You’re gonna blow this place up

“WE don’t do that HERE.”

I whipped my head to the left, startled and confused by the sudden voice.

“WE don’t do that HERE”

Peering at me from behind my petrol pump was this middle aged woman – presumably of Anglo descent.

It was about late afternoon, and my girlfriend and I had pulled up at a petrol station to fill up before our drive home. We pulled in, hopped out and as we were doing so, Christina tossed me our phones and wallets to hold on to.

And as we began pumping fuel into the car – Christina’s phone buzzed. She’d gotten a text from a friend enquiring about their afternoon activities.

Feeling the buzz, I said – “You got a text!”

Hearing that, this woman walks from the other side of her car, to where we were standing and peers from behind our station and exclaims:

“WE don’t do that HERE.”


“WE don’t do that HERE.
“Using your mobile phone – WE don’t do that HERE.
“Using your mobile phone at a petrol station can cause the whole place to blow up
“It’s like fire, using your phone might blow this place up.
“WE don’t do that HERE.”

Christina – still out of sight asks:
“What’s going on?
“What does she want?”

But in the moment, I was dumbstruck.

How I wish I could convey tone – like really convey tone – through text on a page. This was not a caring caution – like ‘hey, I wouldn’t use your phone here.’ Instead, it reminded me of when my family first moved to Australia from Singapore. People would assume that we couldn’t speak English and talk to us real slow – like R E A L  S L O W.

They’d emphasise certain words, drawing lines in the sand that separated us from them.

“WE do not, do that HERE.”

Translation – in this country, my country – unlike your country, no one uses their phone at the gas station.

A few things:
1) this is a massive myth anyway so fuck you.

2) take a look around, people are always on their phones or have their phones on them, in their hands, in their pockets, in their cars – it was true then and it will remain true for the rest of time.

3) I wasn’t actually using the phone so there’s that.

4) I understand English perfectly.

I knew what she was insinuating but I couldn’t muster the words to reply. Instead I just did that okay sign with my hands over and over so that she’d stop. Anything to make her stop talking.

In that moment, it felt distinctly like getting bullied. Like a strange power move, the slow enunciation of her words being spoken at me made me feel so incredibly small.

How naive of me – to think that as a community – we could’ve moved past this pettiness.

And you might be thinking – but isn’t it petty to write a piece about her in retaliation?

And you would’ve been right if this piece was about her at all.

But it isn’t.

Immigrant life – or at least my version of immigrant life – has always involved the chase of acceptance and to achieve a sense of belonging.

When I first moved to Australia, people made fun of my accent – I changed it, they made fun of my hair cut – I changed it, they made fun of my clothes – I changed it.

But there comes a point where we can change no more. There’s nothing I can do about the way I look, my yellow skin, my slanted eyes – nor can I control the way anyone perceives or responds to those features.

And as Christina so lovingly put it – “You don’t need to prove anything to anybody.”

So on behalf of all immigrants – we’re tired of fitting in, now, we’re standing out.

Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.

Get in touch ~
Instagram: @chinkinthearmour

Featured image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.


Leave a Reply