*APAC Heritage Month* A Mile in Your Shoes
Let's walk a mile in the shoes of our colleagues. Tune in to hear stories of family migration, childhood pets, education, and unique experiences, to better understand the lives of others.
Hi everyone, welcome to APAC Heritage Month on Cloudflare TV. I'm your host today for a segment we call A Mile in Your Shoes, where we get to know our co-workers better.
And our guest today is Alina Ha from the London office. Welcome to the show Alina.
Hi Jade, it's so nice to be here and thank you for inviting me. All right, so just to start off with, can you briefly talk about what you do at work and how recently you've moved to London?
Sure, so I'm a customer success manager in London office, and I primarily work with Russian-speaking customers.
And I moved to London from Kazakhstan four and a half years ago, but I previously studied in the UK to do my bachelor's.
So overall in the UK I guess around eight, nine years now. Cool.
Now I find your heritage quite fascinating, and we were talking about it a little bit before the show.
Can you tell us a little bit about what the different parts of your heritage are and the languages that you speak?
Sure, so my dad, he is Korean, born in Kazakhstan, and my mama, she is Kazakh, half Kazakh, half Uzbek, and she was born in Kazakhstan.
And yeah, I speak, Russian is my native language, and I speak a little bit of Polish, and I speak English.
And I can understand Kazakh a little bit, but it's not, you know, the language we use at home.
Did, so when you were growing up in Kazakhstan, do most people not speak Kazakh in the environment?
Or how does, how does that work? Yeah, that's, that's a really cool question, because it's such a complex situation, because Kazakhstan, as many of, you know, former USSR countries, were part of communist Russia, you know, like a communist state.
And as you know, like they wanted to be united in one language, and you know, like in one movement.
So a lot of the kind of education was done in Russian, because this was the main language for communist countries.
So a lot of people, especially who were living in the cities in Kazakhstan, they, they did, you know, like they didn't, they didn't know Kazakh.
And the legacy kind of prevailed to, you know, nowadays as well, where folks coming from rural areas, they would speak Kazakh, because, you know, like the kind of exposure to different culture there, and they wouldn't be able to navigate the cities, because no one actually understands them.
There is a difference, though, like, if you go to west of Kazakhstan, is, it's, people speak Kazakh more there, it's a little bit a different dialect.
If you go down the south as well, where I'm from, it's also like, you speak Kazakh more than, you know, you speak in the north, that is closer to Russia.
So, and another interesting thing is that my dad, when he was little, he grew up in central, like mining city in central Kazakhstan, and he only knew Korean and Kazakh.
And when they moved to a bigger city, he couldn't understand Russian, and he was actually called, like, bullied to be like a village boy, because he didn't speak Russian back then.
But yeah, it's kind of, I feel like sometimes ashamed that I don't speak Kazakh, because, you know, I come from Kazakhstan, it is an official language, but unfortunately, I studied in Russian speaking school, I went to, you know, like British University, so I never had this exposure to the language.
So, I wanted to dig into the history a little bit more, because I think there's a fascinating story there about how your father ended up in Kazakhstan, or how his grandparents came to be in Kazakhstan.
Could you tell us that story?
Sure. So, I think the story begins in late 1800s, when Koreans, back then it was United Korea, they started to migrate, you know, emigrate to Far East Russia, mainly because of the, you know, poverty, you know, like the also some war between, you know, like in conflicts with China, Japan, and like internally in Korea as well.
So, they started to migrate in 1800s to Far East, and then the biggest chunk of Koreans migrated with during Korean -Japanese conflict in beginning of 1900s.
So, and they settled there, and, you know, what we do with agriculture, so they went through like China, Manchuria, actually, and settled, when they settled in Russia, they got a refugee status, and they were given land, so they were basically doing agriculture, and, you know, settling there, and everything was okay.
Unfortunately, you know, like Second World War were escalating, and obviously, the relationship between Russia and Japan were escalating as well.
And, you know, apparently, like some, there were some traitors on Korean side who were working for Japan and Soviet Union, and Stalin decided that he wants to move the Korean community to Central Asia to, you know, further from the, you know, like from the borders, from Japan, you know, like open, like the access to them.
