- Stephanie Fung
A #hyphenatedAsians POV: Tung Nguyen of 'Rice n Mics' podcast
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I was born in Australia. My parents came from Vietnam. Growing up, I would say it was pretty stereotypical. As an Asian-Australian, there’s the physical punishment side, which I think everyone’s quite familiar with, and the constant tutoring in order to get into good schools to study something relating to STEM. I have two older brothers; one of them was pushed to become a pharmacist and the other to be a doctor and me to be a dentist. However, I had zero interest in that.
I was really interested in computers, and I always liked to mess around with them. So I thought, why don’t I find a job that lets me use computers even more? I kind of used that as an excuse to use the computer to claim that I was studying, but I was playing games. My parents didn’t know much about it and they wouldn’t even believe that I could earn six digits unless they heard it from friends.
What inspired you to start the podcast?
I wanted to start the podcast "Rice n Mics" to share stories of people that aren’t doing a typical STEM degree. Although that is just a subcategory of topics that I cover, that’s probably one of my favourite ones. I’m planning to interview a friend who is a doctor and I would love to know his perspective on whether he actually wanted to be a doctor and how much his parents pushed him into it. That’s something interesting that I’m really looking forward to.
Originally, it was more just to share experiences of Asians living in Australia. When you’re in high school, you have to pick the subjects for the Higher School Certificate (HSC): a big exam that everyone has to take during their last year of school. All the exams they do during that final year will accumulate into a score which is called an ATAR (Like the SAT in the US). Depending on the score, it can get you into the course that you want.
I felt that it would be really helpful to share my own experiences with the choices of subjects. I wanted to help others because I didn’t have that kind of advice when I was younger. I covered the schooling and education subcategory of episodes to inspire other kids and teenagers that may not have the help and support. Ultimately, I see it as a platform of sharing the stories of everyday people and experiences that might make you go, “Oh yeah, that’s happened to me” or “That’s so true!”
In your podcast, you cover a wide range of topics from anime and dating to travelling and COVID etc. How do you plan what topics you want to discuss?
I cover a lot of broad topics, but they all tie back to being an Asian-Australian. I currently have an Excel spreadsheet that I’ve created for future and discussed topics. Every time something pops in my head that I think might be interesting to talk about, I add it into that ever-growing list.
When I first started, I wasn’t able to find a lot of podcasts about Asian-Australian culture. It’s predominantly mostly Asian-American podcasts. I’ve covered common things such as green card marriages, the money game and interracial dating—which is still pretty controversial with our parents. Sometimes people reach out to me and suggest topics to me, which is really thoughtful.
A friend asked me if I will run out of topics eventually. I personally think it wouldn’t be for a while. I guess that’s why I enjoy mixing my topics with interviews about people’s lives, careers, current affairs and topics that affect us. The best example is COVID which I feel is a bit overdone nowadays.
Since you mentioned COVID and you also talked about it on your podcast, what is it like living in Australia, especially since the COVID pandemic? Have you personally experienced racism as a result of that?
Not to the extent that some people may have experienced. I think now, because people understand that everyone can get it, it has become an even playing field.
In general, I think racism is a whole other topic to talk about in Australia. The racism here is pretty casual and it happens quite often. Most of the time it’s banter between mates and it’s kind of normalised as well. Sometimes even people I’m not that close with would throw out racist comments as a joke. I don’t know if it’s because they feel that we are seen as "submissive" so it’s okay. I haven’t put in much thought into this, but this is definitely something I want to discuss more.
As Asians, we are sometimes seen as people who are less assertive and I believe that ties back to how we were raised. We were taught to avoid confrontation because it would make your family look bad.
Do you have a specific target audience for your podcast?
When I originally started, it was just something between friends. I didn’t really advertise it at all! I think it just stemmed back to the fact that during my high school days, everyone was pretty judgemental with everything that you did. When I initially started, you might notice a gap between the first few episodes. This was because I was still testing the waters.
I don’t know what it was, but at that time, I was going to the gym and I had a personal trainer. He was actually a friend of mine and he started a PT business and was doing pretty well. I asked him if he ever thinks about what people think about his posts on Instagram. He told me he had the same feeling but eventually just said “F*** it! Just put it out there. What’s the harm? Everyone will say something but if you can make something out of it, why does that matter?” I think that really pushed me and made me stop caring about what other people thought. Eventually I made the Instagram account and started sharing the stories on my own personal account.
Honestly, I was really surprised with the feedback that I received. People told me that the podcast was a really good platform to share their own stories and rant. That really inspired me to put some more effort into it.
My podcast then branched out to people through word of mouth between which eventually led to people messaging me outside of Australia. I thought that was crazy and it really made me feel good about it. Even though I don’t have a huge audience, I just want to share everyone’s story. As long as a few people enjoy it, I’ll be happy with the results.
Do you see yourself working as a full time podcaster one day?
That’s something that I’ve definitely thought about as I’ve always leaned towards the entertainment industry. When I was in high school, I tried to get into streaming on Twitch, but the internet in Australia is pretty abysmal. But let’s not get into it because that’s quite political…
If it does kick off, that would be a fun career to focus on full time.