In 2013, I spent a term of studies in Nanjing, supported by a Hamer Scholarship. This was a transformative experience, and a moment to pause and reflect after an intense early period of migration. At the end of that year, I wrote down a series of journal entries, one-per-day, capturing my thoughts. COVID gave me the chance to revisit them: I was somewhat moved at meeting a younger version of myself. Now that I near the end of my PhD and a major book, and begin a new major venture in green energy, I realised patterns and struggles remained oddly similar. So, I thought I might share this journal here over the coming weeks – who knows, it might resonate with someone, trigger a useful insight, or just a passing moment of self-compassion.
Before the year ends, I want to find my own centre of gravity – and I want to reconnect with my own story. As I looked outside the window, coming up from Guangzhou along the Yangtze basin, I realized I had no unified family story.
My father has a story – born from a modest family in the south, he studies and becomes an engineer in Strasbourg – his first marriage collapses but he loves his son. Successful, he goes up to Paris where he marries up into a Parisian family, and has two more children.
My mother has a story – last girl, unwanted, from a southern family migrated up north, her dream has always been to escape her local destiny and live in a beautiful sun-drenched warm country. For that, she may count on her charm. She marries a southern boy, handsome, successful – but things don’t work out, and she leaves him for someone else. Life is hard for a while, her new husband has money, but the relationship is tense. Where her son leaves for Paris, she opts for freedom, so moves to the West Indies, convincing her husband. He dies, she inherits, and marries again, a friendly local man.
But what is my story? Smart talented gay boy from divorced parents gets into the most prestigious college in France, with an ambition to become an intellectual and literary figure. Intelligent, he has academic success, but it is not his chosen path, and when he meets an Australian blog-artist, he follows him to Melbourne. There, he changes radically, embraces China, becomes a social entrepreneur and online editor? This, somehow, embraces the threads of both my parents.
I’m in Wuhan, the city of my childhood nanny Danhan. The faces here remind me of her. Wuhan was the capital of Chu, the city of the Dao De Jing and Laozi, the place where it was said that you should be like water, flow to your centre of gravity, because that is where your strength lies.
I will spend the last day of the year in Hangzhou, by the West Lake. A place I have always wanted to go, a place Marco Polo – my new role model – said was paradise on earth. I will be by a lake, a large mass of accumulated water, and ultimate expression of beauty.