And that's how they ended up in Kazakhstan, but the actual journey was really horrible, because my grandmother, she was telling me that she had her, my, like my eldest uncle, and he was just a newborn, and they were given around like 20 minutes to pack everything, and they were like packed in this transport trains, like for, you know, like animals, and that's it, and they were sent to Central Asia.
And if you see the actual map, it probably takes at least 20 days, just on the trains, non-stop, and she said that people were just dying, and they had to, like, you know, throw them away from the, like, trains, because there was nowhere they wouldn't stop, they wouldn't feed them, so, like, there were lots of, and she was so, like, attached to her firstborn, but because he survived this journey.
Wow. Yeah, and so they, so basically, what they did, they started to stop, as soon as they entered Central Asia, which was Kazakhstan, was the first country, they started to, like, unload the cargo of people, so my family, my grandma, she ended up being in Karaganda area, which is Central North Kazakhstan.
It's one of the coldest parts of Kazakhstan, like, it can go to minus 40, and yeah, like, the only reason why they survived is that Kazakh people basically welcomed them, and they shared food with them, like, you know, they used to dig out these holes, and, you know, like, they were living in them until the spring came, and where they could actually start building something, and the most of the Korean, like, and it wasn't only Koreans, like, it was Chinese refugees, Japanese refugees, everyone who looked any kind of Asian, they were sent this way, and so, like, if you look at the, you know, how they were spread, they were in, they in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, you know, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, so, like, all the Central Asian countries, because they were the furthest in Soviet Union, they could send them.
So, it was because they were the, so it was basically making the journey as long as physically possible.
Yeah, literally, like, it's, I think my grandma, you know, she was quite old, and she wouldn't sometimes want to talk about this, because it was such a horrible thing that happened, and she was very young, like, I think she was 20 years old when it happens, and she remembers that she literally, she had to, like, hold on to her baby, and making sure people didn't eat him, you know, like, or people didn't do things, because, you know, like, what do you do when you're hungry, or your kid's hungry, like, you're on a journey for almost a month, right, like, without any food, no one's stopping, it's just, like, inhumane conditions, so, and, but yeah, somehow, you know, like, looking at my parents now, my wife, the journey my father did, like, she survived, and he, you know, like, he had a very successful career, and, you know, a great life, so, after every hardship comes the ease, that's what we say, right?
That's amazing. Kudos to your grandmother for keeping your uncle alive through all of that.
Can you talk a little bit about your mom's side?
Yeah, mom's side is, like, I guess, not less adventurous, so my grandmother, she was a daughter of a wealthy economist, and, you know, like, during imperial, like, Russian empire, he was a very well -known, educated man who had a lot of property, but when Soviet Union came into force, obviously, like, you know, he became a war of state, and he was taken away and executed, and, like, he had seven daughters, so all of them, basically, became orphans, and, you know, like, I'm not sure if you heard of it, but, basically, if your, someone in your family became a traitor of the state, the whole family is a traitor of the state, so it meant that it was difficult to find a job, it was difficult to do anything, really, find a food, so, and I don't really know much about my grandfather, I know that, like, my mom probably doesn't know much either, because my grandmother and my granddad, they, it was their second marriage, they met after war, so, like, you know, it's kind of started in very mature age, and, but he was a war veteran, he was on tank, he was tank driver, and, yeah, like, and they met, both of them were in camps, my grandmother, for, you know, like, random reasons that sometimes in Soviet Union happened, you know, someone didn't like you, report you, you get into camp, my grandfather, he was in camp after war, because he became imprisoned when he was in Czechoslovakia, I think, Czech Republic, so, and, you know, like, as it was a war, kind of criminal, he was a war criminal, because he got imprisoned, and he didn't get killed, so, and after this, they met, and I guess two broken souls found each other, and they had four kids together, and one of them was my mom, and she grew up in south of Kazakhstan, there is a small city, Turkestan, it's like, in Kazakhstan, it's a holy city for Muslim people, and, yeah, then she moved to Shymkent, which is another big south Kazakhstan city, where she met my dad.
