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知我者、謂我心憂、不知我者、謂我何求。 – 诗经

Those who knew me ,

Said I care from the heart .

Those who did not know me ,

Said I was seeking for something .

Book of odes

Gathering together to welcome the New Year, my friends and I reflected back on the last twenty years since we had set foot in this country as migrants. While many of them argued in general speaking, for many people that staying in China would have been much worse than life here in New Zealand, I offered a different perspective – one that suggested that it depends on what kind of lifestyle you want to lead. 

From a financial standpoint, there are plenty of opportunities for migrants to make money here in New Zealand. The challenge lies in making connections and diversifying our intellectual sources; We come from vastly dissimilar languages, cultures, and philosophies – pictographs instead of letters, Eastern versus Western etc, and these can often be overlooked or misunderstood by those who live around us, which can lead to loneliness. The intense feelings of loneliness experienced by those accustomed to a certain cultural framework can be likened to the futile attempts of countering dehydration with just water. 

When dehydration sets in, just drinking water will not suffice to bring the body back into balance – essential minerals such as sodium must also be taken in order to restore the balance of fluid and electrolytes within the body. Without adding these minerals, even drinking clean water can have adverse effects on health – potentially becoming poisonous if consumed in large amounts. 

For migrants in unfamiliar surroundings, feelings of loneliness can be just as a physical dehydration. It is not enough to simply be around people for the loneliness to subside, migrants must also find a way to replenish the vital minerals that nourish their minds and souls. 

Reading books and listening to music can certainly bring pleasure to our lives – it releases dopamine which creates a satisfying feeling within us – yet not everyone knows how to find these forms of entertainment in their new home in the new land,  since it often requires understanding our new language and customs before we can truly appreciate its beauty or meaning.

Must we, therefore, sacrifice some parts of our heritage in order to fully integrate into our environment? Are we expected to abandon literature in Chinese or music composed by Chinese artists in favour of Western culture? Or do we need to relearn it all so that we can reach the same intellectual communication level as our Western counterparts?

It has been suggested that a compromise should be achieved between integrating into our environment and holding on to our individual cultural heritages, since either alternative may lead to undesirable consequences. But if you try to do both, you could potentially end up with nothing. There is no easy solution. 

I know many people who have chosen to go back to China due to this very problem of trying to reconcile two different lives – one from their original home and one from their new residence, be it New Zealand, Australia, Canada, or America. It’s not just a problem faced by adults, but also by subsequent generations.

After my own twenty year journey living as a migrant, I’ve come to understand that it isn’t about a better or worse life; it’s about forging an entirely different life from what we previously knew and dedicatedly striving for it despite the effort required.

As I reflect on the past year, I am filled with gratitude for the friends and colleagues from both cultures who have enriched my life with inspiring conversations, books and thought-provoking debates. They have pushed me to challenge my own perspectives and encouraged me to keep learning, growing and evolving. As I step into the new year, I am thankful for their presence in my life and look forward to more enlightening encounters.

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