It’s been eight years since I went back to Shanghai. It was as if time stopped and rewind itself back to 2010.
To the West, China is the semi-Orwellian superstate that has a knack for intense control over information. It presumed (by the West) that China’s tantalising soft influence will inevitably push their “tyrannical” agenda onto Australian politicians and brainwash them into puppets of their unworldly agenda. An impending superpower- in-training who is destined to surpass the US one day and strikes fear into the West. The list of idiosyncratic allegations goes on. Despite the West’s exaggerated portrayal of China in the media, it was the homeland of my birth givers, by default my home too.
Several events followed since my last visit in 2010; I’ve graduated from high school, got accepted into my dream course, Journalism at University of Canberra, got my first taste of emancipation and lived independently for a year, decided transfer back to Sydney, covered multiple events for Star Central Magazine, worked for the United Nations as an media assistant, became a “weeaboo” when I worked as the Public Relations and Community assistant at SMASH!, had multiple different part-time jobs to support my way through University–all them were short-lived, went to Mongolia for a Journalism placement and finally, I graduated with BMedia from UNSW.
Time has passed rather quickly…
It was the woes of job-seeking that plagued me for the last six months —a detrimental yet necessary process when it comes to surviving in this Australian society. Sydney’s cost of living is high, and the pressure in finding a job that suits its expensive lifestyle is fiercely competitive, especially in media. Unfortunately, it a rite of passage for every graduate to go through to establish their careers, not just me. I’ve always been a resilient person, but even the most resilient have their limits.
It was a perpetual cycle—a submitted application, call for an interview, the interview, the “Will-Let-You-Know” stage, then no call. Each time the cycle repeats, it’s a blow to your confidence and leaves you questioning, whether you are even good enough in the first place.
One day, a tragedy broke the cycle and threw my rhythms of everyday life off balance and by the time I know it, I was on the next available flight to Shanghai.
It was a week of recalibrating, reconnecting and rediscovering a part of my identity that resides in a vacuum. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to go back to Shanghai to see my relatives, it was the chaotic rhythms of everyday life that I led in Sydney, which might’ve hindered my ability to do so.
When arrived at Shanghai, it was sinfully cold. I was cocooned up in my heavy winter gear, was wrangled in my off-white woollen scarf and trudged along the polished surfaces of Shanghai Pudong Airport towards my relatives. (Yes, I looked like an abominable snowman, but in my defence, I have bad circulation.)
I can’t really tell what precisely the tragedy in full details but there was a passing in the family. The Chinese are inherently private people, and they don’t particularly like to wallow in their tragedy or tell other people unless it’s their own family members. They grieve privately behind closing doors and remember the moments of the deceased with great admiration over a good meal. They would not want to burden their close friends or colleges with this tragic news. Out of respect for the recently deceased, and then they move about their day.
Shanghai is the kind of city where every piece of their history is shown in its entirety. It is the home of an astute international financial hub, with an iconic futuristic skyline, straight out of a sci-fi noir movie, yet it still stays loyal to the pillars of history it was built upon.
There were many places in Shanghai where it resonated with me with true familiarity, but at the same time, the actual name of the site doesn’t quite ring a bell.
For example; Cheng Huang Miao as known as the City Temple of Shanghai where the Yu Yuan gardens, is the touris-ty place yet vaguely familiar. It was the second last day of the Chinese New year, and the traditional figureheads in the culture and an array of beautiful red lanterns were hanging from the ceilings.
Other than being a tourist in my homeland, the most comforting moments were with my family; the banter, the home cooked meals and the presence of extended family out of the whole trip that put me at ease.
It’s funny how people you supposedly have known all your life and apparently have a close connection becomes a distant memory. It’s not their fault that the monotonous routine of life swept them and in addition, their brother (my father) decided to leave their home country and establish a better presence for himself and his future wife but unknowingly, depriving of his future children the firsthand experience of Chinese schooling, speaking in your native language and most importantly, the culture.
They probably have personal woes of their nieces being too westernised and losing hope that speaking in Mandarin will come with great difficulty and the lack of historical knowledge of their motherland will set them worlds apart. Their fear that their nieces will turn out to fiercely independent women with a tendency to be borderline narcissistic and eventually neglecting their brother and their wife. But, these woes and fears were turned into a sigh of relief when their niece finally conversed with them coherently in Chinese.
Diaspora is a funny thing. No matter how much you adapt to your new country, assimilate in ways where your immigrant background is undetectable, there always a piece of you that wants to go back and reconnect with your roots. There always going to be an unrequited curiosity that seeped into my unconsciousness of what I could’ve been if I grew up in China. Maybe, I would have been less anxious about pursuing a career in the arts and media or perhaps, for once I would be part of the majority.