Chapter 2 – Setting New Roots

Chinese pictogram for bird
Chinese pictogram for bird

We had five heavy suitcases with us and each of us carried a small handbag. I even carried my own tennis racket on my back. By the looks of our heavy loads of luggage it was quite obvious that we were going to stay for a long time, wherever our destination was. I was thirteen years old, my sister was fourteen and my younger brother David was nine. We bravely headed towards the turning point of our lives, and were ready to fly away to a brand new future, New Zealand.

We arrived on this green island in October 1988. It was springtime here while in Taiwan it was about to turn winter. Although it was springtime, we still found it cold here especially during early mornings and nights. Everything was fresh but strange at the time of arrival; I heard people speak but couldn’t understand what they were saying. All sounds and voices were fresh to my ears. Soon I realized that this was English, a language we desperately needed to learn. At the beginning, drawing pictures, smiles and body gestures were our only means of communication…

Plants, flowers and animals seemed so full of energy and everything seemed so crisp and exciting. It was like Alice-in-Wonderland; everything was so dreamy, but the difference between Alice and us was that for us everything was real. We were like tourists, always looking up to the blue sky and felt like we were floating in the air. We were like five birds seeking a place to nest. We were like five seeds generously carried by the wind to a soft moist ground.

housepicto1Motels were our temporary shelters. We did not know anybody, and so not only were we family members, we were each other’s best friends. The bonds between us grew stronger every day. Coming to New Zealand certainly gave us more opportunity to know our father better. The natural environment and spacious landscapes must have tamed his temper a lot, and we realized that he had become calmer. Over time we also found out that he was a very lovable person, and extremely humorous as he would make us laugh all the time. It was then that we started to really feel how he loved us all so deeply. We were having the best family time of our lives.

We really loved Auckland and wanted to make it our home. My dad was the only one who wanted to go down to the South Island before making the final decision. He had a friend living in Balclutha; it was our first South Island destination.

We thought Balclutha was such a lonely town; there was no way it could compare with our beloved city Auckland. We were really worried at one stage that Dad would want to stay there. I can still remember the awful experience staying in one of the motels there. The owner of the motel did not smile to us; he didn’t even put in our bed sheets, so we had to make our own beds. I didn’t know if that was racial prejudice or if it was just the way things were in this small town. We did not smile to Dad either when we were there because we blamed all our misfortunes on him. Thankfully in the end he decided he didn’t like Balclutha either.

We then traveled to Dunedin. It was the city where the first Chinese set foot in New Zealand in the 1860s. They went there for gold, and during that time this place was only considered hostile. All of them had a common goal: to earn as much as possible so they could go back to their home country to be united with their family with good retirement. However only a very few achieved this dream. Their lives there were tougher than any of us could ever imagine. Due to language problems and illiteracy, they were not able to interact with the local people, and the only skill they had was hard labour. Due to their appearance they were looked down and were treated badly. The images of Chinese people in New Zealand at that time were one smelly, dirty, stupid and poor race.

However when we were in Dunedin we found Kiwis to be very friendly. Dad really liked Dunedin, and he even considered buying a house there. Mom complained about the cold and we didn’t like the hilly landscape. We had four votes against my dad and he let go. We then agreed to give the South Island a final chance before going back to Auckland; we were now on our way to Christchurch.

Chinese pictograph for 'house'

What convinced us to make Christchurch our new home? I guess it had to be love at first sight. Here we found sufficient sun, wide plains, lovely ducklings, friendly people and the gentle Avon River. People say New Zealand weather is very unpredictable; sometimes four seasons in one day. In Christchurch it is even possible to experience all of the following things in one day: sun, wind, rain, hail and snow.

Finding a home was extremely difficult, as we didn’t know anything about the various residential areas and there seemed to be so many schools in a small city such as Christchurch. The real estate agent told us that Fendalton was the best residential area in Christchurch, and it was the most expensive. But compared with Taiwan, real estate was much cheaper here; one could only buy a single garage in Taipei with the amount of money spent on an average house in Christchurch. After numerous open home visits we spotted a lovely 3-bedroom back section. It looked reasonably young for a 23-year-old house, and was close to a number of schools.

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Chinese pictograph for 'house'
It was such a thrill to see fruit trees grow in our own backyard. We had a plum tree, and I used to love watching the growth of the plum fruits every day; it somehow felt rewarding to see them grow a bit at a time. I didn’t know when they would be ready for harvest and even then I didn’t want to pick them off the tree. One day I went to check up on the plums and found that they all disappeared. I was shocked! It was as if though I was standing in the middle of a crime scene; who stole my lovely plums? then I heard birds on the tree tweet loudly, as though they were laughing at me, looking satisfied. I then asked myself was the plum tree mine or was it theirs? I guess they were there first?

Gardening is one of the luxuries urban people don’t have. Yiyi, David and I determined to turn a weedy piece of earth into a useful vegetable yard. All the hard work paid off when we saw that first seed pocking its head from the moist earth we watered so carefully everyday. We felt so close to nature. At the time, kids my age in Taiwan were talking about the latest video games, comic books and pop stars, while I wrote to tell them that we played with dirt all the time.

Please also see the ‘Graphic Design Visual Representation‘ of this chapter