Reconnecting with Culture via OzAsia


OzAsia Festival wrapped up for the year and a feeling of emptiness loomed over me.

I have previously attended OzAsia Festival three times, but this is the first time I have made the most of this two-week festival that celebrates Asian and Australian cultures through a series of harmonious community-inclined gatherings and get-togethers, with shows that involve performers coming together from all across the globe,

I have long internalised my cultural identity in a bid to integrate myself into Australian society, a society that is miles away from the one I was brought up in.

When I touched down in Adelaide nearly 10 years ago, it was on Australia Day. Even though it was my decision to move this far away from home, the first few days in Australia were so difficult, and my levels of homesickness so strong, I nearly booked a ticket back home. Now, looking back on it – I’m glad I didn’t!

While I may not have many friends from Asian backgrounds in Australia, I recently became friends with some of the loveliest ladies from Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam (to name a few) who have taught me how to be proud of my heritage, to love my simple beginnings, and to not forget the importance of my culture in helping me shape myself to become the person that I am today. These beautiful individuals came along with me to the many different events hosted by OzAsia, including the culinary feast that was the Lucky Dumpling Market, and have helped me get (back) in touch with my true self. Across the festival, I had lots of nostalgic memories from my upbringing in an Indian household in a Middle Eastern society.

This year, I made a conscious effort to attend some of the shows that had an “Arabian” vibe to them. Across the festival, I saw:

  • What The Day Owes To The Night (interview and review), which was, hands down, one of my favourite shows, thanks to the Adelaide Festival Centre. The soundscape, which was reminiscent of Sufi rhythms, complemented the movement of the dancers in a manner that replicated sand dunes on a windy day and journeyed from one point to another.
  • Totes Adorbs: Hurricane (review), which instantly ignited my passion for exploring Japanese culture with its colorful and vibrant depiction of Harajuku. This visually stimulating show dropped my jaw for well over three quarters of the show!
  • Techno Circus (interview and review) was another fantastic and visually appealing show of strobe lighting and manipulation of human movement against projections that almost blurred the lines between reality and fantasy.
  • £¥€$ /LIES (review), which I attended solo, would have been a lot more fun with friends (and more cash) but, nevertheless, it opened my eyes to a whole new world where Asian Australians are the front-runners in the global economy (for once)! Whether it resonated with the overall theme of OzAsia leaves me in a pickle, as I didn’t really see any connection between the concept of this show and Asian culture, but it was still an interesting interactive piece to be part of!
  • Shik Shak Shok. (review) This was the one show I was thoroughly looking forward to (and the only show that I had actually done some prior research on) and yet it was the one that ended up being the most disappointing. I hoped that the show’s themes would resonate with my nostalgic memories of growing up in the Middle East, I found the show a let-down. The concept was fantastic – cabaret-style lounging while being treated to visual projections of traditional belly dancing to Arabic songs – similar to the qawwali style. Unfortunately, the execution was not on par with my expectations. Even though I was not completely happy with the show’s presentation, I made the most of the complimentary hummus and nibbles and their cocktails – arak madu – which had an anise tang that added to the overall flavour of this unique drink!

As a consequence of the festival, I found myself frequenting town more often than usual; I even extended my visits to past-sundown hour – something that I would never be caught doing, unless I absolutely had to!

While Adelaide CBD is a lot safer than most cities, I suffer from anxiety and have had experiences of mild racism (particularly during the evenings and nights, and especially on public transport) that have cast my race as a ‘bother’ to some. As a result, I often drive into town, trying to avoid public transport as a solo female traveller, a person of colour, particularly if I am dressed up for an evening out.

Luckily, I have a friend who is not only confident strutting her own unique style, but is a lot fiercer than me when it comes to confronting situations. I look up to her, and she teaches me to love myself and embrace all parts of me – the good and the naughty – and to carry myself with a sense of confidence and exuberance that shows the power of multiculturalism to the lesser-accommodating individuals in a society like ours.

