Them spitting eels


I am the girl my mother said to watch out for.

The type of girl who has sex before marriage, and writes about it.

I never expected I’d be this girl. Twenty when first kissed, I was late to the game but until I met my ex, until I had sex for the first time, it didn’t matter.

‘Here’s the thing: this eel spends its entire life trying to find a home, and what do you think women have inside them? Caves, where the eels like to live… When they find a cave they like, they wriggle around inside it for a while to be sure that…well, to be sure it’s a nice cave, I suppose. And when they’ve made up their minds that it’s comfortable, they mark the cave as their territory…by spitting.’

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden –

The first time I ever read about sex was in the opening scene of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. ‘I was the mortar, he was the pestle.’ A brutal rape-murder. The next time I encountered sex was in Memoirs of a Geisha. So that’s what I can look forward to. Spitting eels. Some introduction…

Between the coy, stolen kisses of Alice Pung’s Unpolished Gem and the unapologetic sexploits of Michele Lee’s Banana Girl, few stories exist about the sex lives of Asian-Australians. Navigating the balance between parental expectations and personal choice is a close-to-universal story yet Asian-Australians struggle with a lack of representation when it comes to sex. It’s as if we’re asexual.

Results of a Google search for Asian-Australian sex lives (no quotation marks) include sex slavery and human trafficking, an online forum titled ‘Why are a lot of Asian women prostitutes in Australia?’, Asian casual sex, a Melbourne brothel specialising in ‘beautiful asian and oriental sex workers’ [sic], and a Daily Review article on Lee’s play Moths about the sex lives of young Asian-Australians drawn from the transcripts of over twenty-five interviews. I wish I’d been able to see the latter. Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen’s column on sex and relationships, amongst other things, is similarly revelatory.

“It’s not the way I brought you up,” said my mother. Read: it’s not what Chinese girls do, or so she thinks. Never mind that my girlfriends were sexually active long before I was and live with their boyfriends. Unlike myself, neither were born in Australia so technically they’re ‘more Chinese’ than I am. Abstinence won’t make me any more Asian nor will ‘sleeping around’ make me any more white.


“If my mum knew I was staying over, it would kill her.”

My (white) boyfriend held me close after a nightmare where I’d run over and killed someone. I didn’t mention the second part of the dream where I frantically hid him from my visiting parents. Even though it’d been several months since I moved interstate, I was still their daughter and always will be. When he suggested getting a hotel room in Melbourne for New Year’s Eve, my mother replied, “That’s nice. You’ll get to chat and know each other better.” In Canberra, I could pretend I wasn’t lying (by omission) but it didn’t feel right in my home city. I decided it’d be easier to break up.

The day we broke up he said maybe this need to constantly think about the future was a ‘Chinese thing’. I was too distraught to counter him. I’ve written about the guilt – the guilt of taking but not giving pleasure (in my mind anyway), and the guilt of lying – but memoir is only ever a point in time.

Post-breakup, I thought, ‘Maybe if I had been better at sex, if I’d known a bit more, had fooled around in school or uni – in short, hadn’t been a virgin – things might have turned out differently.’ I resolved that I wouldn’t lose someone over sex again. I wouldn’t go through the same confusion with my next boyfriend. (Ha!)

I had a one-night stand in New York with a guy I met at a music festival. Free of the pressure I felt with my ex, knowing I’d never see this guy again, I remember thinking, as he moved my hips back and forth, sex is weird. The sex wasn’t incredible but it was liberating. For the first time, I didn’t feel as if there were anything wrong with me. Penetrative sex with my ex had been physically difficult. We managed ‘real sex’ only once. I don’t think he realised how much those two words hurt.

I’ve slept with a few more guys since and it’s been ok. Except for the time I ended up in emergency. Until I work out what I like, what turns me on, I can’t communicate that. And communication, I’ve learnt, is key. One-night stands aren’t for everyone; you have to do what is right for you.


“What if aunties ask me about your writing?”

“Mum, aunties won’t be reading it.”

“Write what you want. I just don’t want you to regret it.”

“I won’t. I’m actually quite proud of this story [about consent].”

“Don’t lee-lee-lah-lah [mess around with guys]. You know, when you become famous, the media likes to dig things up.”

“Mum, I’m not going to be famous.”

Fictionalised or no, I will probably continue writing about sex but when it comes down to it, it’s not the act itself I’m interested in. What I write is anything but titillating. Instead, they are stories about growing up, my relationship with my mother, guilt, culture, consent and making my own mistakes.

Reading short story collections of young women fumbling their way through relationships and adulthood (Hot Little Hands by Abigail Ulman and Six Bedrooms by Tegan Bennett Daylight, for example), I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely if we had similar stories about young Asian-Australians?’

I guess I’ll just have to write my own.


Image Credit: Jared Kelly on Flickr Creative Commons


Shu-Ling Chua

Author: Shu-Ling Chua

Shu-Ling Chua is a writer of memoir and criticism. She has written for Feminartsy, Peril Magazine, Seizure, The Lifted Brow, Meanjin and others. Her work focuses on sex, culture, growing up and womanhood and was highly commended in the 2017 Feminartsy Memoir Prize. She tweets @hellopollyanna.

3 thoughts on “Them spitting eels”

  1. Shu-Ling, I love this piece! I love the title, the ambiguity, complexity and ambivalence of writing about sex as an Asian author. I also loved your other piece (companion to this, maybe?) ‘Love like mine’ and how compassionately you portray your mum. Keep writing, you legend.

  2. Thank you Alice!!! Your comment means so much to me. I’m still working out how to write about sex truthfully and meaningfully, without hurting my mother, but it’s something I want to be able to do. I hope others who read this piece realise they’re not alone and that it’s OK to feel conflicted. Thanks also for reading ‘Love like mine’ and for giving me the courage to keep writing xo

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