That's amazing, to have so many different cultures sort of meeting together.
Do you feel like, like parenting style, like your mom and your dad had different parenting styles, or your grandparents had different parenting styles from each other?
How did, how did the different cultures come into play at family gatherings?
That's a really cool question.
Yes and no, you know, like, that's an interesting thing, because I feel like Korean culture that I had, and sometimes you, like, you see, you know, the, the way Asians treat elderly, like, right, the way we speak to them, how we change language, how we change the whole demeanor, this was definitely from both sides, like, you would never, ever argue with anyone who is older than you, like, and it's, I remember my grandmother, she wouldn't let us touch food if dad didn't, like, you know, come home yet, so, like, it was kind of, like, you first wait for your father, and then you eat, and I, I can't imagine that sounds a bit ridiculous to some, but this was very normal to us, and another thing from, unfortunately, I haven't really got much relationship with my mom's side, because they both passed away when I was very young, but my mom, she's also very traditional in terms of, like, family, how you should look after each other, how you help your siblings, you know, like, every time we go to, to meet my cousins or my auntie, like, you never go empty-handed, and it's just, like, the rule, and similar to my Korean side as well, and they both were very strict, I must say, I, I would say, like, my mom was less strict than my dad.
Was strict in different ways, or strict about different topics?
Yeah, I think strict in different ways, my dad was more strict about, you know, like, our behavior, our grades, you know, like, how we, my mom would never check my grades, it was mainly my dad who would go on the parenting meetings, I was always so scared, like, you know, if I would get a C, it was just end of the world, like, I was the most horrible person on earth, and my mom was more strict about girly stuff, you know, she is very kind of traditional in that sense of the role of women in, in the family, how you need to look after everyone, you know, like, your parents, your husbands, you know, like, your siblings, so that's, she still scolds me for, like, not cleaning properly or doing this, because she thinks that I have to work full-time, and also we have to, you know, I have to be perfect wife as well.
Well, so that, that brings me to the question that I really like, which is the keep, stop, start for parenting.
What are some traditions that you really like from your parents that you want to continue into the future generations, and what are some things that they didn't do that you want to start, and what are some things that they did that you don't want to continue into the next generation?
It might sound controversial, but what I want to keep, and I really liked about, you know, when I grew up, I understood how important it was, you know, like, I think when our Asian parents say, like, you have to be this, you have to be president of the presidents, of all the presidents, I feel that it comes from so much belief in your kid that they're capable of doing that, and I want, they invested so much time, so much money in my education, like, it's the, if I, the question was buying something and going for a tutor of, obviously, tutor was the best one, and I see the seeds of, you know, like, they put the seeds in me, that's now I see, like, you know, they're blooming and growing, and, you know, like, and I would definitely do the same for my kids if I have any, like, give them all the opportunities they want, like, one music lesson, sure, like, you want different, you know, like, just believe in my kids that they can be on top of the world, and my dad, I always say, like, he's a feminist without even realizing it, because he has only girls, and he would never tell us, like, oh, your place is in the kitchen, he would always tell us, like, you need to be a ruling, you know, like, you would be managing big company or something, and something I wouldn't at the same time want is actually at the same time push, putting this pressure, like, sometimes I would feel that my parents would think the best strategy to make you angry, that, like, oh, you didn't do it because, you know, like, you don't want to, or, like, you don't care, something like that, so I guess maybe be a little bit more empathetic sometimes would help, but at the same time, you know, like, if you look at their history, how they grew up, where they came from, like, you just understand there it was just survival, you know, like, and they were the first generation of kids who got an education, you know, like, went to university, had anything, really, so, and start doing, I guess, maybe spend more time and have work-life balance, that's just, like, I am so grateful for them to, I guess, I don't want to say sacrificing things, but definitely they spent a lot of time at work, like, coming at home at 10 o'clock was fine, you know, this was normal for us.
I, to me, the, you know, like, when you hear stories of some mothers of my parents, like, oh, my friends not working or not, you know, like, doing something was, like, different, you know, different to me because both of my parents always worked and my grandma was actually the one who brought us up.
