Nina Oyama is a stand up comic, writer, actress and worm girl who needs you and loves you and will hold you in her arms, upon request. She has performed all around Australia and has written for radio, stage and TV. She was also a writer on Tonightly with Tom Ballard, appeared as Courtney on Utopia on ABC, and is also writer/director of comedy web series The Angus Project which was part of ABC’s Fresh Blood 2017 initiative.
Oh hey! How’s it going? So, I don’t know if you can tell just by looking at me, but I’m not like 100% white. The way I explain it, is my dad’s Japanese, so he flew here, he blew here and then I grew here.
But I’m not, like, super Asian looking either. Yeah, and like a lot of people, they say, “Oh I don’t even think of you as Asian” which I think they think is a compliment. But it actually is not because Asian people are really cool. If you don’t believe me? Just ask your weird friend who’s obsessed with Japan.
I can’t speak Japanese very well even though the majority of my family lives over there. But I can speak it just well enough to convince white people that I’m fluent. Which is what really matters.
I’m, like Asian looking enough that I get catcalled by straight white guys who usually yell, like, “ni hao” and “konnichiwa” at me in the street at night. Which is funny because they think the reason I don’t respond is because I don’t understand them, but actually it’s because I hate them. And I’m scared. Also on more than one occasion white men have asked if I have a yellow pussy.
Yeah. Which, to be honest, like I couldn’t tell you – because I’m not flexible enough to see it myself. But like, if I was I would absolutely spend all day eating myself out and I wouldn’t be at this party talking to fuckheads.
Anyway, this is all to say for the longest time I wanted to be, like, full white. Right? And this – yeah it’s getting serious now – so this dysphoria, was exacerbated by the fact that I went to an Asian school – sorry, um, a selective public school –
*Audience laughs and claps*
It’s true, I’m a cliché. A selective public school called North Sydney Girls –
Are there any North Sydney Girls here? Can I get a round of applause? Okay, so you all sighed in like, recognition. Yet none of you had the guts to clap, that is very NSG of you. Long live us.
Anyway, North Sydney Girls was very Asian and it stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the largely caucasian private schools in Sydney’s affluent North Shore. And North Sydney Girls was, like, so Asian, that the Daily Telegraph used to use our school to convince white people in the area that the Chinese were invading. But like, at the time I didn’t realise, so I was really proud – I was like, my school’s so multicultural we’re on the front page of the Daily Tele like every week… and later I was like…oh that is dog-whistling racism. That’s bad! Yeah. Next to my school was the ‘brother’ school, like called North Sydney Boys and we both had the same reputation for being super nerdy and uncool and ugly and Asian.
I actually have one memory in year 7 of being mocked on the bus, by these like, huge football players from Marist Brothers, and they were imitating Asian accents that none of my group had because we were all born in Australia.
Unsure of what to do, like, we just completely ignored them despite the fact that they were, like, yelling right into our ears. That was until my friend Christine, who was like, a very tiny Korean girl just kinda like turned around to the boys and she was like, “Oi, you boys wanna get knifed?”
*Audience laughs, cheers and claps*
After that they just like sat back in their seats. They didn’t touch us. And the best bit was when we got off the bus they were like, ‘hey where’s your knife?’ And they were at the back of the bus, which, I don’t know if you know, but that’s like a clear window, and they were all sticking their like, rude fingers up at us, but my favourite image is like, underneath that window was an ad for Marist Brothers.
Where they’re all in their perfect blue blazers and their white shiny teeth, it’s like that meme-like ‘expectation versus reality’
Like, so good. Also, another fun fact, Christine did have a knife –
— Yeah, she did, she used it to sharpen her eyeliner pencil.
That’s quite an Asian thing to do. It’s how I sharpen my pencils too, still to this day.
Anyway, so these kinds of anti-Asian micro aggressions happened a lot, and as a result my school group really tried to break the mould of like, the “Nerdy Asians”. Um, I don’t know if you remember, but there’s a moment in Summer Heights High, where Ja’mie says to this Asian girl, it’s something like this, she says, ‘You’re not like a normal Asian, you’re like a hot Asian. And in short, like, that’s what we wanted to be, like we didn’t want to be normal Asians. We wanted to be Hot Asians.
Sidenote, in the mid-2000’s that was the only Asian representation we had on TV. Um, that Asian girl? Apart from the time Chris Lilley did yellowface and played an actor called Ricky Wong. Yep, it was pretty interesting. Um, and now you have me!
Anyways, so we went to like, every Lavender Bay blue light disco which –
Yeah, it’s good, I’m glad people recognise this. It was basically a school hall that you went to make out with other thirteen year olds in the dark, before like, a chaperone would spot you and then they would just like, pull you away from each other, like two horny bits of human velcro.
Anyway, at Lavender Bay, it was kind of like a networking exercise for us, so we made friends with private school kids from the North Shore on Myspace, yeah, ‘cause we thought could help us gain entry to, like, more and more cool North Shore parties as we got older, ‘cause we wanted to be just like them.
There was one girl in particular who represented everything that I wanted to be – I went to primary school with her and between like year 6 and year 8 she had like glowed up exponentially. Like, she had gone from like, awkward scraggly like nerdy redhead to basically, like Pamela Anderson on Baywatch. Or like in modern-day terms, she had gone from like 14-year-old Kylie Jenner to 16-year-old Kylie Jenner.
