Paradise Circus – The Sky of Mei Mei (Part I)

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The First Story of Paradise Circus * 

 Preamble: When we migrate to unknown lands, we are blinded by the beauty of fairy tales and mirages! We are naive to dream that there we will surely have the things we miss in our original countries  security, freedom and happiness. We are bold enough to go through the space between earth and heaven, to enter into a place we always believed to be without demons, pain, nor tears, only to find out that Paradise is a noisy CIRCUS … Despite this grand disappointment, HOPE, whoever retains it, lifts him, or her, from falling…


The Sky of Mei Mei (1)- The New Land

The First Story of Paradise Circus *

 Preamble: When we migrate to unknown lands, we are blinded by the beauty of fairy tales and mirages! We are naive to dream that there we will surely have the things we miss on earth: security, freedom and happiness. We are bold enough to go through the space between earth and heaven, to enter into a place we always believed to be without demons, pain, nor tears, only to find out that Paradise is a noisy CIRCUS … Despite this grand disappointment, HOPE, whoever retains it, lifts him, or her, from falling…

The Sky of Mei Mei (1) –The New Land


“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” ― Victor Hugo


Mei Mei, a petite 13 year-old girl, followed her mother and the crowd into P.E. Trudeau airport in Montréal, Canada.

They arrived as tired and roughed as the six huge and clumsy suitcases bound with layers of transparent plastic. With Mei Mei watching over the numerous small bags, tiny mom dragged each big piece off when it appeared on the luggage conveying belt. Two hours of fussing about and waiting after 27 hours not sleeping much on the upright narrow seats and endless idling around at stop-overs in airports, Mei Mei and mom could barely stand. Mei Mei was so exhausted that she could drop dead asleep on the spot, regardless.

Dad was waiting. Three of them exchanged silent greetings without any body contact and hurried into Daddy’s rusted grey car. To where? Mei Moe had no idea.

Their flight was the last, and so were they, driving lonely on the high way 720. It was 1:30 in the morning…

The deep plain February winter of Montreal, with its vast expanse of snow took Mei Mei’s breath away. She came from Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan Province in the southwest of China,  a blessed place which earns its beautiful name as Spring City. She had never seen real snow in her life, the only recalls of winter was the Camellia Japonica which extends its glamorous exotic and sexy petals with various rich, noble colours from January to March.

Goose feathers fell silently from the dark infinite sky onto the front window and piled up on both sides of the wind shield.

Mom was tired and quiet, dad’s mind drifted away intermittently with the flying snow, only the wipers accompanied them loyally with dry squeaks, the rhythm of which kept their hearts beating. Wordless in and soundless out. The large thick snow flakes only seen on photos or in movies awed Mei Mei and goose bumps crept into her skin! She was so excited that her drowsiness magically disappeared. One moment, she was in a dream or a movie, or her memory of the familiar soft and warm winter in Kunming with the Camellias swirling around like the skirts of Spanish Flamenco dancers, another, she came back to this strange yet exciting, distant yet truly present reality at the sight of her motionless mom and dad sitting side by side in the front.

Daddy had already been in Montréal since October 2003, for about 4 months, in order to take care of the basic needs when Mei Mei and her mom arrived. He rented a two-bedroom apartment for $400, and paid  $65 per month for utilities. At the current exchange rate, $465 was equal to about 3,100 RMB, which was about the total salary for the couple, his wife making RMB 1,500 as a chief of a technical department of a state-owned company and himself RMB 2,500 as chief of a university research institute in China. With years of accumulated savings, they would be fine for the first four or five years in Montreal, even without having any revenue.

Their car stopped on a narrow lane in-between two rolls of plexes in a city called Verdun.


Arriving at their home in Verdun, slightly South West of Montréal Island, the scene disappointed Mei Mei as she saw the weird style of apartment called double salon, where the master bedroom is open to the sitting room. Their home in China was not as extraordinarily huge as those of some of her classmates,  but at least there she had her own room, and it was as large as the bedroom and sitting-room here put together! To the Chinese, whose country is new and most buildings were constructed after 1995, the crappy 6-plex at Verdun built around beginning of 20th century, made them feel as though they had come to a very “backward” place.

