Being Chinese

Wong, Helene

  22 Reviews

Helene Wong's life reads in a similar vein to many New Zealanders: an idyllic Kiwi childhood, then tertiary education followed by a career launched in the Public Service. The customary OE in the form of a family visit to China in 1980 proved to be a seminal experience, reawakening and consolidating the strength of her Chinese heritage.

From a place in Sir Robert Muldoon's Think Tank, to life in film and theatre, from the rich detail of her family history in both China and New Zealand through to reflecting on what it means to be a New Zealander, this is a fascinating and eloquent memoir. Not only is it eminently readable and perceptive, it also courageously holds up a mirror to the face of New Zealand, racism and all. [SMALL FONT]

This title is also offered as part of the Narrative Muse Book Club.



TAUM 003
A fascinating book - for several group members it was our own childhood ( same place, same time) relived through the filter of a different culture.
Everyone who read this book found it very interesting, both her growing up in New Zealand and her travels back to China to connect with her Chinese extended family. Many of her growing up experiences we could all relate to, but we all learnt a lot about Chinese culture and racism within New Zealand. This book provoked one of our best discussions on identity, racism, culture, where we all came from, what made us who we are, and the state of race relations in New Zealand today. We all felt it was an important book and one that we hope you would find in High School libraries around New Zealand.
CHCH 240
We generally enjoyed this book - it was thought-provoking as to how we viewed other cultures when we were growing up - not accepted in the current age! Most identified with the era and the places, especially around Wellington. Interesting to learn how the two cultures differed, and how Helene accepted how she was treated. She was an amazing and interesting person.
PICT 002
The group mainly really enjoyed this book, well-written and interesting. The woman is the embodiment of the strength of two cultures. She is a fine ambassador for multi-cultural New Zealand.
We really enjoyed this book - found it enlightening and thought-provoking. We all felt we benefited from reading this book - very well-written, and Helene Wong didn't overplay her emotional reaction.
PICT 005
We all appreciated this book and it generated interesting discussions about racism, education, identity, and China. The chapter about Helene's mother Dolly was particularly well researched. Several members experienced difficulties with the typeface and print size.
CHCH 423
The book resonated with our group. Even though Helene's family background differed from us European originating readers, we had loads in common as we recollected our childhoods in this wonderful country. The down side of this book for a few of us was not content-related, it was that the book was too long. A joy of a read though!
NAP 005
Most enjoyed the aspects of Helene's life that they could readily relate to - market gardens, school days and the family's garden and vege shops... The genealogists amongst us were fascinated by the tracing of family history and lack of interest in the women's geneological lines. Fascinating discussion about the casual racism present in 1950s NZ.
All members enjoyed the book but some failed to finish. A number could relate to her childhood and had memories of the local Chinese market gardeners in their area. Most interesting was the time of her parents' marriage and early life starting out for some and then others found her wide and varied career interesting. All agreed she would be a fascinating person to meet and listen to.
WINT 001
Everyone enjoyed this book, although most said that the sections on Helene's life after leaving home were the least interesting. There had been an extended Chinese family that ran the fruit and vegetable shop in our small town for many years, so members could relate Helene's story to their experiences. It was interesting that her family could trace their ancestors back for over 900 years and we compared this to Maori whakapapa. An extensive discussion around racism in NZ over the past 100 years ensued, which was very interesting.
About half of us really enjoyed this book, while the other half found it too focused on the family tree! They also said the print was too grey and too small! However those of us who enjoyed it have recommended it to friends, and thought it portrayed the forties and fifties in a remarkably accurate manner. It made us think about how we treat people who are in any way "different" from the norm, and about the politics of the time when Chinese people were not valued for their skills and contributions to NZ society. We enjoyed learning about Helene's life and high-profile career.
This book brought quite an animated discussion, with various members enjoying different things about it. Some of us enjoyed the parts of her childhood and her parents' happy lives, others the bits about her visits to China and her connections with her family there, while some liked the details of her working life.
We all enjoyed this book and the many facets it explored of life in New Zealand for those of non-European descent. Discussion was lively and wide ranging, further enhanced by one of our group having known the author throughout her school years and being able to add anecodotal stories to enrich the themes that were covered in the section on growing up in New Zealand. We can recommend this book as an insightful commentary on Chinese culture and values and how they have been assimilated, or relinquished, as migrants settled into New Zealand.
AUCK 332
It was fascinating to read about Helene's background - the challenges and prejudices she had to face. It was also interesting, as we are all of a similar age, to recognise many of the people and places she spoke about. Our big disappointment was the production of the book, as the lines were too long, making it a difficult read. One or two did not finish the book unfortunately. Those that did, enjoyed the insight and would recommend it.
CHCH 145
We enjoyed this well written account , but found the print difficult to read - too small and too light. The descriptive writing was excellent.
This stimulated a very interesting discussion on racism.
We were really glad we had the opportunity to read this honest, interesting story of the life of Helene Wong. It made us understand some of what other cultures experience when they arrive in Aotearoa.
WELL 134
We all enjoyed this book very much. One of our members had grown up near Helene's family; and it was evocative of our early experiences of Chinese greengrocers, with memories also of Te Aro Seeds and Zenith. Helene's journey to accept her Chinese heritage and her place in NZ life, have marked her contributions to helping us all look at ourselves in a different light, with more understanding of NZ's racial mix.
'Being Chinese' was generally well received by our group. All felt that the memoir was worth reading, presenting complex issues in a way for all to understand. There was good discussion revolving around social issues and attitudes. This is a recommended read. The notes were very useful.
CHCH 176
An extremely interesting account of not so recent Chinese migration to NZ. A great insight into traditional values and a family's history. Writer acclaimed as a very successful product of two cultures. A good read.
The results were unanimous - we all really enjoyed this book for many reasons. The quality of the writing, the detail of Helene's recall of all the aspects of her life, and the effects of her visit to China where she finally was confronted with the Chinese culture that was her heritage. This memoir promoted much discussion on cultural differences and the ever present overt or covert racism that people experience.
AUCK 039
Our discussion was animated. The small print in the book was a little bit of a problem, but those who managed to read to the end were glad to have done so, and to understand the point of view of non-European people living in NZ. It would have been helpful to have had a family tree along with all the personal details of Helene's family, as, when one is not used to Chinese names, these become quite difficult to follow. Differences in racial looks and culture are to be celebrated rather than discriminated against.