Yeah, her name was Ashlee, and she also changed the spelling of her name to be the same way as Ashlee Simpson (which is with two e’s at the end) instead of like the “eigh”, right? ‘Cause when you’re that hot, you don’t have time for extra vowels.
But by year 9, Ashlee had become infamous around the North Shore as like a hot edgy girl that everyone wanted to be friends with. And people kept tabs on Ashlee by visiting her MySpace, and also her Formspring. Sor for you, for anyone that doesn’t know what Formspring is, Formspring dot me was a website in the mid 2000s where people could answer anonymous questions from the public. It doesn’t exist anymore.
Through Ashlee’s formspring people learned that she had dropped out of prestigious Catholic School called Monte Sant Angelo, and moved to a co-ed public school in a wealthy area so she could be with her boyfriend. Killara High. Her boyfriend – oh and she had also had sex with her boyfriend by this point. Which just made her really cool in my eyes. She also smoked weed with her mum. And she didn’t have plastic surgery but she attributed to her good skin and massive boobs to going on the pill.
I actually asked my mum if i could go on the pill and my mum just like, laughed and laughed and laughed and then said “no”.
That was yesterday.
But a lot of people used formspring to call Ashlee a slut, sometimes people would forget to check the anonymous box and they would call her a slut from their personal account and then they would be flooded with hateful messages from Ashlee’s friends about how Ashlee was not a slut and actually you can’t be a slut if you have a boyfriend. It was the rules.
Through the formspring we also learned that Ashlee by now had dropped out of school and was now a receptionist at the HSBC building in the city. However, despite not going to any school, she still managed to attend every single school formal on the North Shore. Except for North Sydney Girls and Boys.
By year 10, North Sydney clout was kinda on the up and up. Some people from North Sydney Girls had started dating people that went to normal schools, and a North Sydney Boy had started a side business selling weed brownies to the posh boys at Riverview. So, like, instead of assuming our school was entirely comprised of like, Asian maths freaks – it was like people were starting to come round to the idea that we might be cool Asian Maths Freaks.
In Year 10, Ashlee also scheduled a party at her house. It was going to be the biggest party of the year. Quickly, word of mouth spread and she changed the location of the party to a place which would be revealed the day of. So many people were going that she decided to charge $10 entry to cover the DJ and the venue hire. Yeah. It was kinda like, you had to get your name on the list. It was the Met Gala of The North Shore. Like, there was no dress code but retrospectively it was like, “Supre means Slut in French.”
Anyway, on the party night, we showed up at 9pm to what was basically a community hall. But inside the community hall was a full-on rave cave. It was like Lavender Bay Blue Light Disco, but the only chaperone was Ashlee’s mum, and she didn’t care if you were making out.
About half an hour into being there the police were called. Apparently, the music was too loud, or there was a fight, or drugs were being sold – like, no one really knew what was going on, but almost straight after we got there we were running from the cops.
The next week at school, Ashlee’s party was the only thing people could talk about. They were like, did you go? Did you hear there were drugs? Were you there when people got arrested?
And then footage of a 16-year-old boy getting pepper-sprayed by the police was uploaded to Ashlee’s Facebook. Most comments on this video were people extending their sympathies to this guy, but then someone from North Sydney Boys commented: “ROLFMAO (it was the mid-2000s) He commented ROFLMAO what a fuckin pussy”. And that is when all hell broke loose.
“Go eat flied lice you stupid gooks.”
“Fuck off back to chink land.”
“STFU you slanty, sorry, STFU you ugly slant-eyed nips.”
These comments just came streaming in, written by a ton of white North Shore kids. It was like the thin dam that previously prevented these people from being outwardly racist had just broken. The charge was all lead by Ashlee, because the boy who got pepper sprayed was her friend.
As North Sydney Girls and Boys we were all pretty shocked. It was like all our efforts to assimilate, all the dating white people and selling them pot brownies had all been for nothing.
It wasn’t enough to be a hot Asian because at the end of the day you were still Asian and therefore different. Eventually, a North Sydney Girl called Lisa stepped in to get involved. She screenshotted all of Ashlee’s racist comments, sent them to Ashlee’s employer and got her fired from her reception job in the HSBC building.
We found this out from a facebook update that said: “Ashlee no longer works at HSBC building”. Ashlee wrote a bunch of statuses saying that Lisa was an ugly bitch, who had nothing better to do than ruin lives in her spare time.
And I don’t know if she did – but I like to think Ashlee learned a lesson from this, cos although she never apologised, just before Formspring got shut down, someone left a question on Ashlee’s profile saying “Do you really think Lisa is an ugly bitch?” And Ashlee wrote, “Nah, I’ve looked at her profile, she’s actually pretty hot”.
After this, we stopped trying to fit in with the North Shore Private school kids and we got hit with some kind of like, cultural inertia. I went to Japan to visit my family, our group got really into Korean pop music and my friend Carrie started a Naruto fan blog. Though our internalised racism wasn’t instantly fixed, we definitely got back on the right track to accepting our Asian-ess instead of hating ourselves for the way it made us othered by white society.
And I still think about Ashlee. Like, I don’t know what’s happened to her since, but I checked her facebook recently and it looks like she’s a real estate [agent] who lives in the North Shore, in Lindfield. And here’s the kicker – ten years later – the Asian population in Lindfield has gotten pretty big.
*Audience cheers and claps*