While I have almost completely sworn off of going into town once the sun sets, my desire to be out and about with friends who make me feel safe, supported and sane thoroughly help to curb some of those anxious thoughts. As long as I have a way of getting from point A to point B without risking the potential catcalling or derogatory comments around my race – an aspect that I am learning to embrace, rather than hide – I feel like I can face almost anything that is thrown my way as an offset.

Festivals like OzAsia in Adelaide – particularly week-long or even month-long ones – create a social hub in the city, where you can almost always expect busy streets with lots of people from all walks of life coming together to enjoy this sparkle that the city beams with, which allow me to overcome some of my fears by low-key forcing me to make plans with my gal pals and appreciate the nightlife in Adelaide, which is a lot tamer than the bigger cities and has its perks that make it stand out for the right reasons (for the most part).

One notable example of this kind of experience is the Lucky Dumpling Market, an annual event that is run as part of OzAsia Festival. Elder Park, which has the River Torrens rushing past it, is transformed into a haven of Asian-inspired flavours and delicacies hailing from the Philippines, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and India (to name a few). Upon entering the space, your senses are flooded with an inviting welcome of flavours, aromas, and options to find exciting aspects of each of these cultures that makes them all stand out in the grandest fashion possible.

I visited the Market on three separate occasions during the festival – the first on their first night, which saw the Market full to the absolute brim with people from all walks of life coming together for a one-of-a-kind cultural celebration. The second was on the day of the Moon Lantern Parade, which was another heavily packed affair that saw me have over three servings of dumplings (you can never have too many dumplings!), and the third towards the end of the Festival, where we were treated to some food and drink vouchers.

The Market has always been a highlight of my experience as a visitor to the OzAsia Festival, because it gives me (and my tastebuds) the opportunity to (re-)acquaint with the delectable flavours of Asia that make it such an attractive and popular cuisine – particularly in Western countries. Having moved away from home at a young age, I only (realistically speaking) started learning the art of cooking after moving to Australia. Being brought up in an Indian household in a Middle Eastern society, I was introduced to a range of dishes from both cultures, but, it also spoiled me – in terms of appreciating my own ability to replicate dishes that are often associated with my mom and dad’s home cooking. Being so far away from home, I almost neglected making my cuisine from scratch almost entirely, so my cooking primarily revolves around creating Australian dishes. So, when the Market comes around, it allows me to fall (back) in love with the foods that I thoroughly enjoyed as a child. The spices, the flavours, and the textures of Asian-inspired cuisines are almost a novelty that I cherish memories of enjoying in a family setting. While I may be living in Australia without family, the ambience and the vibe of the market makes me feel like I’m part of a close-knit circle with strangers who quickly become friends over a meal! After all, the sure way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, right?

Adelaide is a thoroughly multicultural society where its locals wholeheartedly invite those from all over the globe with open arms. It is a unique destination where the colorful collision of cultures is encouraged. Through major festivals like OzAsia and minor festivals that are run by cultural associations through its respective universities and cultural societies, there is a vibe of acceptance, recognition, and learning that grows steadily with each passing year and helps in creating a space that is inclusive of anyone and everyone, regardless of their gender, race, sexuality, ability, and age (to name a few).

After my three years attending the many different facets of this beloved festival, I sincerely hope the festival continues to attract a myriad of people from all over Asia and presents opportunities for its visitors to get an up-close and personal perspective on how people from the vibrant cultures of Asian subcontinents come together.

Author: Fatema Sitabkhan

A 28-year-old woman who likes to dress up like an OTT unicorn, Fatema comes from a mix of Middle Eastern and Indian backgrounds that has created a constant sense of self-exploration and self-identity. She is currently living in Adelaide (Australia) where she juggles being a freelance writer with 7 years of experience and a support worker for children and adults with disabilities with 2 years of experience. She is all about radiating sunshine and has a perky character that allows strangers to become friends in a flash. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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