My parents are from the same town in Malaysia but met over a dead body in their first year of medicine at Melbourne University. Years later my husband and I met at the same university; he was a senior student, there to give me pointers as I extracted my first tooth. I am Rachel Chang. I was born in Wollongong, New South Wales in 1987. Today I live and work in Rosanna. I am a full-time mum and part-time dentist.
My parents dated for ten years before getting married, mostly because their studies took so long. They began university in the late 70s when it was free, even for international students. Dad is very grateful for that, as he couldn’t have become a surgeon otherwise. School in Malaysia was predominately in English, though they also learned Bahasa Melayu, the national language, and spoke Chinese dialects at home. Unhindered by language barriers they both found Australian people to be very friendly.
Sometimes when I work in the country people ask me where I am from and are surprised when I say that I’m Australian. I guess they assume I am from overseas because not many Asian people live around there. I speak a bit of Chinese dialect and when I visit Malaysia I can get by, but I feel limited and people can tell I’m not a local. I have patients that travel to China who speak more Chinese than me, so it’s a little embarrassing.
Originally I planned to study law. Dad wanted me to do medicine, but I didn’t want that. Mum said it wasn’t a good profession if you want a family. I think she felt she had to delay having children because of it, and how taxing it was to become established. Dentistry has a good work-life balance; you can choose your hours a bit better, and once your studies end you go straight into the workforce. Both my parents are happy with my choice of career, and later my younger sister became a dentist too.
Jacob is also from Malaysia, so when we married dad was particularly happy about that. Dad is very traditional and encourages us to stay true to our heritage. I didn’t set out to marry someone from Malaysia but I guess I identify with the culture. As kids dad would take us there every year to spend time with his parents and to better understand our roots.
Dad would say “You can have a new best friend every day but your family will always be with you and your sister will be your real best friend.” That’s something we understand better now, and my sister and I are very close. Those are the values my dad wants us to pass on to our children.
I attended Mother of God primary school in East Ivanhoe, which closed down a few years ago, and then went to Ivanhoe Girls from grade five to twelve. My parents were strict so our social interactions were limited. There were lots of expectations and stress until I started university. Now I can see dad just wanted the best for us, though I don’t necessarily agree on how he went about it. I too want my children to see family as what’s most important, but I don’t want to push them that same way. Back then I resented it, and don’t want my kids to feel like that.
Dad is much more laid back now as he doesn’t need to worry about us so much. I think he’s proud of where he came from and where he’s got to, despite his humble upbringing; he is fulfilled knowing his daughters have good lives and careers. As a grandfather, he is very different too and my daughter gets totally spoiled. If I could decide what qualities to inherit from him they’d be his hard-working nature and perseverance.
My mother is a strong woman who built her own practice from scratch, which for a female GP was not easy 15 years ago. In 2014 she had space available in her clinic in Rosanna and invited me to set up a practice. It was a good opportunity, and three years later we opened a second one in Gisborne. When my daughter was born our first practice had just begun and I couldn’t take much time off, but now that I am expecting our second child I am grateful I can take six to twelve months off. Just like the first time, I don’t know the gender of my baby so it’ll be a surprise.
Today my family takes priority over everything, and all I do is geared towards providing and taking care of them. I know that’s what my dad wanted to do for us, but as a teenager, I couldn’t understand it. I hope my kids will understand me, if not when they are young, then when they become parents themselves.