My no-comment comment — and identity

Note: I have rendered the name of the commenter on the now deleted comment thread anonymous.

Poor Jim Belshaw probably doesn’t quite know what hit him.

After a quiet run of blog entries attracting few if any comments (same here — I think blogging in general is down in this area, almost certainly because social media attract more attention) his (I think) excellent post China’s apparently expanding Great Wall against Australia has now reached 24 comments. Mind you, they are all Marcellous, X—-, myself or Jim. They do tend to wander off Jim’s main points — and I am as guilty as any on that. Marcellous (who I thought had been disrespectfully treated by X—-) returned with some detailed amplification, X—- held out an olive branch to me (which I accepted) and then responded to Marcellous’s latest.

Which was kind of interesting. Marcellous had said: “Are you saying today’s Chinese in Australia just need to toughen up?” X—- replied:

marcellous, I wouldn’t simply dismiss their concerns with a throwaway such as “they just need to toughen up” – but it is close to truth that successive waves of mostly successful immigrants have at first been looked down upon as a group, then gradually respected for who they are as individuals, while discarding the basically monolithic identity they arrived with.

From the Jewish and other middle Europeans before and during WW2, through the 10 pound poms, and Italians, and Greeks, Vietnamese, etc. they’ve each and all had to “fit in”, rather than maintain a separation of group identity. “Today’s Chinese” are no different.

“They’re A Weird Mob” is one of the best commentaries upon 50s Australia ever written, and that’s now old history, but its lesson is still relevant imo.

“toughen up” is not the right term, but the attitude, individually, would help.

To be fair, X—- hedges what he says there. But he is expressing a view I have often heard. I replied with a no-comment comment, and some incidental bitching about Blogger. Since I am not on Blogger now, I have done some corrections and a slight edit.

For consideration, not in any way to be taken as dogma. Glad to see Marcellous amplifying his remarks. I can tell you that my … friend Michael Xu from Shanghai, who also has warm regard for the Taiwanese — indeed finding their version of Chinese culture in some respects superior to the Mainland — and yes, he has spent time in Taiwan not long ago — reacts to the more (shall we say?) Fierravanti-Wells/Abetz characterisations of China with greater rather than less desire to stick up for what the motherland has accomplished, to be more rather than less China-patriotic in reaction to what he sees as ignorance, hypocrisy or even racism. I can well understand his position and am sure it is not uncommon among Chinese-born Australians. As he puts it, Australia is my father and China is my mother.

That is a rather more profound expression of the way people really feel than sentimental memories of “They’re a Weird Mob” which is both outdated and actually quite patronising and embarrassing now. Actually, it was both of those even at the time.

(A side matter for a second: the comment thingie on Blogger is also outdated and sucks — you cannot for example add a video, which I want to do, nor can you revise a comment once sent. It is still as crappy as when I gave up Blogger over ten years ago.)

Now back to my next point. There is a brilliant 12-year-old Chinese Australian violinist called Christian Li.The only way I can show you how good he is is to refer you at the end to one of my posts — but he understands what being Chinese in Australia really means in 2020, not 1950. If you go to my post at the end — and it is pure enjoyment, not politics — you must watch “Fisherman’s Harvest Song.” It is lovely. He says of it “I chose this piece because it connects me to my Chinese heritage through music. The beautiful melody in the opening expresses the fisherman’s strong emotion as he returns to his village after being at sea. I love being able to express this heartfelt song through the singing quality of the violin.”

I would also strongly recommend searching out anything by French writer Amin Maalouf. “On Identity” is a key book. Search because crap Blogger does not really allow for hypertext.

I also very strongly recommend that you do not reply to this post, X— — and I say that respectfully. I am not setting up arguments here, just doing what I would hope to do if we were face to face: show you some things and leave you to take or leave them. I am definitely not being contentious, but rather speaking of what I know.

Here you will find Christian Li. Simply enjoy it. Do not bother arguing with it or me. This is a very different kind of comment. I do not look for a response. What you make of it is up to you.

And of course I want you to enjoy Christian Li again.

On Facebook I did a version of the no-comment comment.

