Mei Walker - Interview transcription
Date Recorded: March 2015
Place: Lake Macquarie
Mei: Hi. I'm Mei Walker. I was born in China. I moved to here nearly 27yrs Australia.
Interviewer: Welcome Mei. Could you please tell me a little bit about what your childhood was like?
Mei: My childhood time I was living in my hometown, which is lake, close to the Lake in [Han Chou], three hours drive from Shanghai. It was good, it was a lot of fun, because my town has a lot of water, I really love it, and ducks, gardens, small bridges, so I really love it, with the friends and family.
Interviewer: How different was your childhood when you were young to your daughter's childhood in Australia?
Mei: For my memory is, firstly to the study, it's totally different because in China they are very serious for the kids study, it's the long hours, it's a lot of homework, not a lot of freedom time for their play. So here my daughter, I thought in kindergarten and primary school, seems like every day is play. Not much homework, that's totally different. And the other one I thought, because in China my hometown has a garden and we went to the garden for play. A lot of different small things. But in the bigger cities there's not lots of gardens, parks and things, so they're mostly at home.
Interviewer: The big difference amount of study and education.
Interviewer: Did you study before immigrating to Australia?
Mei: Yes I was, but the China Revolution at that time, I stopped my High School then, our age it was University so after the Revolution we got a good job already. We want to go to the university we just went to the night school, so I get a certificate from accountant, and finished university at night.
Interviewer: When you talk about the Revolution was that the Cultural Revolution.
Mei: Yes .... I think so.
Interviewer: Can you talk a little about your reasons for leaving China?
Mei: Firstly, not much reason because my ex-husband, he is Chinese. He came to Australia for the working visa because the boss of the Southern Cross Hotel in Sydney, Goulburn Street he is a single person, he bought this hotel. He cannot look after the every day so he invite my ex-husband to come here, so I'm with my ex-husband, bring to here. So this is the reason I came here, but I really love it here.
Interviewer: So it was a good decision?
Mei: Yes, I made a very right, good decision.
Interviewer: Can you tell me a little bit about what the conditions were like in China when you left? Was there high employment, was housing easy to find, easy to find a job?
Mei: The job at that time, was OK, when I was in China. It was OK because it's a little bit different to here, no for free you just go looking for a job. Mostly it was the government, they would introduce you to the job. My sister was 2yrs older than me, then she was mostly needed going to the countryside. This is the Revolution, China policy, They have to go to farms far away in Northern area to the farms to do the farmer's job. Because she went too, I can live in the city, this is the policy.
Interviewer: So only one child had to be sent to farm?
Mei: No, in this age, time, all the child you had, to be sent, so whatever you had, two or three. I had two sisters which were sent to Northern area [Halong Chow] this was very, very north, to the farms to do the farm job. After the years, then they followed the government policy and came back to the home town.
Interviewer: Then after a couple of years spent farming they came back to their hometown?
Mei: Oh! 10 years, more, 15 years, something like that. A lot of people married in there, with the local people. Lots of people divorced, big city people went to the farm and married with the farmers. They are totally different lifestyle or education or something. So then after that, firstly the policy, they came back, came back to home city but you cannot bring the husband or wife, that's why marriages damaged but after that they can bring the partners.
Interviewer: So that was a difficult time?
Mei: Yes, very, very difficult.
Interviewer: Did anybody come with you to Australia when you migrated?
Mei: No. I just followed my ex-husband, then we had my daughter. No other people. My mum and father came here in '92. They finished their business. They owned a jade, a jewelry shop in Hong Kong and ------ in China, but they finished that, closed that and came to here. They applied to immigration. My father got 5 years permanent resident visa, and lived with me. We've got a garden. My father really loves the flower garden. But my mum… the women like to go out. Talk. Friends. Party. That's why my mum said “Oh, too boring here”. She doesn't like it here. Then she said “I want to go back” So they went back ten years later. The visas [had] expired.
Interviewer: So they both remained in China.
Mei: Yes. My father passed way 10 years before.
Interviewer: Can you tell me what you enjoy most about living in Lake Macquarie?
Mei: Yes. So lot different to way I was living in Sydney. And I like it here because there is so lot of water. When you drive out, wow, it is easy to find water. And the other thing that is totally different my life is we have got a 1,500 metre square house. The house. The garden is bigger than the house. My husband now, he loves garden. It seems like seeing the kids grow up, he says. We've got 20 or more vegies, and fruits ______ and all sent to friends to share.
Interviewer: So you love the garden.
Mei: I love the garden. The garden actually hard to say I'm embarrassed. I am really scared of caterpillar and the snails. That's why I not really like it so….
Interviewer: You enjoy what you grow.
