Search For Xiao Li’s Head: A Chinese Tale of Female Re-Memberment for International Women’s Day

I am writing this editorial on International Women’s Day so appropriately I choose to begin with a story I wrote about female re-memberment a few years ago.

Women and diversityThis magical tale had sprung out of an unconscious need to be whole again. After living in Australia for several decades, I woke up one day and asked myself – who am I?

I wrote The Search for Xiao Li’s Head: A Magical Tale of Female Re-memberment  to remind myself that as a Chinese woman, born in British Malaya and having lived in Australia for the past several decades, my journey is much like Xiao Li’s. In this short story, Xiao Li the young protagonist, had lost her mother, was tortured by a stepmother who chopped her up into little pieces and flung them to the mercies of the elements. Xiao Li’s search for her body parts in order to be whole again, depicts the search for identity, the search for self. In the history of the world, whether Chinese or non Chinese, this tale is told many times over again and again; in fables, poems, ballads and in so
ngs. It is archetypal.

This short story immediately struck a chord with some Australian women, and it was swiftly published in HECATE, a feminist literary journal. As I was writing it, I remember thinking, my search for wholeness was more problematic because I was living in a predominantly “white people world’ in Australia, as an overseas Chinese-Malaysian-Australian woman. The question that arose for me was – is it possible to focus on my woman/gender identity without taking into account my ethnicity as a Chinese. Can this be done in a lineal fashion, a question of “prioritization as in which comes first – me, the woman, or me the Chinese? Can I separate the two? Of course, I can separate the two conceptually and theoretically as a Sociologist, and I have often done this in my academic writings. But can I, in practice, in my daily life? What do Australians see first when they glance my way? The woman or the Chinese? Or do they see an “Asian” woman.
The Chinese in me disappears into the label: “Asian”.
Wonder women
A short story, a fable, a magical tale, is one form that some of these questions about
identity can be articulated. Hence, when I wrote The Search for Xiao Li’s Head, it was as if that I, too, had lost my head. Will I find it again, living as I still do in “white people country”? Or will I go back to China one day to be buried as the Chinese in my grandparents’ generation had done, and my parents could only long for while living outside mainland China, in Malaysia. Or will I forever be “homeless?” Will I become whole again with all my scattered bits and pieces re-membered? Or do I suffer the fate of Humpty Dumpty when “all the kings’ horses and all the kingsmen could not put Humpty Dumpty back together again”.

I was confronted by these questions again recently, when I attended the Women of Colour workshop on leadership organised by the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre in Melbourne. There I met many women who are on a similar quest for identity. Women who are from refugee backgrounds. Women who were raped, tortured, abandoned to die, and they had survived somehow, and found their way to Australia. Their quest for who they were and who they are now in a foreign country will be challenging. This is not the place to write about the challenges these “women of colour” will encounter in Australia so let me return to the Chinese people like myself.

For me and for the overseas Chinese like me, whether in “white people country” or in any other, we are the Humpty Dumpties. Neither warring armies, acquired citizenship through marriage, nor permanent resident visas, can make us whole again. True or false?

Our wholeness can only happen when we continue on the search relentlessly as Xiao Li does. She seeks the Goddess Nu Wa’s help, the mythological giver of life in Chinese culture. Perhaps we, too, need a bit of help from the gods and goddesses. Our gods and goddesses who can help us on our search for our scattered fragments are psychologists and people who have tools to explore our unconscious. When our unconscious is unlocked, we can manage the journey to wholeness better. This journey is also one of self-empowerment. It begins when our unconscious yields to us the knowledge regarding which fragments of us are Chinese, which bits are White-Anglo Australian and so In short, we begin to know ourselves. By gathering our fragmented selves together, piece by piece, we can only hope that the ‘humpty dumpty that fell from the wall can be put back together again.

A footnote – at this Conference for Women of Colour, I had one of those aha moments which often leads to my writing a play or a story. I had a shock which rendered me speechless (and most of my friends and family know that I am rarely wordless). As we introduced ourselves, and made small talk, a Nigerian woman said to me: “All you Asians look ( (the) same to me” . If this had come from a White Anglo Australian woman…. well, I leave this to the readers’ imagination.