Given all the argy-bargy about China-Australian relations, and the neo-McCarthyism of such as Fierravanti-Wells and Abetz, this then 12 year old (now 13) says something quite profound about identity — which that pair of migrant-sourced senators really should understand but apparently do not: “I chose this piece because it connects me to my Chinese heritage through music. The beautiful melody in the opening expresses the fisherman’s strong emotion as he returns to his village after being at sea. I love being able to express this heartfelt song through the singing quality of the violin.”

Or as my friend Michael Xu has said: “Australia is my father; China is my mother.”

Or as Amin Maalouf wrote: “To those who ask, I explain with patience that I was born in Lebanon, lived there until the age of 27, that Arabic is my first language and I discovered Dickens, Dumas and “Gulliver’s Travels” in the Arabic translation, and I felt happy for the first time as a child in my village in the mountains, the village of my ancestors where I heard some of the stories that would help me later write my novels. How could I forget all of this? How could I untie myself from it? But on another side, I have lived on the French soil for 22 years, I drink its water and wine, my hands caress its old stones everyday, I write my books in French and France could never again be a foreign country.

“Half French and half Lebanese, then? Not at all! The identity cannot be compartmentalized; it cannot be split in halves or thirds, nor have any clearly defined set of boundaries. I do not have several identities, I only have one, made of all the elements that have shaped its unique proportions….”

First, let me say that They’re a Weird Mob is bloody funny, and still is. I am not pulling a “cancel culture” trick on it. I am generally speaking opposed to cancel culture. But both the book and the movie are dated, and certainly do not address the complexity of the reality of cultural and personal identity. While it on the one hand did much to address prejudice — the book especially — against what at the time were often called “wogs” or “reffos”, its message basically was the official policy of the time — assimilation, which unfortunately tended to involve the elimination of the culture, customs and language of the home country in favour of those of the new.

This policy was basically unrealistic and sometimes destructive. In the 1970s we heard of “multiculturalism”, a term much misunderstood and mistaken for encouragement of ghettos. In reality it is a policy of enrichment, of integration into Australian society but also of recognition that this works both ways — that what we know as “Australia” grows with the addition of other ways of life and thought.

Love it still! Very nostalgic, and some great actors there….

Consider this meditation on the subject, published in 2008:

Every family has a claim to fame and ours is this: we’re related to Nino Culotta. That counted for a lot as a child of the ’70s and surpassed all other family feats, past and present, including a grandfather with a dozen published books and a great-grandfather (his father) who became a barrister in his 50s after being forced off the land due to drought with eight children and a piano.

It’s 50 years since Nino Culotta published his rollicking bestseller They’re A Weird Mob, about arriving from Italy on a ship and finding work as a brickies’ labourer in Punchbowl, where he struggled to comprehend and eventually master the Aussie vernacular and ingratiate himself by bellowing, in a near perfect Aussie accent, “Howyergoinmateorright?”

But what I have never understood is how he got away with it. How did John O’Grady write a book pretending to be Nino Culotta when he was actually someone else entirely and still be warmly embraced, revered even, by the nation? Helen Darville was hammered 35 years later for wearing peasant blouses and feigning Ukrainian ancestry for her award-winning novel. James Frey was rebuked on Oprah for fabricating large parts of his memoir. And Norma Khouri was pilloried for not being a Jordanian woman who had witnessed honour killings, as she claimed in Forbidden Love.

And this: Frank Bongiorno, Island stories –Negotiating identity between different Italies.

Many of my own generation of Australian-­born Aeolian Australians became quite detached from the cultures of their parents and grandparents, even as they also experienced fragments of these cultures in their daily lives – through food, snatches of the Aeolian dialect and barely articulated habits of mind – such as the instinctive turn to extended family when you needed or wanted something, and the desire to touch government only with a very long pair of tongs. Some, like me, entering their twenties, donned backpacks and used the financial rewards of professional jobs of which their grandparents would not have dared dream to visit their ancestral homelands. Now, as we get older, we travel there in more comfort. Relatives on my father’s side of the family assemble on Salina every few years for a family reunion.