So, do you feel like you're close with your grandmother? Unfortunately, she passed away, but she was my best friend, like, so, my mom, she got promoted when I was around 10, so, like, she had to move to the capital, so, like, I was left with my grandma who was with me, I think, since I was three years old, so, I mean, my grandma would basically spend six, like, four years just on, like, on its own, like, together without anyone, and then she just traveled with me to, like, the capital when I moved to my parents, and then the first year of university I did in Kazakhstan because I was waiting for my scholarship to study abroad, and she went with me, so, she actually, everything I know about the house, about, you know, like, everything, like, she taught me together with my mom, like, you know, my mother was a big part of my upbringing as well, and, you know, like, I think one of the most valuable lessons my grandmother gave me, which was very interesting to the age, she said, you know, when you get married, your family becomes your husband, your kids, and everyone else is another family, and I think this is kind of, you know, now you go to therapy and say, okay, put yourself in the center, and then your husband, and then your kids, and there's something similar what she was telling me that, you know, like, you need to, because we were talking about the attention and, like, how you love each other, and she was saying that first it's you, then your husband, then your kids, and then your mother, and your siblings, and everyone else, and she knew it, and she was the, you know, very old school grandma in general.
So, among your siblings, so, you're, are you the oldest, or how many, you're the youngest of how many?
So, I have an elder sister, she's five years older than me, and yeah, that's, that's pretty much it.
Were you both very close with your grandmother?
I think I was the closest one, and because my sister, she was older, and also, like, she didn't grow up with her that, you know, for longer than I did, and she was a very, she's a very different character as well, I guess, when my grandma and myself were kind of, you know, clicked, and we were similar character, we could just sit and watch all the TV soap dramas, you know, it was interesting, like, you think about, I was 10 years old, or 11, and I didn't want to go outside, I would just go home after school, and I would just spend time with her, like, and she was, what, 80 years old woman, and it was fun, and, like, and that's what I did for four years, like, I mean, of course, I would go and see my friends, but I never kind of felt, oh, you know, like, I need to sit with an old person, kind of thing, it was always, she would always tell me some funny stories, or like, she would watch TV, and, you know, she would exaggerate a lot of things, but, yeah, like, definitely, I was closer to her than my sister, and then she moved to university, so, like, she didn't really see her much.
So, then, stepping forward in time, then you came to the, then you went to the UK for the rest of university, what was that experience like, was there culture shock, did you already speak English at the time?
So, I spoke, I thought I spoke English, but I didn't, actually, so, you know, I couldn't understand half of what people were saying to me, and I wouldn't say culture shock, I would say that, you know, I love the, I love the UK, but at the same time, like, I guess, another thing, and this is something we discussed, you know, in one of our Asian Flair meetings, I think it was my fifth day in the UK where I heard chink, so, and it's kind of brought you back to the things that's, it's not, it is not home yet, type of thing, so, like, it took a lot of things, and a lot of getting used to different, you know, different mentality, different things, way, like, people work, understanding the slang, so, like, you don't, maybe people offending you, and you just don't understand what they say, because I didn't know what chink was, because it wasn't something we used, and, but at the same time, I guess, I'm so grateful that I had this opportunity to study abroad, because it definitely gave me a different perspective of, you know, what's interesting, like, you can be a mixed person as a minority in your country as well, and you still have a lot of stereotypes, you have a lot of, you know, misconceptions, and you have a lot of, that's, you know, like, thought, you don't, you're basically a racist as well, right, to others, and moving to the UK definitely educated me a lot, educated me on who I am as a person, brought me closer to my Asian heritage as well, and definitely educated me in terms of all the different ethnicities there, all the different Asians there, you know, like, and made me, I hope it made me a better person.
Do you feel comfortable talking about some of the early experiences you had when first arriving in the UK on the air?
