When my Cathy Pacific flight from Hong Kong touched ground at Sydney airport on October 16, 2003, it was misty and a bit cool.
Even after a nine-hour flight, I was not tired. I came with a Permanent Residency visa, so I felt relaxed, free-minded, and blissful. I stretched my legs and hands and inhaled at the arrival terminal. So this is my country now.
It must have rained last night as part of the ground looked wet while I was dragging my suitcase to the taxi lounge. It was early morning, and Chinatown shops wouldn’t open. So I took a minibus to Kings Cross.
That was the first place I considered my accommodation for the first few nights as I checked out the travel guides to find out about bars, restaurants, music, nightclubs, and erotic shops. I loved the cultural and sexy part of any new city on my travel routes.
Because my suitcase was a bit heavy, I needed to check into a hotel before going out for leisure. I chose a budget inn on William Street and bought a week-stay for 350 dollars. I felt totally at home when I put down my luggage and walked out of the streets again free-handed.
I still wanted to look at Chinatown first. I often heard of Chinese towns in the western world, and that cultural heritage was like a thread that took my mind there. So, with a handy map, I strolled in that direction.
I did not expect the “town” to be so small, just one street about 100 meters long with bilingual shops on both sides. An arch of traditional Chinese style with these four characters, “Si Hai Yi Jia,” meaning “Four Seas are one family,” stood at the front, and a small pavilion at the end. I walked into some shops and finally sat at the pavilion for an hour, watching visitors pass by. Then, after a simple lunch at a Cantonese restaurant, I walked backward to the railway station, then back to Kings Cross.
I needed to open a bank account and apply for some IDs as an Australian resident. So I spent the whole afternoon checking things down near the hotel. Only then I knew that suburb was called Darlinghurst, such a romantic name. I walked a different route to Hyde Park, Town Hall, and Darling Harbor the following day. Woo! This darling was not just a romantic harbor but a food world. It’s such a paradise here! I thought Australia was indeed a country of abundance. I did not expect some words from the Australian National Anthem, “Our land abounds in nature’s gifts, of beauty rich and rare,” would come to my mind at this moment.
For three days, I did not see a policeman. When I finally saw two officers standing at the street corner, I was curious and looked at them for a moment. They smiled at me and looked friendly. This was Kings Cross! If it were in China, the police would have come to question and lock me up if I looked at them that way. These familiar words came to my mind: “We serve the people.” I could only find the answer here. China was indeed a police state.
October 18 was a Saturday. There was an Anglican Church nearby, so I attended a morning service there. When in China, I went to the Catholic Church a few times but only acted as a visitor; as a Communist Party member working in government offices, I was not allowed to attend any religious services. Only now could I openly join such gatherings and express my mind freely. It was a different feeling in all aspects.
The Bible Read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” I thought this the most beautiful words in the world.
In the following days, I followed my mind and continued my walks to Rushcutters Bay, Double Bay, Rose Bay, then the Botanic Garden, the Opera House, the Circular Quay, and finally Bondi Beach. I just walked continuously for six days, every day from morning till night, until I got tired. On the seventh day, I took the ferry to Manly. When I sang “Our home is girt by sea,” I felt that the harbor city was a gift from God and was more beautiful than any harbor or beach I had been to in China.
I had chosen to come at the end of spring and the beginning of summer because I hoped to see more and more sunshine when I started a new journey in life. Some might think I was superstitious, but I thought it better to believe in anything that might bring me good fortune.
After a week, I moved to another hotel, also at Darlinghurst. For seven days, I ate outside, something not home-like; this new hotel was equipped with a kitchen so that I could cook, and it was 50 dollars per week cheaper if I stayed for a whole month. So I paid for a month.
I did not come to Australia to make money. I had thought of settling down in a quiet country so that I could live a simple life. After many years of hard work, my dream was a simple and easy life.