Love in Any Religion Tastes as Sweet…. A Christmas Message

free-shipping-christmas-kids-clothing-sets-baby-new-year-s-day-outfit-with-chinese-red-tangFor many Christians, the birth of Christ is very significant and Christmas is a time of celebration and rejoicing. Contemplating thoughtfully on the significance of this as yet another Christmas draws near, I can’t help hearing my mother’s words. No religions ever teach you bad things, she would say. “Do good, love one another”, her words come to me now, midst the recent turmoil and turbulence of recent world events with the election of Trump as the president of the United States of America, with the horror of the war raging in Syria and nearer home in Malaysia and Australia, there is little good news either.

chinese children in xmas dressesMy mother’s voice has always been a constant refrain ever since I left home as a teenager and settled in a Christian country, Australia. A devout Taoist Buddhist, born in British Malaya, my mother brought up six children (including my cousin, more an adopted brother than a cousin really, son of my father’s widowed sister). Of these six children, four became Christians. So Christmas is indeed a time of love, goodwill and peace. Not only for my Christian siblings but love is also a message that is very significant in my own religion, Buddhism, with a strong influence from Hinduism. Having been a yogi for 40 years, I can testify to this fact.

Love in any religion, when unwrapped layer by layer, consists of compassion, kindness, goodness, tenderness, respect and so many other virtues shared by all devotees who are true to their own religion whatever this may be. Exactly the sorts of qualities my mother used to remind us whenever we kids started to quarrel and fight amongst ourselves.

Merry ChristmasThis Christmas as in all past Christmases, my mind turns to love, peace and goodwill amongst men and women of this blessed place we call Earth, while at the same time, I cannot help hearing in the daily news about wars, refugees, Donald Trump, etc. The daily news of the devastation of the wars waged beyond Australia’s borders bring despair, and sometimes, even depression. In particular, I think about the refugees. To seek relief from the turmoil and turbulence daily flashing into my living room whenever I turned on the TV, I take respite in small things that simply have to be done, or I go for a contemplative walk. Sometimes this leads me to Kim. Kim, a refugee from the Vietnam War, owns a manicure and pedicure shop in Elwood village. This is her story. She was 13 years old when together with her 7 sisters, Mum and Dad, they escaped in a boat to a refugee camp in Malaysia, in the year after the fall of Saigon! As her boat neared the shore, a man shouted in Chinese, break the boat, break the boat, so the passengers started to break the boat. “Broke boat, broke boat… ” the man shouted again and again, Kim told me in her Vietnamese-English. I asked why did the man shout this instruction. Kim said, if the boat was ‘broke’ then it would not be sent away to sea and was allowed to land. So Kim’s father and the others in their boat “broke” their boat and so she found herself in a refugee camp in Malaysia for thirteen months.

“In camp the same man who shouted, he bought ice cream for us, all the children. It was so hot. We had no money. Some people came, and stole all our money. They told us: ‘We Australian migrant officers, show all your money and valuable. Give to us. We give visas to you for Australia. We didn’t know. So we gave all. Everything. But they were not Australians. Not true. They robbed us.” Kim ended her staccato sentences with such a sadness in her eyes that I had to look away.

Chinese saintsThis same Chinese man, a Christ-like figure, doing things for these refugees for no other reason except out of love and compassion. Out of great love and compassion, at least three great Teachers founded three religio-spiritual traditions: Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. All these traditions have stories of Christ-like figures, or Buddhas (Buddha means ‘the enlightened one”). They all taught about love and the giving and sharing of love, compassion and kindness. They all taught about peace and harmony. Throughout the days and nights of our lives, there are many occasions to do good or bad, or to remain indifferent. To intentionally want to do good must not only be at Christmas time, but at every opportunity presented to us. As my Guru says: Open the door each morning and see who you can help. In just following this advice whenever we can, perhaps we can grow more Christ-like or Buddha-like.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Chinese New Year 2017

PS: Year Of The Rooster
Year of the RoosterZhu nimen xin nian kuale! Wishing all of you a happy new year! 2017 is the year of the Rooster or Chicken. So coxcomb is a lucky flower and the number 8 is the lucky number! Eight has always been a lucky number for Chinese but in the year of the Rooster, this is even more so! Rooster signifies a new dawn so whatever you are waiting to do, whether it is a dream or a plan, do it! Dawn brings a new start, a new chapter and yes, perhaps even a new love if you are still searching.


Learning a New Language Broadens Your Horizons in Life

Chinese class having funIn a recent post on some of the best courses in Australia, Bupa Life Insurance featured us for our leading Mandarin Chinese Language courses. In the article, ‘Learn Something New with These Top Courses‘, Bupa says about our centre, ‘the classrooms are casual, relaxing and leading-edge through the use of accelerated learning techniques, making learning a new language not only effective but also fun.’

