Chinese community leader Ting Ting Shen who was the president of the Chinese Association in Point Cook until last year, describes her experiences of being a Chinese migrant in Australia. She also speaks about her life in China and about the challenges that she faced in her new and adopted country. She has some advice for those who are here and those who are looking to move here as well.
Tell us when and where did you migrate from?
I migrated on August 2012 from Shanghai. Everything in China was wonderful and filled with happiness, but I decided to come here to live.
Why did you decide to leave China?
I came because my son was studying here. He was doing his Masters in Finance at Macquarie University. During this time he was studying very hard. But also my mum Que Yue Shan, who has been living here for 15 years, and my sister pushed me to come.
When you first arrived, what challenging experiences did you face?
The language is the biggest problem for me. For instance, I needed to be able to afford my bills but I didn’t understand anything! I just used to go to the bank and put all my money there…but one day, someone came to me and asked me: Why you didn´t pay this? And I just said: ‘I didn’t see this bill before, I don´t know’. So, I paid double charge. It was a funny thing. However, I am slowly overcoming my English language barrier! I study every morning with friends and I aim to do my best to speak it fluently.
What other success have you had in your Australian life?
As the President of the Chinese Association in Point Cook, I was able to help my community. We have more than 2000 families in Point Cook who really need to know more about Australian culture, and about the requirements to live and settle in Australia. We offer them relief by helping out with some complicated issues such as dealing with the police, paying bills etc. But the most importantly, we give them a friendly welcome! Wyndham Council is very supportive with this suburb which is growing very fast, so it is easy to provide new residents with solutions in different matters. We meet once a week — every Tuesday 10 to 12 am at the Point Cook Community Centre.
Are there any traditions or cultural practices from your native country that you still follow?
We have in Shanghai and China a lot of festivals around the year. For instance we celebrate the Spring Festival with the Chinese Association. The Tomb-sweeping day is a day when we remember the people who have passed away. One very nice festival is the Chinese Valentine’s Day which falls on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month in the Chinese calendar. The ancient celebration of true love dates back centuries when Zhinu (Weaving Girl) fell in love with a young farmer, Niulang. Even though the law strictly forbids relationships between mortals and immortals, the rebellious young couple fall in love and marry. Upon the discovery of their relationship, Zhinu chose to return to heaven, and never saw Niulang again.
But the boy refuses to give up hope and he flies to Zhinu’s side with the help of a magic ox only to have the Lady Queen Mother step in once again. She uses a hairpin to draw the Milky Way across the sky to separate the couple forever. So, they remain separated for 364 days of the year – except for that Day – when the Queen takes pity on them by sending a flock of magpies. According to legend, on Chinese Valentine´s Day magpies can scarcely be seen, since they are spreading their wings to form the bridge in the heavens to reunite the couple once again. Since then, the people used to go out to watch the moon waiting for love (laughs).
Another very famous festival is the Mid-Autumn Festival (this year 19Th September). This major holiday is celebrated not only in China but all across Asia. It is a time of celebration and family reunions. It is a moment when I look at the moon and think about the families living there. Our famous poet (Mandarin) Li Po says: “The autum air is clear, the autumn moon is bright. Fallen leaves gather and scatter, the jackdaw perches and starts anew. We think of each other- when will we meet? This hour, this night, my feelings are hard.”
Thinking about your migrant experience, what are some of the interesting differences that you have noticed about Australia and your native country?
The weather is the biggest difference for me. Not too cold, not too hot. Our winter and our summer are very long. I like the beautiful Australian environment! In my country, the pollution level is high due to many industries and we can´t enjoy this blue sky with white clouds or the stars at night.
Has living in Australia changed how you see your own identity? Do you feel that you belong equally to two countries?
No. Australia doesn´t change my identity, I feel very Chinese. I´ve lived there for 60 years. I belong to China. I´ve got a lot of people — friends and relatives. I love my country with his ancient history. I am proud of those older buildings because they mark one moment in the history. On the other hand, this young country brings me the idea of change, modernism and youthfulness. Both countries have so much to offer!
Since living in Australia, what have been some of your most positive experiences?
To meet its people. When I do shopping, I just relax. The people are educated and friendly. Everyone is willing to help you anytime. I am glad to have had the chance to come to Australia. I enjoy doing gardening, learning and living in this society with a wide range of people of other cultures. I like how the people can become more understanding of differences and create new ways to be more solidarity with everyone.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
I see myself here, but I wish to be able to come back to Shanghai every year to visit my land, family and friends!
What tips or advice would you give to Chinese migrants who come to Australia?
The big one: please study English very hard before you come! And once you are here, never be isolated. Just go out, talk with Chinese people who have come before you. Meet people and be open to making new friends!
Translated with the help of LING XU