KYD Advent Calendar

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Comment

The stories behind your neighbour’s front door

by Dan Edwards , December 5, 20121 Comment

Photo Credit: Yellow Flowers Free Photos Art & Fun

She looks much like any other elderly Chinese woman in Australian suburbia. Short. Greying hair. Perhaps a little healthier than average, a little more upright than most. But there’s nothing obvious to suggest her story threads back to another time, another country, a world of suffering most of us can barely conceive of.

My friend Li Zhen spent ten years ­­­– her entire 20s – in a Chinese labour camp. She was a newly minted high school graduate dreaming of university when local security personnel escorted her out of her family home at rifle point, away from her mother and four brothers, and into a life of internment, labour, and abasement before Mao’s totalitarian political culture.

Her crime? Dreaming of a life free from the draconian controls of the party. Foolishly, she had shared her half-baked, adolescent dreams with a group of friends, one of whom was a police informer. She was inspired by emotion rather coherent political belief. Her dad had spent most of the 50s locked up because he had been a railway official under the former regime – an experience that had left Li with little love of the new social order.

Although she suffered years of hard labour, humiliation and infantile indoctrination, Li didn’t suffer as much as many. She wasn’t in Jiabiangou in China’s northwest, for example, where an estimated 2,500 of the 3,000 inmates starved to death in 1960-61. Hunger was a constant for Li and her fellow prisoners, but supplies from her family kept her alive and reasonably healthy until her release in 1971. In the 80s she finally realised her dream of attending university by relocating to Australia as a mature-aged international student. She’s been here every since.

These days Li divides her time between suburban Melbourne and rural Victoria, where she has a house and business in a tiny country town. When I asked if she likes spending time in such a small place, she replies without hesitation, ‘After ten years in a labour camp, anywhere seems like heaven.’

Li is a kind, generous woman, but the experiences of her youth are never far from the surface. When she talks about the on-going situation in China her voice becomes louder and a palpable anger smoulders beneath her words. Beneath the anger lies lingering fear. Recalling her early years in Melbourne, she says she avoided virtually all social contact for fear of the Chinese authorities tracking her down. ‘My fear of the Communist Party was very, very deep,’ she explains. ‘It still is.’

Returning home through the placid streets of suburbia after dinner with Li, I pondered the millions of other terrifying, inspiring and sobering tales that must be lurking behind many front doors. Why are we so deaf to these tales? Sure, we get the odd celebrity bio-pic like Mao’s Last Dancer, but what about the ordinary people who have come to our shores with extraordinary tales and carved new lives as our neighbours, colleagues and fellow citizens?

I think we could do with hearing a few more stories from people we pass on the street every day. Not so that we can wallow in tear-jerking sympathy, or a sense of superior pride that we, in general, lead such comfortable lives. Greater awareness of the tales that make up our community might help us put contemporary Australia in some kind of perspective. Perhaps it would help us appreciate the stable, prosperous nation we live in, where the average person enjoys a level of personal freedom most on the planet would find unimaginable. Maybe it would make us think twice about the vulnerable people arriving on boats we lock up and self-righteously label ‘illegals.’ And maybe, just maybe, it would make us reflect a little more on the relative nature of ‘doing it tough.’

At the very least, a night with someone like Li beats sitting at home listening to the inane prattling of another celebrity chef on the telly.

Dan Edwards is a Melbourne-based freelance writer and journalist whose work has appeared in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, New Matilda, RealTime and The Diplomat. He currently is working on a thesis and book on China’s independent documentary movement at Monash University. www.danedwards.net




  • http://www.iamverybusyandimportant.net Sophie

    I spent a good 4 years or so working as a journalist in regional Queensland. Because these communities were relatively small, it didn’t take long for the six degrees of separation thing to kick in when it came to doing human interest stories. I found out the posh mother of private school kids across the road dropped out of uni to live in an Israeli kibbutz in her 20s, and the old bloke who ran the corner shop was once a touring boxer.