Numerous studies have shown that learning a foreign language is one of the best things you can do for your brain, medical studies have also shown that it may delay the early onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

But not only does it force you to think in a new way, it also enables you to travel more and better. You can learn all kinds of insights about other cultures and ways of life when you travel, but the first step towards this is to be able to talk to the people in your destination about more than just the weather.

Chinese teacher with studentsOur courses have 20 different levels, so you can learn as much or as little as you like. Stick with just the basics before an upcoming trip, or delve deep into the language with fluency your ultimate goal! Here at ACCS, we offer a variety of courses in Chinese, for both adults and children so that everyone in your family can get in on the benefits of language learning.

The path you take is entirely up to you, but we guarantee that your language-learning journey will be filled with rewards.

The Chinese Are So Different – Cannot Understand Them…

Chinese Diaspora shown on a map of Asia Recently I met many Caucasian Aussies who work with Chinese people in different professions, from tour operators to bankers who are on the lookout for billionaire renmimbi investors. Listening to my non-Chinese colleagues, customers, friends – their common lament is – how can we better understand these Chinese people who are so different from us Aussies and Kiwis. And I might add: we, the Chinese from outside the mainland (the hua qiao), are also different amongst ourselves even though we are all Chinese. As a ”Malaysian-Chinese-Australian” who have lived in Oz for many decades, I often face the same question: how do we understand ourselves as Chinese. The truth of the matter is that there is not just one Chinese culture but many. The Chinese diaspora or dispersal has been going on for many centuries. This global scattering of the Chinese probably occurred as soon as the first Chinese fleet set sail from China aeons ago. In his book 1421 the author Gavin Menzies, claimed (probably fictitiously) that Zheng He, the most famous Chinese navigator known to us Chinese people, went round the world and discovered America. It was not Christopher Columbus! Zheng He, so brilliant was he that today many Taoists still worshipped him as one of the deities in their spiritual pantheon of saints. Continue reading “The Chinese Are So Different – Cannot Understand Them…” »

Don’t Learn Chinese – It’s Too Hard….But….

Some Chinese charactersI know everyone is thinking how hard it is to learn Chinese. The writing is like squirrels gone nuts and its tones are like the sound of music without Julie Andrews.  Who needs it? I mean to say why bother learning the Chinese language?  Just eat the food. Yes, wouldn’t it be nice just to eat Chinese food and magically like Dr Fu Manchu…. waaaaaaaaah you can speak Chinese Mandarin. That would be nice indeed.

Continue reading “Don’t Learn Chinese – It’s Too Hard….But….” »


Chinese TV ShowIn the modern world, love and marriage begins when two hearts collide and the experience of “falling in love” occurs. Marriage may or may not follow. Nevertheless, the general hope is that love will lead to marriage. Love and marriage goes together “like a horse and carriage.” Forever and ever. Eternal love. Trite as these phrases may be but the experience of falling in love leading to a union that lasts eternally is the longing, the hope and wish of most.

Continue reading “I CHING YOUR LOVE” »

Love: A Present for Yourself this Christmas

Chinese Merry ChristmasWriting this editorial soon after the Paris terror and horror, I can’t help but think of what differences in religions, ideologies and doctrines can do. Managing our differences for peace may well be the most powerful skill we humans can have in this time of global terrorism! As this is the Christmas editorial, I ponder on Jesus Christ, one of the greatest peacemakers in history. Besides, it is His birthday: Christmas.

Continue reading “Love: A Present for Yourself this Christmas” »

A PIG under a Roof : Jia, Family, Guanxi & Success in Life

Jia for pig under the roofA pig under a roof can mean home or family (jia ) and it is also a very popular name for Chinese girls. Chinese writing is made up of 214 radicals or elementary pictures. By combining the radicals of pig and roof, we get jia. This tells us a lot about the value that Chinese people place on the family and of course, the pig. In ancient China, the farmer probably valued his pig more than his wife or female daughters. Jia, ideographically also implies that the woman’s place is in the home. Sociologically speaking, language constructs realities, and intrinsic in any language are stories which hint at values shared by a group of people. It is common knowledge that we Chinese, like most sinitic or chopsticks people (i.e Japanese, Vietnamese, Koreans) have a family-centred culture; a jia culture.

Continue reading “A PIG under a Roof : Jia, Family, Guanxi & Success in Life” »