Their Australian story has been the familiar one of migrant success, as celebrated in From Volcanoes We Sailed: Connecting Aeolian Generations, an exhibition at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum in 2016. Curated by my cousin, Cristina Neri, the Aeolian-­Australian experience was seen to be embodied in business and professional success, cultural continuity and a thriving family life. There was a great deal of nostalgia about food and families, and a sense that modernity and the passing of the migrant generation threaten both. When Russo wrote about the Melbourne Aeolian Club in 1986, she thought its future ‘precarious’, since the migrant generations were getting old, the community was well integrated and the young seemed little interested in maintaining these connections.

They’re A Weird Mob is one of the best commentaries upon 50s Australia ever written, and that’s now old history, but its lesson is still relevant imo.” Yes it is still bloody funny! But no, it is not at all adequate if you are trying to understand how identity works in 21st century Australia. Michael Xu is much more informative when he says “Australia is my father; China is my mother.”

msplace 021

This August 2019 post visits some of the same issues, and also shows how different in many ways 2020 has become — thanks to COVID-19.

The post covers much more that is relevant to China policy than the following personal story — but that story encapsulates how so many Chinese people must see their country’s progress and how they most likely feel about it. It also has the advantage of being relatable and easy to understand.

What M knows from personal experience — and he was last in China just this year — is that the lives of his family in Shanghai and of the people around are immeasurably better than they were, materially and also spiritually, in that however much the government tries to control them travel and access to foreign ideas, including democratic ones, are far more possible now than they were at any time in M’s first 25 years. He can remember the final phase of the Cultural Revolution, and famine (in part man-made of course) when there was nothing to eat but cabbage. As a child M recalls enviously watching his neighbours eat.

Music and natural beauty

I find Andre Rieu, the darling of many a person of my age, more than a touch saccharine. However, I am about to post TWO from his oeuvre! And the first is also Chinese! It is 經典名曲恩里克·托賽里《夜鶯小夜曲》- 安德烈·瑞歐樂團演奏 believe it or not! That is, Enrique Tosselli “Nightingale Serenade” performed by the André Rieu Orchestra.

The second Andre Rieu offering is the unofficial national anthem of New Zealand, with some lovely pics backing it.

Back to China, and the amazing Yellow Mountain, 黄山 Mt Huangshan — an area well known to my friend Michael Xu.  When I first saw paintings like this I thought that can’t be real — but wait until you play the video. It will be the most beautiful thing you see today, even given the beauty of the other two videos.

800px-Shitao02

Blogging the 2010s — 87 — September 2013

My 14th September as a blogger, and my third in Wollongong!

West Wollongong–the birds again

It continues rather damp. See Flooding closes roads at Gerringong, Albion Park Rail. Here in West Wollongong the coral tree is obviously at its tastiest, as this morning’s view from my window shows.P9170198

P9170200

P9170203

Cockatoo and rainbow lorikeets.

Amazing engineering feats, China, M, and West Wollongong parakeets

Last week I mentioned M being in Shanghai and the first episode of the BBC 3-parter Supersized Earth. That eating out in Shanghai these days may not involve chop sticks may be seen in this photo that just arrived by email:梅青

Last night’s Supersized Earth (Part 2) again was a forcible reminder of how different things are in the second decade of the 21st century, a fact not many of us of a certain age have really caught up with, I suspect. Among the many items shown was the amazing expansion of infrastructure in China in the years since M (pictured above in Shanghai last week) left in late 1989. We hear these things but they don’t entirely register, do they? Take bridges.

supersized earth 6

chinabridge

I did note why China features so much though: Supersized Earth is a BBC/CCTV9 coproduction.

And I promised parakeets – well rainbow lorikeets in fact, here in West Wollongong yesterday. These are into the late afternoon sun, so not easy photographically, through my window and a fly screen.

P9220208

P9220209

Blogging the 2010s — 76 — August 2012

What is it about nostalgia?

I think it really is about our own mortality.

PIANO

By D.H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

1918

I am intrigued by phenomena like these two Facebook pages, both of them very active and very popular.

