Tuesday, April 2, 2014

I’d like to share with you all a seed of inspiration I received from a professor in our university the other day. But before I do that, I need to tell you a little bit about who this professor is.

Well, I say professor, but he’s actually more of a traveller; or a writer; or a researcher, anthropologist, volunteer, director, scriptwriter, hipster or hippie. He’s an American, and we know him as all of the above.

I am, of course, speaking of Mr. David Scott Blundell, who, as it so happens, trends on Twitter under #BlundellQuotes due to the simply out-of-this-world stuff that exits his mouth. Unfortunately, he does not Tweet — a real loss to society, as I believe he would give His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Twitter account a run for its money.

Mr. Blundell, who learnt how to drive in Soviet Russia, and who had visited 16 of India’s 27 provinces by the time he was just 22, was adopted as a god son by a Sri Lankan family, the result of which sees him travel to the land of tea and fast bowlers at least once a year.

His family is from Santa Monica, CA, and Mr. Blundell told us that the reason he left the ever-sunny suburbs of Los Angeles was because life was too comfortable and that he was tired of persistent conversations about swimming or tennis.

Yes, a true hipster in every sense of the word, Mr. Blundell left The Golden State to explore the four corners of the known world. He eventually settled on the eastern coast of Taiwan in Hualien, and now takes a two-hour train through the marble cliffs of Taroko National Park every morning to reach Taipei. “It’s the most beautiful train ride in the world,” he once said. Few would argue.

As a scriptwriter and director, Mr. Blundell’s inspiration often comes from travelling. He asked us which topic we would be most interested in if we were to write a story. It could be fact or it could be fiction, but there was only one thing on my mind.

I decided that the story I would like to explore would involve my parents. More specifically, their decision to immigrate to South Africa 30 years ago.

The Chinese are everywhere in the world, and in great numbers, but why did my parents decided to traverse an ocean as vast as the giant Indian in order to reach South Africa? And during the time of apartheid no less.

My understanding is that toward the end of apartheid, there was a group of people who saw the potential of opening businesses in the freshly opened South African market, and my parents were just two out of millions who would travel to what is now known as the “Rainbow Nation.”

This term “Rainbow Nation” is used to characterise the diversity, in South Africa, of the people, flora and fauna. I was intrigued to find out that South Africa is home to one of the world’s five fauna kingdoms, and the plants and trees found there are not seen anywhere else in the world.

My neighbours in the quiet suburb of Edenvale in Gauteng, Johannesburg, were Portuguese on the right and Afrikaans on the left. My Portuguese neighbours’ kids used to throw rocks into our swimming pool, and our dogs — mine a German Shepherd named Doobie; theirs a Boxer called Champ — would challenge each other’s masculinity by growling and jumping at each other from either side of the wall.

I was raised with English as my first language because of school, while speaking my parents’ native language at home — Chinese.

I’m proud to say that my parents, my sister and I contribute to the diversity of South Africa. This diversity, which was made stronger by my attending of a Greek high school, is truly what defines me and indeed my entire generation.

I don’t think it really hits people just how much the world has changed in the last quarter century. The world’s borders have literally been redrawn. Those who are my age or slightly older have been raised through the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the mighty Soviet Union and the disintegration of apartheid. And this generation grew up in an age where travelling suddenly became very accessible to the everyday citizen.

When my parents decided to travel to South Africa in the beginning of the ’80s, apartheid was still in full flow, but so was the air of democracy and freedom. My parents took the risk, along with a whole generation of others, for a shot at a better life.

They started a newspaper company in 1994, the same year South Africa held its first democratic elections. Nelson Mandela (bless his soul) was elected president, and well, the rest is history.

My question to them would simply be “how did you do it?” What was the motivation behind choosing South Africa? And how difficult was it to leave everything behind for a land, which, at the time, was widely considered uncharted?

These questions storm my mind as I try to figure out my own destiny. Come summer, I will have to make a decision that will decide the next 5 to 10 years of my life.

How, exactly, does one immigrate? How does one take such a huge leap forward into the unknown? More to the point: how does one truly — in every sense of the phrase — start anew?

These are all questions I would love to ask them, but at the same time, these are questions I hope I can answer myself in the not so distant future, as I take timid but firm steps toward a new life.

If you could ask a question, any question in the world, how would your story start? JSF.

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