16 7 / 2012

Tessa Chong sent me the above image with the explanation that she had seen and drawn the man from memory on a trip to Toronto. We got to talking, and the following interview and her interpretations of some other noted Accidental Chinese Hipsters ensued. You can see more of her work here. ACH: How old are you and where are you living now?
TESSA CHONG: I am 27 and living in Amsterdam. But I’ve only just arrived here. Before that I was living in Sydney. And I spent most of my life in Melbourne.ACH: You introduced yourself to me as a fellow “halfie.” Can you tell me a little bit about your family background? TESSA CHONG: My mother was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. My dad is Chinese from Malaysia. He only really speaks Cantonese. I have two older siblings who now both have little quarter asian kids! My parents met in the 70s when they were both living in London. The story goes, my mum and a friend were waiting in line to see the Godfather. My dad sidled up to my mum with his friend, and his opening line was “Are you girls American?” then he suggested they all go see a Chinese film instead because the queue was too long. Maybe my mum was charmed by my Dad’s directness, but as they say, the rest is history…ACH: Do you mean that your dad hit on your mom without sharing her language? That’s impressive. I also have a Chinese dad and a Caucasian mom, which I think is a little rarer than the other way around. What language(s) does your family use to communicate?TESSA CHONG: No, he spoke in English to her. He’s always had pretty good English. My family has only ever communicated in English. ACH: Do you think you have experienced the traditional (stereotypical) strict Asian parenting? If so, how did you come to be an artist and world traveler?TESSA CHONG: I didn’t experience any of that stereotypical Asian parenting. My dad has always been fairly easy-going. He didn’t care what we did with our lives, nor did he pressure us into going in a particular direction. Both my parents just supported us with whatever we wanted to do. We turned out ok! In fact, I think my recent adventures have been inspired in part by my parents’ travels.


ACH: What’s the reason you’re doing your blog, The Sketchorialist?TESSA CHONG: I started it after I quit my most recent job (in advertising). I’ve always loved to draw, but suddenly I had a lot more time on my hands (as well as a lot more motivation). I like observing people on the street, and I think I have a pretty good visual memory,  so I thought why not start recording the people I observe. I find photography can be a bit intrusive sometimes, and I am too shy to go up to people and ask if I can take their photo. It also seemed like a good way to document my travels. I find drawing relaxing and it’s something I can really lose myself in. ACH: That’s a very considerate, almost gentle, solution for making observational art in a digital world. How long after you see people do you draw them? Also, what do you think about the nature of the photos on this blog which have obviously been taken without the permission of the subject?TESSA CHONG: I try and draw them that day, or at least within a day or so after seeing them. Sometimes I do take a sneaky photo which helps. But yeah, when the image is fresh in my mind I try and get a simple sketch down and then refine it. Sometimes if I only have vague recollections of a person I have to fill in the gaps with my imagination. I’m just personally too self-conscious to poke a camera at someone. I’m even self-conscious about my iphone camera.  I feel like a creep when I use it surreptitiously and then I start acting all weird because I am trying to hide the fact I’m taking a photo.I think the photos on your blog are great. I don’t find it malicious or intrusive. Have you received many complaints about it? I can see how people would see it as poking fun, but to be honest I don’t think the (mostly) older Asian subjects would give a shit. If it was my dad in those, he’d find it amusing. But I would be curious to see their reaction if one of them was shown the website. ACH: I’ve never actually received a complaint of that nature, but then again neither has anyone come forward after seeing themselves on the blog. I do feel a tiny bit vulnerable in that respect because I would hate to upset someone. My own dad has no idea that he’s been written about, adoringly but still perhaps not 100% above board, here.ACH: How do you relate to other Chinese people when you are abroad?TESSA CHONG: I feel like there is a common understanding.  There is definitely an immediate familiarity. Whenever I walk through any Chinatown in any city I feel weirdly at home. Other Chinese people are normally the ones that ask about my background. More so than the Anglo people. I think because they know I’m Chinese, but not fully and are curious.

ACH: Do you know a lot of other halfies? TESSA CHONG: Yes I know quite a few around my age. I think that was the time when there was a lot more cross-cultural marriage. It’s an interesting combo and I love having both cultural influences in my life. My other “halfie” friends feel the same way.
Many thanks to Tessa for these lovely drawings and her thoughts.