575978_10150837359869813_158061096_n

376677_10151359344175550_595701521_n

nos·tal·gia: noun

1. a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days.

2. something that elicits or displays nostalgia.

1770, “severe homesickness” (considered as a disease), Mod.L.(cf. Fr. nostalgie, 1802), coined 1668 by Johannes Hofer as a rendering of Ger. heimweh, from Gk. nostos “homecoming” + algos “pain, grief, distress” …

And yes, I do indulge and am a regular on both Facebook pages. However, while in both cases many items of genuine human or historical interest emerge, I have reservations about nostalgia. The word history and definition above captures these rather well. We need to ask why we indulge, and whether we therefore do tend rather to be unappreciative of the present. Come to think of it, being nostalgic ON FACEBOOK is really delightfully ironic…

472758_10150856097593506_1493480587_o

A truly lost Sydney. This was recently posted on the Lost Sydney page. very few of the buildings seen in that photo survive.

But then, neither does this:

Happy1

And while much that is heart-warming, funny or fascinating surfaces on Lost Gay Sydney, so does much that was truly tragic and not worth the bother thirty years ago, let alone in resurrected form. Funny world, isn’t  it?

Yesterday I became quite nostalgic – some of it I think for good reason – about the cows of yesteryear as I trained through Albion Park and Dunmore/Shellharbour. But the past really is another country.

P8130597

remnant of a dairy farm

P8130596

Shellharbour urban sprawl

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)–wonderful

Caught up with this at last, thanks to Wollongong Library.

maoslast1

maoslast2

Review by David Stratton

As readers of Li Cunxin’s very popular book will know, MAO’S LAST DANCER is the inspirational story of a boy born in poverty in a village in China’s Shandong province who grows up to become an internationally famous ballet star before defecting to the West.
Flashbacks show Li at the age of 11 in 1972 living with his family and parents (Joan Chen and Wang Shuangbao). Talent scouts select him to be trained to dance in the Beijing Dance Academy, where he experiences the impact of the Cultural Revolution.
Later he takes part in an exchange programme to dance with the Houston Ballet company, where he falls for Elizabeth, AMANDA SCHULL – when he’s ordered back to China and refuses to go, there’s an international incident.
Li is played at different stages of his life by three actors, eventually by CHI CAO, and his story, as scripted by Jan Sardi and directed by Bruce Beresford, is unquestionably an enthralling one. It’s a pity that the clichés inherent in the material haven’t been completely eliminated. Basically, it’s a typical rags to riches story, with some captivating dance sequences, and some rather obvious suspense, thrown in.
Performances are generally good, but Bruce Greenwood, as Houston’s artistic director, rather overplays his part. Poor Elizabeth is given short shrift given that she’s the reason for Li’s defection.
These quibbles aside, there’s a lot to enjoy in the film; it’s very efficiently made, and though never totally inspiring, it’s eminently watchable.

Margaret “cried buckets” – and so did I.  My experience over 20+ years with M and those I knew through him, as well as many of my own adult and school-age students from 1990 onwards, convince me of the authenticity of this movie. The ballet scenes, by the way, were choreographed by Graeme Murphy.

The latest on Li Cunxin:

August 1st 2012

Li has been appointed the new Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet (QB). Li is the 5th Artistic Director in Queensland Ballet’s 52-year history. QB is one of only three ballet companies in Australia.

Queensland Ballet Chair, Adjunct Professor Joan Sheldon AM, said, “We are absolutely delighted to welcome Li on behalf of the Company, its friends and supporters. This is an exciting new direction for our Company, our audiences, and Queensland.

“Li’s passion for dance and devotion to artistic excellence and quality complements our vision as a leading classical ballet company with a distinctive spirit and vitality that is proudly reflective of Queensland and Australia. Li’s extraordinary career, international reputation, networks and commercial experience will provide the Company with invaluable opportunities to build upon the achievements of our 52 year history. The Company can only benefit with Li leading us into the next chapter of our journey of renewal, growth and pursuit of creative excellence.”…

 

It’s Book Week, apparently…

At least it is here in Oz. Book Week is a product of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, but I have decided to use it as a pretext for a post even if my choices may not exactly be junior reading.