As a young Chinese girl, Mei Mei had no knowledge of the age of the 6-plex which is linked with many other plexes. She did not know that they were town houses in the immediate suburb, close to bus stops and subway stations designed and built for for immigrants, workers and lower income Canadians. In China, the meaning of town houses has changed its connotation to trendy styled houses for the upper class of Chinese society — the New Rich. She also never had any idea of its basement, where she saw the old cast-iron sewage pipes broken and “repaired” with Scotch Tape. Seeing all the shabby, dirty, and nearly falling apart furniture that her dad had picked up on the streets, Mei Mei burst into tears and dashed into the bathroom, only to see a broken toilet paper holder hanging on the wall from one side.

It was not what the couple wanted for their only child who had always been spoiled by her grandparents and relatives. It was even less desirable for themselves, as they had reached their golden middle age, each having earned their comfortable and relatively well-paid permanent positions in China. They had set their feet onto one of the best countries in the world, dragging their pieces of heavy baggage to this never-heard-before of Quebec, in the Northeast of the American continent! For the mother, it was simply a nightmare. For the father, it seemed like the start of a scary dream in an extremely long night from which he did not know if he could ever wake up. He vaguely felt that he was falling into somewhere in-between without earth nor sky but dreams of colours and temptations.  He started feeling regret for having come here after 4 months, leaving Kunming and China behind, a place though without dreams, yet at least full of sunshine even in winter, and no risk of getting frustrated over new challenges and adaptation, and lost in a strange country full of temptations and freedom that he didn’t know how to handle.




Mei Mei’s life started anyway, regardless of all the weirdly alienating feelings. She had to learn French, since Quebec is a French-speaking province of Canada and the 101 law passed on Aug. 26th, 1977 obliged almost all immigrants to go to French schools. She was among the earliest immigrant groups from Mainland China, who started landing in 2000. By 2003, Chinese from the mainland were still scarce and most Chinese people in the small Chinatown spoke Cantonese. To her surprise, the Chinese Han language is called Mandarin here and the meaning of China is connected with the fragile chinaware, the reasons for which she had absolutely no idea.


Mei Mei started her French Welcome Class. There were about 20 students, most of whom are East Europeans, actually Romanians.

The professor was very amicable and patient, especially to Mei Mie. Whenever Mei Mie had questions, she would come to her desk and asked nicely:

“Qu’est-ce que je peux faire pour toi, Mei Mei?”

Most of the time, Mei Mei was too shy to ask questions, and she didn’t know how to. Seeing her classmates already speak quite well after a few months, she felt dumb and stupid that she was still fighting with herself about some pronunciation and grammars…Mei Mei had always been an excellent student in her class and this never happened to her. It was really hard for her to take easy the giggles of her classmates over her funny French.  She would feel very embarrassed and frustrated, resulting in feeling inferior to the rest of the class. She didn’t know that Romanian is one of the latin languages, and the mandarin of Chinese is by no means close to any of it.

一年的学习,梅梅的发音和语调依然憋口。她还不得不适应魁北克法语口音和表达法。她得在开始说一句话之前加上“là, là”,然后以“ben oui, tarbanouche!”结尾。懂得使用这些并无太大意义的连词,却意味着对方言的掌握,融入社会的开始。通过对语言的学习,她觉得慢慢得到了一些认可、尊重和令她和父母欣慰的点点自信!


One long year went by. Mei Mei finished her Introductory French Welcome Class, with a still-awkward pronunciation and intonation of the French taught by her professeure from France, with a thick Chinese accent. Now in the normal school system, she had to adapt to the French of the Quebecois. She had to learn the “là, là” before starting a sentence, and to finish it with “ben oui, tarbanouche,” Understanding this meant mastering the local language, with which she gained some recognition, respect, and comfortingly, a little confidence!

She began to make friends, even though they were only Chinese. Yet don’t pears grow from the same tree? They spoke the same language, talked about the Chinese cartoons “Ne Zha -哪吒”, “Hu Lu Wa – 葫芦娃”, and were used to the nice piece of finishing music at the end of CCTV big time news at 19:30, heard during each every single night when they lived in China, they told each other how rich their parents were, and how big and nice their flats had been. They all complained to each other about how bad it was in Canada, and how stupid were the Quebecois! They sought some consolation by venting subconsciously, and restoring a tiny bit of their comfort and confidence by connecting to the mentality that had been their unconscious support before they left their own country. Among the “weird” language and “cold-hearted” people, the CCTV ending music became too soothingly pleasant to their souls that they enjoyed it enmensely for the first time in their young lives.