Still, I needed to find work. So I went to Chinatown. I checked the local Chinese newspaper but mostly found jobs as waiters or kitchen help nearby. I did not want to work in a restaurant. While wandering around Chinatown, I thought of moving closer to this suburb. So I called and met a Chinese landlord who had rooms for lease near the university -UTS. She was a lady of about fifty. She just bought a terraced house near the Stadium-Museum area. A young man of my age was doing the renovation and decoration of the old house. He needed an assistant and asked if I could join his construction team. He paid 100 dollars daily, so I started work as a construction worker. The landlord said when the decoration was finished, I could choose the best room for 200 dollars a week.
In about two weeks, the landlord’s boyfriend came for a visit. He showed us a newspaper advertisement that he was selling his 15-year-old Mitsubishi Wagon for 3,800 dollars. I asked him to bring in the car so that I could have a drive. He brought the car to the construction site two days later, and I gave it a trial. I did not ask for a bargain. I wanted to treat all people well in a new country. Finally, I bought the car for a discount of 100 dollars with the help of my teammates.
For a month, working with cement, paints, and ceiling boards made me feel so much different from a country of sunshine. I could only use the word “different.” It was not a difficult or tedious job or something I did not like. It was just different. Outside, there was clear air and a blue sky. Nearby there were busy markets and Darling Harbor events and activities. Christmas was coming, and people were setting up decorations at the harbor. But inside this old-fashioned and somewhat historical terraced house, I worked with dust and dirty mud. I used an old newspaper as a cap and wore a heavy boot. That did not seem like me.
Since I had a car, I thought I should travel across the country and see new things and events daily with my own eyes. I had not come to work for money, let alone a job like this.
It was another weekend, and the next day, my rent for the month should end. When I attended the regular church service, I told myself, “tomorrow, I shall move on; it’s going to be a new journey again.”
The following week, I traveled over the bridge to North Sydney, Parramatta, Penrith, and the Blue Mountains; then, I traveled to the northern beaches and the Hunter Valley. I moved southward to Ashfield, Liverpool, Fairfield, Sutherland, Cronulla Beaches, and Wollongong.
Concerts on the Domain, Sydney Harbor fireworks, Cross the New Year City Walks, Darling Harbor boat shows, and the Australian Idols and football all added to the festive atmosphere.
In a month, I was on my way to Melbourne along the coast and back along the Hume Highway. Then, I continued my journey to Gold Coast and Brisbane to the north. Australians love beaches and barbeques.It was Christmas holiday and people were celebrating. The high ways were getting busy; small beach towns were also filled with the sunshine of celebrations.
While I traveled in China’s wilderness, the words “bleak and desolate” would quickly come to my mind; but in Australia’s wilderness, I saw only “vast and immense.” The diligent Chinese children rode a bicycle as a tool while the adventurous Australian children rode a bicycle as a game.
Most nights, I stayed in my car or occasionally checked into a motel for one night or two for a comfortable shower. I followed my mind to rest in a town or move on to another one. I did not take photos along the way. I did not want to leave memories with photos. If I thought of a place worth returning to, I might just come back in the future. If I thought a place was not worth a second visit, I would not need to keep any photos.
My Australia tour was plain and too easy compared to traveling across China. The most significant difference was everywhere I went, I saw nature, new and clean, fresh and quiet, with white clouds and blue sky, with similarities. On the other hand, we saw substantial differences from city to city in China, even from village to village. We saw events, accidents, different stories, the decay, and the highly developed, all carrying a historical or cultural sense.
When traveling alone, I witnessed many beautiful sunsets on country roads. In spite of repeated fatigue warning signs, I sometimes did not know I was going to sleep after long hours of driving. I almost drove into the forest twice. I often saw animals crushed by cars on the highways. “Take a break. Revive! Survive!”
I had worked too hard in the past and forgot time to be amiable with nature. It had been a long time since I last stopped to smell the grass in a park, to hear the chirps of bugs and birds singing. My nose had been blocked for a long time due to air pollution in China. I was overjoyed when I finally smelt the fragrance of flowers in the Australian wilderness.
I had the wish to find some settings in my memory of the Australian novel “The Thorn Births” in the countryside here. But everything seemed to have changed.
