look around and realise you’ve lost your friends. It happens to Jenny in episode five and it happened to Mum in real life. But in a happy development, Mum was just invited to her school reunion, taking place in Ipoh, Malaysia in 2016. She’s looking at flights now. Needless to say, I’m going with her. That’s what best mates do.

 

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