Mei: That's right. I enjoy eating it. I enjoy the pick-up.
Interviewer: Can you tell me a bit about what you miss most about China, your home country?
Mei: Of course I miss my friends and family, even I go back to three, two times a year visit my mum. She living in Shanghai now. Still a lot I miss. I make a phone call every second day to call her. And, all the friends, of course I make friends here but this is totally different to when I grew with the friends [I grew with.]
Interviewer: Can you tell me is there a Chinese social life you're involved in in Lake Macquarie? Do you have Groups where you participate in traditional cultural activities in Lake Macquarie?
Mei: Yes, I'm the president of the Australian Chinese Friendship Association but we used to be in Sydney. But when I moved to here, just last year we set up the branch here. So this year, Chinese New Year we held first Chinese New Year events in Speers Point Park, the Chinese New Years day. It was fun, the people liked it. We organised a Lion dance, teaching them how to make the Chinese dumplings. We got a Tibetan dance, to show the people. We had the Chi Gong teaching for free. Yes it was happy, the people hope so we can do it next year.
Interviewer: Are there any other special days, special Chinese days that you celebrate in Australia?
Mei: After New Year we've got the Hmong festival which is big too. Hmong festival in China, every family's peoples come back together and have meal, it seems like the Chinese New Year. Most farmers people work out all year but in New Year they definitely come back to the home town. That's why Chinese New Year need a one month holiday and the Hmong festival has got a one week holiday, something like that. People all stick together.
Interviewer: So that's a time for families to spend together.
Mei: Yes, that's a very special day.
Interviewer: Can you tell me a little bit about the differences between the food you grew up eating and the food that you're eating now? Has that changed?
Mei: Food totally changed. Even Chinese food here taste is a little bit transferred to the Aussie taste, this is what I'm missing too. When I'm back in China, one shop I like to try the Chinese taste, it's food I'm missing. When I was in Sydney, it was very good, because close to China Town. I can buy a lot of Chinese food, but now in here, not really, all small shops, lots of product is missing. So when I moved to here, the first year I went back to Sydney maybe once a week to buy the food and meet my friends.
Interviewer: So hopefully that will change over time.
Mei: I hope so…. but I like western food too.
Interviewer: Can you tell me a little bit about your expectations, your hopes and wishes for your family when you moved to Australia?
Mei: Wishes, my family?
Interviewer: Yes, what were you hoping, moving to Australia would bring to you and your family?
Mei: Yes of course. In Chinese mind, they are happy to have family together. I wish to bring my mother and father too but different style. They not really like, they are aged, they cannot drive, cannot speak, difficult life for them. So I just give up. I wish for my daughter, she is very well, living in Sydney, very ABC Aussie.
Interviewer: To finish off can you just talk to me a little bit about where you would go on holidays in China and were your holidays different to a holiday you would take in Australia?
Mei: Yes, I think it's totally different, especially I'm living in Lake Macquarie, more different. It's because in Lake Macquarie, so many years I'm here we really enjoy local traveling. We used to drive out a lot of the way sometimes, we would drive the caravan to the caravan place two or three days, nights, something like that. But in China mostly travel they all flew to some city, then stay in hotel, not so natural. I more like the nature, village, countryside, small town. I like the village. maybe I'm born in a village. That's why lake Macquarie is so much suitable for me, more than Sydney, that's true.
Interviewer: That's good to hear. Can you talk a little about what you brought with you, the significance of what they mean to you.
Mei: Oh yes! This picture, which is, it's my home town, you see the small village and a small bridge and this is the lake. That's why I love it, this water when I grew up with water, so I'm very happy in Lake Macquarie. This is my elder sister, she's living in London now. Now is me 7 years before. I take this picture back in the town.
Interviewer: So it was quite a small village?
Mei: Yes, but very rich actually. long, long time when I was small in the Revolution we got seasons no food. The government need to give you tickets, you buy rice, you buy sugar, everything need tickets, government control and give to you tickets. But in my hometown we were rich. We got fish, prawns, all of the seafood in the lake, it's very rich, very good. That's why my skin's good … I'm joking. Another one I show people, to share this happiness.
Interviewer: Can you tell me about that photo?
Mei: That photo is our family. This one first, on left, it's me. Second one it's my elder sister, she's living in London now. Middle one it's my older sister she lived in Japan but died 20 years before, because of kidney problems.Next to this one is my half-sister, my father's daughter, not living with us and this is my young sister she is living in Japan. So this is our family but no boys. She is six years older than us. The others have two years difference. I joke with my father, say that maybe you are waiting for the boy.
Interviewer: So you are from a family of immigrants then?
Interviewer: Thank you very much Mei
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