Preamble: When we migrate to unknown lands, we are blinded by the beauty of fairy tales and mirages! We are naive to dream that there we will surely have the things we miss on earth: security, freedom and happiness. We are bold enough to go through the space between earth and heaven, to enter into a place we always believed to be without demons, pain, nor tears, only to find out that Paradise is a noisy CIRCUS … Despite this grand disappointment, HOPE, whoever retains it, lifts him, or her, from falling…
Paradise Circus *
“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” ― Victor Hugo
– The New Land–
Mei Mei, a petite 13 year-old girl, followed her mother down the stairs of the plane onto the jetway at P.E. Trudeau airport in Montréal, Canada. The deep, plain January winter, with its vast expanse of snow took Mei Mei’s breath away. The little girl from Kunming City in Yunnan Province in the southwest of China, had never seen real snow in her life. Kunming is a special city, with no real winter! Her only memory of winter was the Camellia Japonica , which extends its glamourous petals with various rich, noble colours from January to March. Mei Mei comes from a blessed place, which earns its beautiful name as Spring City!
Daddy had already been in Montréal since October 2003, about 4 months, in order to take care of the basic needs when Mei Mei and her mom arrived. He rented a two-bedroom apartment for $400, and paid $65 per month for utilities. At the current exchange rate, $465 was equal to about 3,100 RMB, which was about the total salary for the couple, his wife making RMB 1,500 as a chief of a technical department of a state-owned company and himself RMB 2,500 as chief of a university research institute in China. With years of accumulated savings, they would be fine for the first four or five years in Montreal, even without having any revenue.
Arriving at their new home in Verdun, slightly South West of Montréal Island, the scene disappointed Mei Mei as she saw the weird style of apartment called double salon, where the master bedroom is open to the sitting room., Their home in China was not as extraordinarily huge as those of some of her classmates,, but there she had her own room, and it was as large as the bedroom and sitting-room here put together! To the Chinese, whose country is new and most buildings were constructed after 1995, the crappy 6-plex at Verdun (not Westmount or Outremont where they can find old houses in excellent condition that are worth millions), built in 1918, made them feel as though they had come to a very “backward” place.
As a young Chinese girl, Mei Mei had no knowledge of the age of the 6-plex, linked with many other plexes. She did not know that they were the real town houses in the immediate suburb, close to the bus stops and subway stations designed and built for lower income Canadians. In China, the meaning of town houses has changed its connotation to trendy styled houses for the upper classes of Chinese society — the New Rich. She also never had any idea of its basement, where she saw the old cast-iron sewage pipes broken and “repaired” with Scotch Tape. Seeing all the shabby, dirty, and nearly falling apart furniture that her dad had picked up on the streets, Mei Mei burst into tears and dashed into the bathroom, only to see a broken toilet paper holder hanging on the wall from one side.
It was not what the couple wanted for their only child, who had always been spoiled by her grandparents and relatives. It was even less desirable for themselves, as they had reached their golden middle age, each having earned their comfortable and relatively well-paid permanent positions in China. They had set their feet onto one of the so-called best countries in the world, dragging their nine pieces of heavy baggage to this never-before-heard-of Quebec, in the Northeast of the American continent! For the mother, it was simply a nightmare. For the father, it seemed like the start of a scary dream in an extremely long night from which he did not know if he could ever wake up!
Mei Mei’s life started anyway, regardless of all the weirdly alienating feelings. She had to learn French, since Quebec is a French-speaking province of Canada. She was among the earliest immigrant groups from Mainland China, who started landing in 2000. By 2003, Chinese from the mainland were still scarce and most Chinese people in the small Chinatown spoke Cantonese. To her surprise, the Chinese Han language was called Mandarin here, the reason for which she had absolutely no idea.
One long year went by. Mei Mei finished her Introductory French Class, with a still-awkward pronunciation and intonation of the French taught by her professeur, who was originally from France. Now in the normal school system, she had to adapt to the French of the Quebecois. She had to learn the “là, là” before starting a sentence, and to finish it with “ben oui, tarbanouche,” Understanding this meant mastering the local language, with which she gained some recognition, respect, and comfortingly, a little confidence!
She began to make friends, even though they were only Chinese. Yet don’t pears grow from the same tree? They spoke the same language, talked about the Chinese cartoons “Ne Zha -哪吒”, “Hu Lu Wa – 葫芦娃”, and were used to the nice piece of finishing music at the end of CCTV big time news at 19:30, heard during each every single night when they lived in China, they told each other how rich their parents were, and how big and nice their flats had been. They all complained to each other about how bad it was in Canada, and how stupid were the Quebecois! They sought some consolation by venting subconsciously, and restoring a tiny bit of their comfort and confidence by connecting to the mentality that had been their unconscious support before they left their own country. Among the “weird” language and “cold-hearted” people, the CCTV ending music became too soothingly pleasant to their souls to enjoy for the first time in their young lives.
Mei Mei was like a little pear tree that was uprooted and replanted in a far away place. When replanting a tree, you need to prepare the pit with fertilizer, and give enough water to make sure its roots quickly take hold of the earth and start absorbing nutrients for survival in the new environment. When Mei Mei’s parents took her to Canada, they did not ask her for her opinion. As Chinese parents always think that their children have no idea about life, it is out of the question to ask for their opinion. Mei Mei came to Canada with no valid preparation, no parental guidance, and no friends at the beginning of the most dangerous adolescent age. The worst of all, she had been misled into thinking that Canada was an easy country with excellent social welfare, free schools, and nice people to blend in with, forgetting, or rather, not being conscious at all that moving to another country with a different mentality and culture would increase the danger for an adolescent girl.
Yes, Quebec is a very kind province where the provincial government provides free Cours de Francisation and subsidized English or vocational courses for new immigrants. But life is not only about one-sided will, neither is it only about food and roof, nor merely about schools to go to; it is more about how we can be happy and content. For immigrants, there is required an extra effort of understanding and melting into the existing system and its earlier arrivals’ mentality. It is especially true when Chinese culture and mentality remain among the most complicated and sophisticated, tangled with feudalism, socialism and the recent 25 years of capitalist influence. Immigration is about rediscovering our soul, blending into other cultures, and winning the battle by establishing a brand-new “mash-up” spirit for ourselves, for the new country, in this new land!
Paradise Circus – from Massive Attack’s 2010 Heligoland album
–The Thunder Storm–
to be continued…