Tessa Chong sent me the above image with the explanation that she had seen and drawn the man from memory on a trip to Toronto. We got to talking, and the following interview and her interpretations of some other noted Accidental Chinese Hipsters ensued. You can see more of her work here.


ACH: How old are you and where are you living now?

TESSA CHONG: I am 27 and living in Amsterdam. But I’ve only just arrived here. Before that I was living in Sydney. And I spent most of my life in Melbourne.

ACH: You introduced yourself to me as a fellow “halfie.” Can you tell me a little bit about your family background?

TESSA CHONG: My mother was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. My dad is Chinese from Malaysia. He only really speaks Cantonese. I have two older siblings who now both have little quarter asian kids!

My parents met in the 70s when they were both living in London. The story goes, my mum and a friend were waiting in line to see the Godfather. My dad sidled up to my mum with his friend, and his opening line was “Are you girls American?” then he suggested they all go see a Chinese film instead because the queue was too long. Maybe my mum was charmed by my Dad’s directness, but as they say, the rest is history…

ACH: Do you mean that your dad hit on your mom without sharing her language? That’s impressive. I also have a Chinese dad and a Caucasian mom, which I think is a little rarer than the other way around. What language(s) does your family use to communicate?

TESSA CHONG: No, he spoke in English to her. He’s always had pretty good English. My family has only ever communicated in English.

ACH: Do you think you have experienced the traditional (stereotypical) strict Asian parenting? If so, how did you come to be an artist and world traveler?

TESSA CHONG: I didn’t experience any of that stereotypical Asian parenting. My dad has always been fairly easy-going. He didn’t care what we did with our lives, nor did he pressure us into going in a particular direction. Both my parents just supported us with whatever we wanted to do. We turned out ok! In fact, I think my recent adventures have been inspired in part by my parents’ travels.


ACH: What’s the reason you’re doing your blog, The Sketchorialist?

TESSA CHONG: I started it after I quit my most recent job (in advertising). I’ve always loved to draw, but suddenly I had a lot more time on my hands (as well as a lot more motivation). I like observing people on the street, and I think I have a pretty good visual memory,  so I thought why not start recording the people I observe. I find photography can be a bit intrusive sometimes, and I am too shy to go up to people and ask if I can take their photo. It also seemed like a good way to document my travels. I find drawing relaxing and it’s something I can really lose myself in.

ACH: That’s a very considerate, almost gentle, solution for making observational art in a digital world. How long after you see people do you draw them? Also, what do you think about the nature of the photos on this blog which have obviously been taken without the permission of the subject?

TESSA CHONG: I try and draw them that day, or at least within a day or so after seeing them. Sometimes I do take a sneaky photo which helps. But yeah, when the image is fresh in my mind I try and get a simple sketch down and then refine it. Sometimes if I only have vague recollections of a person I have to fill in the gaps with my imagination. I’m just personally too self-conscious to poke a camera at someone. I’m even self-conscious about my iphone camera.  I feel like a creep when I use it surreptitiously and then I start acting all weird because I am trying to hide the fact I’m taking a photo.

I think the photos on your blog are great. I don’t find it malicious or intrusive. Have you received many complaints about it? I can see how people would see it as poking fun, but to be honest I don’t think the (mostly) older Asian subjects would give a shit. If it was my dad in those, he’d find it amusing. But I would be curious to see their reaction if one of them was shown the website.

ACH: I’ve never actually received a complaint of that nature, but then again neither has anyone come forward after seeing themselves on the blog. I do feel a tiny bit vulnerable in that respect because I would hate to upset someone. My own dad has no idea that he’s been written about, adoringly but still perhaps not 100% above board, here.

ACH: How do you relate to other Chinese people when you are abroad?

TESSA CHONG: I feel like there is a common understanding.  There is definitely an immediate familiarity. Whenever I walk through any Chinatown in any city I feel weirdly at home. Other Chinese people are normally the ones that ask about my background. More so than the Anglo people. I think because they know I’m Chinese, but not fully and are curious.


ACH: Do you know a lot of other halfies?

TESSA CHONG: Yes I know quite a few around my age. I think that was the time when there was a lot more cross-cultural marriage. It’s an interesting combo and I love having both cultural influences in my life. My other “halfie” friends feel the same way.


Many thanks to Tessa for these lovely drawings and her thoughts.

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