Cover Photo: J Lou

The French-Chinese influencer tells Tatler about sharing her mixed culture experiences through her special brand of humour and wearing her third culture kid (TCK) identity with pride

There’s a term for those who grow up among worlds: third culture kid (TCK), coined by US sociologist Ruth Hill Useem in the 1950s. The longer definition is an individual who was raised in a different culture from their parents’ or the culture of their country of nationality, or those who spent a significant part of childhood living outside their passport countries.

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A culture-hopping phenomenon and a by-product of globalisation, TCKs often deal with the question, “Where are you from?”, which usually requires an in-depth explanation of one’s life story. And while they feel intensely connected to their host countries and cultures, some struggle with their identity and a sense of belonging.

But not J Lou, the Eurasian rice-obsessed content creator who’s thriving as one of Asia's many TCKs.

Born and bred in Hong Kong in a French-Chinese family (French father, Chinese mother), Lou attended both local and international schools growing up, which meant that she had a head start in mastering her linguistic ability while experiencing two different kinds of education systems.

“I grew up in that environment where I had to learn different languages. The cultures and languages were all muddled together but I’m super blessed and privileged to have these cultures behind me and to observe the differences between the Western and Asian cultures which not many people can experience,” says the 26-year-old.

In 2016, two years into her study at City University of Hong Kong (from where she would later graduate with a Translation and Interpretation degree), Lou began posting up bite-sized videos about her bicultural upbringing and life, which she calls her 'mou liu pin' (Cantonese for nonsensical videos), on Snapchat.

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After earning a following, she decided to create a YouTube channel and Facebook page where she can host longer-form content. "I love that I’m able to share those experiences with humour through my content. It’s great that there are so many people like me in the world, TCKs or Asians in Western countries. They grew up experiencing both cultures and that’s most of my audience–the Australians or the Americans. That’s why a lot of people in these places can relate to my mixed culture content," she shares.

Being on YouTube and Facebook, platforms that allowed for content to have more permanent visibility and easier shareability enabled Lou to reach a wider audience. But her parents were initially kept out of view of her 'world' and what she was doing as a content creator. "From the beginning, I filmed my videos by putting double-sided tape on the back of my phone and sticking it to my wall because I wasn’t going to ask my parents for a camera. I was going to save for a camera," she reveals.

Lou gained popularity for her videos which celebrated everything and anything that's stereotypically Asian, and content that anyone with an Asian upbringing can easily relate to. From her love for rice (#ricefam) and superstitions to speaking only Cantonese to Dan (her English boyfriend), and a hilarious series of Tiger mom-focused clips (both parodied by Lou as well as a handful that featured her mother).

The result? A multi-faceted and multilingual (she speaks five!) personality who can easily differentiate herself from other local Hong Kong YouTubers. While her face is ethnically ambiguous, there’s a certain thrill in evoking expressions of surprise whenever she opens her mouth and speaks in fluent Cantonese–there in itself, a bit of a paradox.

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In August 2019, Lou outdid herself when she released STRICT Chinese Mom Reacts To My Instagram Pictures!, an eight-minute clip that became a viral hit overnight. To date, the video, which Lou says felt absolutely crazy to film with her mother, has clocked over six million views.

"I would've never shared my Instagram pictures with her before. In fear of her judgement, comments, or just of her," she says, adding that after filming and surviving it, she realised that it felt good to share more of her life with her mother–on camera or off.

That same year, Lou was invited to speak at TED Talks–twice. Reminiscing, she says: "Speaking at TED Talks made me feel like it just was yesterday that I was in school watching teachers put TED Talks on and going, 'Woah, that person knows what they’re talking about!' and I got the chance to speak on them. It's pretty crazy because sometimes I kinda have to slow down and think about the journey that I've been on like, 'Wow, I did that myself.'"

Of course, being a stellar content creator and putting oneself out there (sometimes with very little context) with billions of people on the internet comes with as many quirks as it does perks.

Among some of the biggest misconceptions about Lou? "That I have rich parents who pay for everything," she reveals. "In Hong Kong, it's definitely a challenge to move out or live away from your parents. When I moved out when I was 21, people assumed that my parents paid my rent. That's totally not the case. I signed the lease with the money I saved up. I worked so hard tutoring, babysitting, working with kids and picking up face-painting... because I knew I would earn a bit more per hour. Even with what I have now and whatever I have online, I still get asked at social events quite bluntly like, 'Did your parents get you this and that?'"

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"Another one would be about my identity and I think that's just a given like it has to happen when someone is mixed. I look Western, but I do Asian content. But because I'm dating someone who's white, then I’m suddenly, 'Oh, you’re Asian? That’s why you love white people'. People pick and choose in the situation that suits them, and be hateful. Now I understand that this is just part of who I am and that there are some mixed people struggles that we have to deal with," Lou laments.

There's no stopping Lou, however. She continues powering through, gracing magazines and billboards, and even the Ding Dings (Hong Kong Tramway).

More recently, she relaunched her brand #ricefam which is symbolic of and dedicated to the online community that she has built. The collection includes T-shirts, hoodies, sweaters, water bottles, and more in the pipeline. "It's not so much the point of sales, it's sharing the #ricefam community love because it’s a really special community that we’ve created together. The fact that people can wear the symbol proudly is really exciting! I hope it'll go big, especially with the Rice Monster. I've lots of plans for that little cartoon," she excitedly announces.

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That's not all. She'll soon be stepping into a new role that'll allow her to add another feather to her cap. "I'm going to be in my first movie. My first Hong Kong movie! Initially, we had to stop filming because of the Omicron outbreak but filming is back on now. I’m not sure yet when it'll be released, but yeah, it’s pretty exciting. I can put 'actress' on my resume!" she enthuses.

Lou shares what she has learnt about herself through this process: "That I had these goals and dreams. Everyone has dreams and goals but it depends on who'd take the first step because when you think about your goal, you’re like, 'Oh my god, that’s crazy. That’s so out of reach. There’s no way I can get it.' but you just have to do it step-by-step. It's something I heard someone say online and was like, 'Oh, okay! Well, I’ll just have to try it too, right?' I took my steps and that helped me reach some of my goals for sure."

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