Next day an official from the Embassy came to the house to talk with Wu Mei. He was acquainted with her father Wu and greeted her warmly. They were driven to a Chinese centre at Chatswood which was just north of the harbour where she was introduced to families of an Australian branch of the diaspora. They were not Communist members the official had whispered, but important people for her to get to know. She was strictly warned to avoid close contact with Chinese who’d originated from Taiwan as the official believed they may use her knowledge of the party to glean information which would be relayed back to Taiwan. Taiwan was the enemy! Wu Mei began to regret this family assignment as it appeared to be the beginning of a stressful time in this strange land.
Wu Mei inquired if the people she was staying with were to be trusted. The official laughed. While they were friendly, no one was to be fully trusted.
The official then told Wu Mei they would be taking a special interest in her at the request of her father. There would be frequent meetings like this. Wu Mei must be alert as she attended University studies. She was to socialize and glean attitudes of students and professors, keep a diary of her contacts and conversations that had any reference to China, reporting on these at their regular meetings. She was given a list of students from China who were loyal and could be trusted. While she could safely confide in them she was to mingle with other students to practice her English skills, make friends but be cautious in what she shared. One of the trusted Chinese students would take her to the University and help her deal with formalities of entry into her MBA course. Money would be no problem.
Her hosts were very accepting and treated her as one of the family. She later discovered from the Embassy the family had refused payment for their courtesy, their payment came in the form of business opportunities in China the Embassy facilitated. They had a business relationship with one of Wu’s sons and were too wealthy to take money for accommodating her. It would have insulted them for money to be offered. However, the first few weeks were difficult ones for Wu Mei.
The Chinese student assigned by the Embassy had helped her negotiate transportation between her home and the University for one week, but then she was on her own with limited English language skills. There were times she’d had to pluck up courage and approach the big noses for help, and to her surprise they took time from the rush and bustle of the city to help her. Her latent prejudice against the imperialists began to soften. Being a stranger in a strange country heightens powers of observation and she observed city crowds, and certainly the University faculty staff and students were not of stereotyped colour or English accent. It was a melting pot in which her single identity as Chinese was not unique in this city. She began to feel less conspicuous, and the majority of her contacts were friendly and helpful.
The Embassy had advised her not to be seen at any student political organization events. That would put her on the radar of a watchful Federal Police, and it would not serve her country at all. Wu Mei’s head hurt as she tried to absorb the do’s and don’ts required by her own and the host country, as well as drinking in all knowledge she could in her assigned studies. She had to succeed, family face was at stake and the burden of it all was almost unbearable in those first few weeks. Her hosts read her distress and sought to provide a happy environment to compensate. She began to see them as part of her extended family though always careful in conversation.
Wu Mei struggled remembering to use her adopted name and finally gave up trying. No one seemed to mind. Chinese students naturally used her Chinese name and conversed with her in Mandarin. But Wu Mei had been instructed to learn English fluently and replied to their questions in English much to their irritation. She discussed this in her regular encounters with the Embassy handler assigned to her. After much discussion they counselled she use Mandarin with them in order to avoid misunderstanding when not around other students, but she was instructed to make determined efforts to associate with other English speakers to improve her language skills. It was the primary reason she was in this country.
This became easier as preliminary units of study were completed and professors divided assigned classes into work study groups. Wu Mei had an excellent working knowledge of how the English language was constructed before leaving China, but it was the speed of speech delivery that she had to get used to and in these working groups she slowly gained proficiency. It was in these groups she also became aware of professional accounting certification and in her usual methodical way researched to see if that would be a useful to her in China. Her father did some investigation on his own and concluded this to be a useful appendage to her planned degree. It was decided she should stay on for work experience in an accounting firm to see how knowledge gained academically would be best put into practice after her graduation. Necessary visas would be worked out for her on graduation through the Embassy working with Immigration.
Over her study years she was to discover perhaps all Australians did not fit her big nose category, nor did they necessarily all have imperialistic tendencies. The majority of Australians had the same basic hierarchical needs her own people had. She increasingly socialized with the people and visited in homes of her Australian friends. While occasionally she was disrespected by a racist this was unusual, her impressions of the country were increasingly favourable and she felt included.
Some of the Chinese students who excelled at their studies and had guaranteed jobs back in China waiting for them saw in her learning excellence a potential partner. They had discreet inquiries made through parents to find out if Wu would favour such a proposal. Wu gave this consideration, but felt it best for her to complete studies and work experience before thinking of a marriage proposal. That would be arranged after her return. He intended that anyone chosen as her husband would be absorbed into his family developing empire and she should not be considered a prize to be gained by some other family. However, he had each suitor watched carefully and kept them on a list of possible marriage partners to be considered later.
The years went by quickly and Wu Mei looked forward to graduation and the MBA she’s worked so hard for. She was to graduate with honours. Wu and his sons with their respective spouses and children flew in for her graduation. It was a happy reunion. Wu Mei had not seen them since leaving China though they’d been in touch frequently. The families stood and clapped as she received her degree. Hiring minibuses, they toured Australia’s eastern states. Women and children delighted in beaches and tourist places of interest while men looked at every place as a potential business investment.
But their whirlwind trip soon came to an end and Wu Mei stood stoically at the airport watching her family enter through security and turn to wave as they headed for their departure gate. She wished she could be with them returning to her beloved country. But there was a tension there. She was beginning to love this country too. In her purse was a prized possession. Keys to the BMW gifted to her by the family as reward for her honours graduation.
She sighed and turned toward the exit and the parking station where her car was waiting to head back to her adopted Australian Chinese family. She was about to start a new phase of life. Gaining work experience with an international accounting firm’s Australian headquarters. She’d complete her professional studies, finish her work experience and then head back home to China.
To be continued.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2016 All rights reserved”
4 thoughts on “Wu Mei – Chapter 3”
I love the way you handle the cultural diversity. It really opens up the reader’sunderstanding and background that Wu Mei has to live with. Looking forward to the next chaper.
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Thank you Barb, I’m glad you are enjoying the story.
I never knew that people lived lives like this. I am enjoying the revelation, and admire Wu Mei’s stoicism as she lives a scrutinized, manipulated life.
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On one of my many visits to Hong Kong I was invited to have dinner up on “The Peak” with a couple of the daughters of a multi-millionaire whose children I attended college with in Australia many years previous. The millionaire had started on the streets of Vietnam making clothes on a sewing machine. During the war with the French he fled to Hong Kong with his family and over the years built a garment empire exporting his products around the world. He had donated millions of US dollars to our educational system around the world and it was in that context I was in Hong Kong to review those donations. I was absolutely amazed as they showed me around the house. It was huge and opulent, His children and their families lived in different wings and they showed me a stable of very expensive cars in a massive garage. I’ve been in some remarkable houses in my time, but that complex beat them all. He later moved to Canada the west coast of which is new China. Chinese people love beautiful things and the homes of their rich around the world have it all.
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