I finally felt tired, so I returned to Sydney. Many newcomers would choose Chatwood or other towns with better schools and modernized supermarkets. I decided on Campsie because it was small, it was Asian, it was poor, it was “ugly,” and it was close to the city.
I chose a two-bedroom unit near the shops. The rent was 170 dollars a week, and I remember a monthly gas and electricity bill of about 30 dollars. There was a church nearby, and I attended regular weekend services.
I was not baptized as a Christian. I just liked the environment, I wanted to listen to religious lectures, and I loved to chat with others from time to time. I did not have a family here. The ambiance gave me a sense of belonging.
Campsie had an open market on Saturday. Vendors paid five dollars to rent a spot and set up a stall to sell their stuff, new and old. When I traveled across New South Wales, I visited many weekend markets; the atmosphere gave people a lot of fun and memories. I liked this atmosphere with vendors shouting, kids running around, and people making friends. And in particular, I loved the atmosphere of freedom.
I wanted to become a free vendor. I thought of what kinds of things to sell. Farmers sold their agricultural products like flowers or honey. Painters and tattoo artists sold their craftsmanship. Recycling vendors sold their used furniture or electronics. I did not want to sell second-hand stuff. I thought of bringing in new furniture and electronics from China which was then “the world factory.” Although they might have a better profit margin, those things could be too heavy for me to handle.
I decided to sell towels and socks. With towels and socks, I did not require extra storage as I had two bedrooms. I could carry them in my car when I traveled to different markets, so I did not need to buy a van or change to another vehicle. I didn’t even need to set up a stall in the market. Some vendors needed frames to hang their clothes, hats, or sunglasses. There was no need for me to buy extra equipment. I thought this could be a safe and handy business; if I couldn’t sell well, towels and socks were easy to handle or give away.
I did not expect buying a car or opening a business could be such an easy thing in Australia. It was only a matter of minutes. In China, any of these things could take many days and many stamps. And it costs “dirty” money to go through those formalities. No wonder Communist China has such a corrupt government.
I phoned my elder brother in China about this, and in two months, a container filled with towels and socks arrived in Sydney by ship. They filled two bedrooms and half of the sitting room. I had to sleep on the towels.
In the following months, I drove to Balmain for paintings and antiques, Paddington for jewelry, The Rocks for grocery, Manly for drawings and underwear, Bankstown for second-hands, and Camden Valley for agricultural products. I sold my socks and towels.
I worked two days weekly,got up early in the morning, traveling to all markets across Sydney to sell towels and socks. As Flemington was the best market for my stuff and close to home, I spent half of my weekends at Flemington Market.
My neighbor was a family of two brothers and their mother of Middle-east background. They both got casual jobs but still relied on Centrelink’s payment. I gave them towels and socks that could be enough for years. Later, they came to borrow money. I gave them twice, 100 dollars each, but they never returned. I did not want others to do anything terrible to my towels and socks.
Because of these towels and socks, I did not have time to attend church services for several months. But I had lots of free time. So I joined some brothers and sisters in their Bible Study sessions during the weekdays or evenings. Sometimes I also helped with their labor. Because I was a quick learner, those brothers and sisters soon prepared a baptism for me.
Some Christian friends were Falun Gong practitioners who actively participated in taking down the Chinese Communist Party. The Epoch Times became popular and was distributed to many suburbs across Sydney. I took it an opportunity to publicly announce my cancellation of Communist Party membership in the newspaper. I thought of myself as free from communism when I had the freedom to choose a religion. That was also a moment of excitement.
I admitted I was a man of sins and needed to be saved. The pastor said, “If you believe in God, you shall be saved.” But the more I studied the Bible, the more I became confused. I did not know what the Bible said about birth and death and what was the truth of life. There was a fact that fewer and fewer youth came to the church and that pastor said that too.
In the end, I did not join Christianity. The night before the planned baptism, I knelt on my bedroom floor, tears running down my face, and asked myself and God these questions: “Where do I come from? Why have I suffered so much in the past 36 years? Where shall I go after death? ” I could not find the answers. No one was there to provide the solutions. I decided to cancel the rituals for the following day.
Oh! Poor God! My heart had no place for you.