Half Chinese, half Australian - Page 2
From Griffith REVIEW Edition 36: What is Australia For?
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Frances Guo
THE WOMAN'S MONOLOGUE drags on. So far, she has shown no intention to invite any comments from the floor and no one in the audience has dared to interrupt. What a bore! I turn my head to the blue water, annoyed with myself too. Why can't I just say something? Why can't the Australian half of my brain overpower the Chinese half? And what about these young Australian faces around me? Why haven't they uttered a word? Do they all subscribe to her message: ‘Watch out – the sleeping lion is waking'?
Finally, the monologue comes to an end. Thank heavens – this is worse than the propaganda speeches in China! I stand up, switching off her drone in my head.
‘Do you Chinese really eat dogs?' a soft voice asks. I turn and see a young woman with long curly hair and curious brown eyes standing behind me.
‘Sorry, bad joke.' Sensing my hesitation she quickly brushes off her own question before I have a chance to reply. As I watch her curly head disappear through the door, memories of dogs flash back.
IT WAS A chilly Melbourne winter morning, the first for me in this new land. Wrapped in my heavy Chinese jumper and overcoat, I rushed out of my flat for the tram stop. The sky had just woken up and the street was still sleeping. Worrying about my job interview at the embroidery factory, I kept my head down and charged forward – until I faltered. A dog sat firmly in the middle of the narrow footpath, blocking my way: his face half black and half white, eyes cold and fierce, body motionless and powerful.
A quick glance at the split face sent a shiver down my spine. I tried to walk around him, and he followed me; I started to run, and he ran after me; I ran and ran, as fast as I could; he followed, getting closer and closer to my feet. I could almost feel his jaws open above my ankle, ready to grab and drag me down. Reaching the tram just in time, I gathered all my strength and jumped on.
I spent the rest of the day in fear. Night had fallen by the time I jumped off the tram home, retracing the same footpath on my toes, worrying my steps might entice the split face to jump on me again. Heart thumping, I unlocked my flat.
As I ate my simple dinner, an angry crowd appeared on the television screen. Marching along the street, they and their placards shouted ‘Dog Killers Out!' Apparently some Vietnamese had killed a dog in Australia, but before they could taste their treat the police nabbed them in their backyard. Though the offenders were fined and jailed, the local community was outraged; their collective voice was loud and clear: they wanted these savage people out, sent back to where they came from.
‘Is it really that bad?' I wondered as I watched the angry crowd. Dog and dragon carry opposite images in Chinese and western minds. While no one wants to be a dragon woman in the West, for the Chinese the dragon represents their ancestors and traditional sprits – hence the elaborate dragons on the yellow robes of Chinese emperors, and the colourful dragon dances staged at Chinese New Year.
While a dog is almost part of a family in the West, in Chinese culture the dog often features in swearing – as in dog legs (hired thugs), dog bear (coward), a barking dog behind his master (a bully who attacks others for his master). In my memories of growing up in Mao's China, dogs were dangerous creatures, scary animals barking fiercely behind farmers' low fences, ready to jump over to attack the pale-skinned city kids passing by. The fear surfaced when I was chased by the split-face: only this time the dog was not barking behind a fence; instead, he was loose, itching to attack me.
But as time passed and my empty flat was gradually decorated with second-hand furniture, my view of dogs softened. I came to enjoy watching them chasing each other in the park, catching tennis balls, dropping them at the feet of their owners, tails wagging. Yet my feeling towards dogs only really changed when something unexpected happened.
It was a typical Melbourne winter's day: cold, damp and overcast. Driving my first car, I was eager to get home after a long day in the office. Vehicles clogged the street. Just as the red light finally turned green and my impatient foot pressed the accelerator, a small dark shadow dashed across the road and my left front wheel lifted with a bump. My heart stopped; I froze.
The car was at a standstill in the middle of the road. In the rear-view mirror, a line of headlights snaked behind me. I felt awful and wanted to investigate what had happened, but my body refused to move. Through the mirror I watched an Australian woman open her car door and walk towards me.
Leave me alone, please, I pleaded silently.
‘Are you okay?' she asked.
‘I...I killed it.' I broke down, my head buried in my arms on the steering wheel.
‘No, you didn't – it got away,' the woman reassured me.
‘No, it didn't,' I replied, my teary eyes avoiding hers. I wished I could tell her about the bump under my wheel, but somehow I couldn't – instead, I just sat there, stunned, in pieces.
A stream of cars overtook me, but no one blew their horns. Sitting still, eyes glued on the line of cars in the rear-view mirror, I was overwhelmed by the image in my head: a small dog lying in a pool of blood under my front wheel. You have taken a life, I told myself over and over again, tears flooding my cheeks.
I had no idea how long it took me to gather myself and start the car again. When I finally dragged myself home, I collapsed into bed, switching off from the painful world.
I opened my eyes, sun bursting through the plastic blinds. It was a bright morning, unusual for this time of year; outside my flat the street was wet, and the air was scented with sweet lemon gums. Taking a deep breath, I went down to check my car; to my relief, there was no sign of blood on any tyre. The woman was right, after all – the dog did get away; the bump under my wheel was something on the road, a brick, a rock, something still, something bloodless.
'DO YOU CHINESE eat dogs?' the girl's voice echoed in my head. Well, today, there is a new saying in China: if you are poor, you raise pigs; but if you are rich, you have dogs. There is certainly no shortage of dogs in Chinese cities nowadays. The little ones sit in the arms of their indulgent mummies, or sniff the ground in their cute jackets; the exotic-looking ones walk proudly beside their rich owners, or bark smugly out of the windows of their posh cars. The less fortunate ones end up in a small apartment, and each day they have to wait patiently for their owners to return from work. Only when it is dark outside can they follow their nervous owners to sneak down by the slow lifts or dusty stairs and venture into the dark for their secretive walks.
‘I call my dog Big Black, for its black fur and for being illegal,' says Annie, my former Chinese colleague, in her gentle voice. ‘It costs thousands to register a dog, and you have to do it every year. Imagine what'll happen if they catch my dog,' she continues, her big eyes terrified. ‘So every time Big Black barks, I beg him not to; he just looks at me as if he understands me,' she says fondly, as if talking about her baby. ‘You know what I want to do if I have lots of money?'
‘Buy a big house,' I reply.
‘No, I want to build a huge dog home in a village, and give dogs like Big Black plenty of space to roam around.'