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I was recently invited to lead a calligraphy workshop as part of the Sailing Lanterns exhibition event at the Toi Poneke center, which showcases the work of several young Asian New Zealand artists, including photographs, artwork and videos. Many of these artists are first or second-generation immigrants who have struggled with a loss of identity while growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand. Like their parents, I also chose to move to New Zealand, and I experienced my own cultural identity crisis.

After seven years of migrating and surviving the initial crisis, I began to search for my identity. As my English language improved, I realised that my Chinese language was declining. I often found myself asking questions  such as, “Who am I?” “ Who will I become?” “Where is my home?”  For a long time, I was stressed, wondering whether to go back to Shanghai or stay in New Zealand.

One day, I found my forgotten calligraphy set in a dusty box. As I cleaned off the dust and unpacked the brushes and ink sticks, I felt a sudden surge of comfort and familiarity. I realised that practicing Chinese calligraphy might be the missing piece in my journey searching for identity. Because language is closely connected with cultural roots, the loss of my Chinese language proficiency, which was once at a high level before migrating, has made me feel lost.

My heart feels at ease whenever I pick up a brush and feel a sense of belonging no matter where I am physically. This experience reminds me of a poem written by Su Shi苏轼, from the Song dynasty,  in which a famous phrase says: 此心安處是吾鄉

The phrase “我心安處是吾鄉” can be translated literally as “where my heart is at peace, there is my home”. It encapsulates the idea that one’s home is not necessarily a physical place, but rather a state of mind where one feels at peace and grounded.

For immigrants who are searching for a sense of belonging in a foreign land, the poem offers a message of hope and encouragement. It suggests that by connecting with their cultural roots and finding a sense of inner peace, they can overcome feelings of homesickness and alienation. By embracing their cultural heritage, they can find a way to connect with their new surroundings and appreciate the beauty of their adopted home.

For those who, like me, are seeking a sense of home, I encourage you to watch the video demonstration and practice the phrase: “我心安處是吾鄉”.

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