In fact I read a great deal. After all, what else is a septuagenarian to do, eh? But I rarely bother to review or even list what I am up to, unlike some years past when books tended to be a bit of a mainstay on my blog. I’ve decided my reading is essentially my business, for my pleasure or edification even. Much of it too is of e-books, particularly free ones — I am after all a pensioner. But there is also Wollongong Library, and it is, I have to say, excellent.

My current batch includes this:

liulightning

Yes, Chinese. Very topical lately. Very impressive, given 1) I rarely read science fiction and 2) this is apparently not his best novel. He has impressed quite a few though:

Both Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg have curated or shared lists of their favorite reads. That such lists usually serve some PR or political strategy is boringly obvious: an elite is never not political….

There is however, a work of fiction that they both have on their lists . It’s a much-feted epic science fiction trilogy from the Chinese writer Cixin Liu….

Fascinating right now to have a Chinese novel that includes among much else these scenarios:

Still, there are incredible moments in the novel, like Chen and Yun’s trip to a derelict Soviet research facility or the hints of Chinese anxieties about conflict with the US (the last portion of the novel is about a war with an unnamed “enemy,” though their vessels all bear the names of well-known ships in the US navy). Liu’s fourth novel in English demonstrates that Chinese science fiction, the world’s largest such market, is an important archive for scholars and readers alike. Let Ball Lightning be the fifth column of a Chinese science-fiction invasion.

In Paris Review a translator, Amanda DeMarco, is quite critical about Ball Lightning.

We’re here for one thing and one thing only: Liu’s ideas. (Actually, the misogyny matters. I can’t enjoy Liu’s work fully because of it, but that’s another essay.) His books are propelled by the fascination of scientific discovery, in which the mysteries of existence unfold around the reader. In Liu’s hands, everyday reality reveals itself to be composed of marvels, and the results are nothing less than mind-blowing. For example, as one character explains in Ball Lightning: “In the briefest period after the Big Bang, all of space was flat. Later, as energy levels subsided, wrinkles appeared in space, which gave birth to all of the fundamental particles. What’s been so mystifying for us is why the wrinkles should only appear at the microscopic level. Are there really no macroscopic wrinkles? Or, in other words, are there no macroscopic fundamental particles?” From this single intriguing question, Liu extrapolates a series of ramifications that ripple through human existence, from defense and politics to the nature of the soul and the afterlife. Liu’s visions of the future are so vivid and near at hand because he presents them as extensions of reality around us. Another dimension is available to us within the world we know, accessible through human ingenuity; just because something is invisible to us now doesn’t mean it won’t soon materialize. To join Liu in this perspective is to recognize the most fantastic aspects of our reality.

This immanence and imminence of possibility felt true to the fabric of my experience of China, the not quite benign magic of the unexpected. The only predictable aspect was my reaction when enchantment eventually gave way to exhaustion. On our final day in Beijing, I dumped Cixin Liu’s books in a trash bin on our hutong—they were too bulky to carry back, and we didn’t know anyone who would want to read them in English. I feel a bit cowardly admitting it: the future is nice to visit, but I’m not sure I would want to live there.

Hmmm. I didn’t register the misogyny so strongly, rather being taken with the science and imagination, as well as the sense of what felt life in the PRC may well be like. And I do want to read more. Wollongong Library, it appears, can oblige,

Other books in my current swag (all book links to Goodreads) include Sarah Rainsford, Our Woman in Havana: Reporting Castro’s Cuba, Stan Grant, The Tears of Strangers: a Memoir, and Stephen Markley, Ohio: a Novel. All good. The last is a first novel and took me a while to get into, but once I did I found it again gave that sense of felt life in a particular time and place that I value in what I read.  In this case, given Dayton, it was most topical. My old friend Ernie Tucker had been there before me, I notice.  The book, that is, not Dayton.

….the novel is loaded with events and the pace is skilfully controlled and gathers like one of those terrible storms that devastate the mid-West as the shocking secret crimes are revealed and the rain pelts down on all the living and the dead.