9508984918_5d8a187fc1_z

Marika Sosnowski

Living Side by Side: Multiculturalism at Home and Abroad

It all seems quite idyllic – people of varying nationalities, religions and cultures coexisting peacefully. It could be a blueprint for the perfect multicultural society. However, there’s something beneath the surface that is troubling to the western notion of modern liberalism. Read more »

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

isabelle_cover_grande

Dark Places and Safe Spaces: S.A. Jones’ Isabelle of the Moon and Stars

S.A. Jones’ Isabelle of the Moon and Stars is a powerful and affecting depiction of a young woman struggling with mental illness and emotional turmoil. A book like Isabelle might well be described as the underdog of Australian publishing: a character-focused literary novel published by a small press … Read more »

w527705

Carody Culver

Taking Christmas off the shelf

Ah, Christmas – for some, a time of gift-giving, awkward family gatherings and over-zealous consumption of rum balls; for booksellers, a time to weep silent tears of stress and experience the irrational but persistent fear of being buried alive beneath boxes of the latest Stephen Fry memoir. Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas

Julia Tulloh

A SuperFestive Christmas playlist

I know what you’re thinking: lists like this became redundant in 1992, when Jon Bon Jovi rubbed shoulders with Cindy Crawford beneath a Christmas tree for the first and last time. Does the ideal of Christmas music get any better? Perhaps not, but many have tried. Here are a few other Christmassy pop goodies. Read more »

Kim_cover_web_

Julia Tulloh

Kim Kardashian, butts, and the internet

We’re used to seeing her butt, and we’re also used to Kim doing crazy publicity stunts. Her entire life is a publicity stunt in itself, both the means and end of a crazy, money-making, power-acquiring trajectory. Her very fame is built on the playful and shameless self-exposure captured in the Paper shoot. Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Poster-Bale-and-Edgerton-691x1024

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Problems with God: Exodus: Gods & Kings

This is the thing about retellings of old and beloved foundation stories: it’s impossible to come to them fresh, without trying to compare and contrast with previous versions for veracity and style. It’s usually the modern incarnation that comes up short. Read more »

Screen-Shot-2014-10-01-at-11.22.21-AM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Can too many parts destroy an adaptation? The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

It’s a relief to feel the weight of fidelity lift off an adaptation film, as Mockingjay: Part 1 becomes a meta-exploration of fame, franchise and future. Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

3991099211_8397c745fe_b

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Taking up space: The legitimisation of creepshotting

There is a relationship between catcalling and creepshotting. Both are practices that involve the reduction of strangers to objects to be gawked at and commented on, which is what makes the ‘Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train’ Tumblr blog interesting and complex. Read more »

IMG_0086

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Pictures of pictures: Monument Valley and the rise of the in-game photographer

Presenting screencapturing a game as a form of camera-free ‘photography’ gives rise to a conceptual issue. If the ‘photographer’ is moving through, and capturing, a world created entirely by others, then who exactly should take the credit for any images created? Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

2447663467_2d543e6c87_o

Danielle Binks

Young Adult literature: genre is not readership

YA is not a genre – it is a readership. It may seem like pedantic nitpicking to focus on this distinction, but so pervasive is the mistake, amongst even established literary channels, that explaining the difference has become increasingly important and indeed necessary. Read more »

00page

Danielle Binks

Disability or superpower? Deaf identity in YA

‘We actually need more stories about deaf and hard of hearing characters and for their experiences to be shared in stories. Often, young readers believe they are ‘alone’ in their deafness and do not realise that there are many others like them.’ Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas

Julia Tulloh

A SuperFestive Christmas playlist

I know what you’re thinking: lists like this became redundant in 1992, when Jon Bon Jovi rubbed shoulders with Cindy Crawford beneath a Christmas tree for the first and last time. Does the ideal of Christmas music get any better? Perhaps not, but many have tried. Here are a few other Christmassy pop goodies. Read more »

drake-cover-650

Justin Wolfers

Drake’s climate change epiphany

Or: ‘Heat of the Moment’ as an epiphany in which Drake realises the urgency and importance of acting on climate change Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

??????????????????????

Stephanie Van Schilt

Lady Bosses on the Box

An increasing number of female-driven comedies, dramas or melodramas are popping up on our screens. Through the filters of fiction, the worlds these heroines inhabit directly reflect our own. This is the age of the lady boss. Read more »

105768385_5672eae965_z

Stephanie Van Schilt

Bananas without pyjamas? Budgets cuts and the next generation of ABC kids

From my humble beginnings watching kids’ programming, I learnt that ‘Your ABC’ was indeed, our ABC. The protests and public outcry which followed this week’s announcement of cuts to the ABC demonstrate its crucial role in fostering a sense of community for Australians. Read more »