A Tale of Two Cities

This week I continue my series of blogs on China, following  last week’s  China Communism vs Capitalism.

It seems timely and highly topical to address the political ‘Hot Potato’ immigration, as our Tory leader and Prime Minister David Cameron made headlines this week, accusing immigrants in the UK of causing some of our communities ‘discomfort and disjointedness’. He vowed to reduce UK annual  immigration to tens of thousands from hundreds of thousands . Is he doing this to win BNP votes hence encouraging extremism, as it was suggested by many, or does he really believe that immigrants are swamping UK jails, claiming state benefits and posing major social problems in this country?

I beg to differ. Strictly speaking, I’m an immigrant to the UK, although through the legal system I work with a lot of immigrants, both legal and illegal, because of my job. Aside from asserting that the majority of immigrants I know not only work hard, pay their taxes, abide the law and make positive contribution to the British society, I believe that Mr Cameron is misguided in his speech, causing discomfort and discouraging those who believe in a democratic and fair society where one’s different cultural background is respected and whose contribution to the success of Britain should be applauded.

I am turning my attention here to the issue of illegal immigrants. Perhaps by the twist of fate, and perhaps not, I work with many Chinese illegal entrants into the UK, in my capacity as a freelance interpreter, as well as an author who has developed a keen interest into the hidden lives of immigrants. Consequently in a mission to discover exactly what have motivated these people, abandoning their family and familiar culture, subjecting themselves to unimaginable hardships and even risking their lives, to cross mountains and oceans, to venture into another country, where they were only to become invisible at best, or be subjected to more exploitation, one barrier after another, suffering heartaches and sometimes inhuman treatment, I made a special trip to Fujian in March 2011. My sole purpose, my quest to answer a burning question: WHY do they risk all to come? Mass deaths at Morecambe Bay and en route for Dover prove that the risks are real. These are the ones that people remember -but there are many more.

Fujian, the southern province across the sea from Taiwan, stretching from the East China Sea to the South, its cities and towns dotted along the beautiful coast. It has been, for centuries, China’s major ‘exporter’ of immigrants overseas. If you know anything at all about the modern history ofFujian, you won’t fail to note its connections to Taiwan, Southeast Asia, to Japan, America, Australia, and more recently to Europe. People from Fujian; emigrate in their hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands.

In my job, I’ve met a lot of people from there, and two cities became especially familiar in recent years, neither of which I’ve ever heard before or have ever been. Changle and Fuqing are both satellite cities of Fuzhou,Fujian’s provincial Capital. So I explicitly expressed my wish to visit these two cities on my phone call to a local contact inFujian. In fact, Mr Huang was a classmate on my brother Bin’s Executive MBA course from Fudan University, a CEO of a major property developer inFujian. He was someone I had never met before but on hearing my visit, he dispatched his company ride, a Mercedes seven-seater, fully equipped with his PA, two junior managers and two guides with local knowledge and a designated driver, on my three-day field research across the province. To say that I was touched would have been an understatement. The hospitality and generosity shown to me by my companions in Fujian truly overwhelmed me.

I shall not go into great detail on what I saw, heard and experienced during this visit, suffice to say that I learned much more than I had set out to do. The final book of my Journey to the West trilogy will include many of my ‘discoveries’ during this amazing and fruitful field trip.

In Changle, my knowledgeable guide gave me some very useful statistics. The majority population of some villages went overseas, to give their families a better life. The villages I was taken to were largely empty, with only older people and children. In the former farmers’ fields, now stand many grand detached 4 or 5 storey homes, built with the money from their sweat and blood from Chinese take-aways in the UK or elsewhere, deserted and waiting for them to return on their retirement. They are built in western styles, grand and luxurious, but casting a very sad shadow on that sunny day. I saw the beauty of the architecture against the green lush mountains in the background; I felt a heavy twist in my laden heart, a stab of unknown pain.

There were several Buddhist temples, Taoist Holy shrines, Christian churches in Changle, all constructed though generous donations from overseas Chinese. They were especially built for their elderly parents and children to go and pray for their safe journey to the West and their subsequent success in becoming prosperous. It was so peaceful and quiet, and unlike any other places in China, where such a place would have been swamped by tourists and China’s unrelenting population, these places had no visitors, except my entourage. Again I was deeply saddened by its sheer beauty and heavenly location. I wondered, would I want to leave such a place if I came from there? I don’t know.

In Fuqing, some 30 miles away from Changle, another hotbed for emigration, was a relative small town before and now a prosperous city. As we drove through the tree-lined boulevards, which were as wide as they were new, I was told that they were green fields only a few years ago, now high-rise office buildings and posh apartments were erected with many more being built. I knew that if I ever had a chance to go back, I would not recognise it, like many places in China now, changing its face forever. The property boom and urban development was at such a breakneck speed, and there was no other way to describe it but a miracle.

We went to a Mausoleum which one of the richest Fuqing natives had built for his parents. He went to Indonesia to make his fortune, and now with trillions of dollars in the bank, he ‘bought’ the whole village where he was born and made it his personal project. His parents were buried on an estate on which he has already spent nearly 4 million US dollars, in which he has built schools, old people’s home, a park for all visitors to enjoy for free. We were informed that this was only the first phase of his investment, which would be followed by a sports hall and other amenities for the local people. The area where his parents’ souls were resting was cordoned off, and I was the only person allowed in, after my guides persuaded the keeper that I was ‘an author from the UK’ researching my book. I knew that there would be no greater consolation for his dead parents than their son ‘bringing glory to their ancestors’ and no greater achievement for a traditional Chinese to ‘give face’ and ‘glorify one’s family name’.  I also knew that there is no other culture that could compete with the Chinese on this.

This brings an end to this week’s blog. I’d love to have comments and some sharing on any other means of the social media by casual visitors to my blog and friends alike. Thank you!

 

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About Junying Kirk

Originally from China and currently living and working in the UK, Junying has worked as an academic, administrator, researcher, teacher, professional interpreter, translator and cultural consultant. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and writing, and reflecting upon what's important in life. She is a seasoned blogger, topics ranging from serious stuff such as art, books, cross-cultural communications, education and politics, to more leisure pursuits including cuisine, keeping-fit, music, photography and world travels. Her "Journey To The West" Trilogy - The Same Moon, Trials of Life and Land of Hope, are available on Amazon stores Worldwide, iBook and Smashwords, both in electronic and printed forms. She is currently writing a new book, the first of her "Journey to the East" trilogy. The revival of this blog is Junying's renewed efforts to engage with her readers near and far. Welcome on board, friends and fans!
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