Yeah, because, you know, like, I guess I don't agree with when people say, oh, we shouldn't talk about religion, money, or, you know, politics, because that's the reason why we have all this problem, because we don't talk, we don't learn, and it's just, you know, people pretending to understand when you have so many different questions, and I think it's important to highlight all maybe really uneasy, dark situations that you encounter with, but let it be an example, and, you know, as a learning lesson, you know, as a lesson to others, rather than just sit and pretend that everything is hunky-dory, and I love it, like, it's, I think it's wrong, like, you need to speak up, you need to educate yourself, others, and the more we talk about this, the better I think we get.
Um, can you tell us about the, uh, what happened in Brighton, uh, soon after you arrived in the UK?
So, uh, like, I think, like, to do step back, right, the first time I realized I was different was, I was, when I was six, and I went to school, and the guy, and the little boy who had smaller eyes than I did started to, you know, like, uh, say, like, oh, you know, go back to China, you know, like, slap eyes and stuff, and that's when I went to my dad, I was like, why was he doing that, you know, and that's when they explained to me that you're Korean, and you're not Catholic, and that's why people might be, you know, mean, and, uh, and somehow, like, when you come to the country, you dream to be here, and, you know, study, you forget that there might be little boys like this who are stupid and uneducated who might be doing this as well, and, uh, so it was, uh, like, first weekend, I think, and we were partying, and, you know, it was a really fun, uh, time, and we were just going down the Brighton to the seaside, and that's when we actually met six, I think, or five growing up white men, like, they were definitely much, much older than we were, and I was the only Asian in my group of friends, and they started to basically, they kind of rounded me up and started to call, like, chink, chink, chink, and I, and because I didn't know what it means, and they were laughing, I was also kind of smiling, imagine how stupid it was, like, that I'm, like, smiling, people offending me and being racist, and then, basically, my friends kind of, like, took me away from there, and then I was like, what does it mean, what's chink, and that's when they explained, well, actually, it's a, you know, um, and not a nice way to call, like, Chinese person, and I was like, well, this is stupid, and then I'm not Chinese, you know, I think it's just the, the whole thing was, to me, I was so puzzled, like, why would you even do that, like, you know, also, like, you, you could tell we were kids, like, you know, we were just, and afterwards, I was very aware of people, like, how they look at me, or, but Brighton was always, like, kind of a safe place, it was just, you know, like, one occasion, what, I guess, when I was more aware, it was when I was studying in Birmingham, and a lot of my Asian friends, they were attacked, you know, one of my Chinese friends, she had her earring ripped, just for fun, you know, from some kids on the street, so, and, like, you might say, oh, it's, well, just, you know, attack, not because she was Chinese, but, you know, when you hear a lot of repetitive things that happens only to your Asian friends, no one else, what else do you think, right?
Right, exactly. And it's kind of sometimes, you, it's hard to build your case, because, you know, we hear a lot, like, yeah, the same with Kazakhstan, right, like, I love my country, and, you know, like, I, my mom is Kazakh, I have Kazakh blood in me, but I definitely felt domestic racism there as well, so, like, I think you shouldn't shy away from bad things that's happening, just to make sure, to make sure your home country is getting better, is, like, and this is what we need to do everywhere we live, right, like, educate, speak up, and do your bit.
So, we have about, just about a minute left in the, in the segment. I, I want to hear something about, we had, right before we got on the air, you told me about your Doberman, and I'm hoping that the story can fit into our last minute.
Yeah, so, I was telling, what I was telling you, like, my Doberman, she was amazing, so she was, she unfortunately passed away at nine years old, because of cancer, and doctor told us, because she was overfed, and I was telling you, my, my grandma, she loved her so much, but she always thought she was so hungry, she would literally make me open her mouth, hold her, and she would stuff, like, cookies, or, like, meat there, you know, and she would basically do all that, and my dog was, like, if you see Doberman, like, you know, slender, amazing dogs, mine was so chubby, she couldn't run, like, they actually told us she used to be on a diet, and she used to run, she literally was just walking hardly, because she was so big, and, like, yeah, my grandma would do this every time to everyone, like, myself, like, I think one of the most amazing memory for my grandma is that she would always me, ask me, like, are you hungry, like, that was always the question.
Oh, grandma, well, thank you so much, this has been a great episode. Thank you for inviting me.