Mei Mei was like a little pear tree that was uprooted and replanted in a far away place. When replanting a tree, you need to prepare the pit with fertilizer, and give enough water to make sure its roots quickly take hold of the earth and start absorbing nutrients for survival in the new environment. When Mei Mei’s parents took her to Canada, they did not ask her for her opinion. As Chinese parents always think that their children have no idea about life, it is out of the question to ask for their opinion. Mei Mei came to Canada with no valid preparation, no parental guidance, and no friends at the beginning of the most dangerous adolescent age. The worst of all, she had been misled into thinking that Canada was an easy country with excellent social welfare, free schools, and nice people to blend in with, forgetting, or rather, not being conscious at all that moving to another country with a different mentality and culture would increase the danger for an adolescent girl.

Yes, Quebec is a very kind province where the provincial government provides free Cours de Francisation and subsidized English or vocational courses for new immigrants. But life is not only about one-sided will, neither is it only about food and roof, nor merely about schools to go to; it is more about how we can be happy and content. For immigrants, there is required an extra effort of understanding and melting into the existing system and its earlier arrivals’ mentality. It is especially true when Chinese culture and mentality remain among the most complicated and sophisticated, tangled with feudalism, socialism and the recent 25 years of capitalist influence. Immigration is about rediscovering our soul, blending into other cultures, and winning the battle by establishing a brand-new “mash-up” spirit for ourselves, for the new country, in this new land!


梅梅一家是中国大陆两千年以后的早期移民。二零零三年,来自大陆的中国人仍然稀少。大多数老移民来自讲广东话的中国中小城市,香港及讲闽南话和国语的台湾。 让她吃惊的是,中文在这里被叫做“Mandarin”。她从来也没有想过,中文会被魁北克人叫做“Mandarin”,而中国(China)竟和脆弱的瓷器(China)同名。


她的法语老师非常和蔼可亲。当梅梅有问题困难时,总是先示意她稍等,干完自己手里的事,就过来问她“Qu’est-ce que je peux faire pour toi?” (我能为你做什么?),但是,自己对法语一头雾水,不能掌握那怪异的发音,也弄不懂语法。梅梅人小,坐在前排。每当被叫起来朗读时,她的发音总是惹得全班大笑。梅梅不知道,为什么罗马尼亚人学法语会那么快,自已竟那么笨!过去国内的优等生,现在变成了众人嘲笑的对象。梅梅自卑又羞愧,常常呆坐在凳子上,脑子嗡嗡作响。她并不知道,罗马尼亚语属于拉丁语系,当然他们会学得那么好那么快了。

一年的学习,梅梅的发音和语调依然憋口。她还不得不适应魁北克法语口音和表达法。她得在开始说一句话之前加上“là, là”,然后以“ben oui, tarbanouche!”结尾。懂得使用这些并无太大意义的连词,却意味着对方言的掌握,融入社会的开始。通过对语言的学习,她觉得慢慢得到了一些认可、尊重和令她和父母欣慰的点点自信!





要知道,离开自己熟悉的环境,相识已久的同学,来面对陌生的社会和来自全球的不同语言肤色和文化的人,就是中国人,也都是来自东南西北的大中国,一切从头开始,是多么的别扭而不知如何是好。梅梅最先的朋友必然是欢迎班的中国学生。同一种语言,同种文化和传统,都看过“哪吒”,“葫芦娃”,“孙悟空”和“黑猫警长”,在中国,每天晚上都必能听到的CCTV19:30新闻半小时的结尾曲,所有这些都成为他们能聚在一起的暗纽。他们相互暗示父母在中国的地位和资本,惋惜他们宽敞而漂亮的房子。他们都互相抱怨加拿大是多麽的糟糕,魁北克人是多麽的愚蠢!他们无意识地发泄,寻求慰藉, 寻求那种在离开祖国前就一直暗暗地支撑着他们,但现在才忽然感觉到的精神。在讲“怪异”语⾔“不懂人情世故”的人们之间,在听不懂的电视节目前,CCTV新闻结尾曲让他们初次意识到了自己的不同。

梅梅就像一株被连根拔起,移植到远方的⼩小梨树,正在不知不觉中,失去养料和水分,经历着移植后的缺氧缺水症后。父母决定移民前,并没有征求她的意见。小孩子,懂什么呢?再说,他们也和其他移民一样,不都是为了下一代有个好的出路吗? 自己都已经四十多,语言又不行,但为了梅梅,他们豁出去了。而梅梅在没有心理准备的情况下,在父母也不太明白的情况下,在最危险的青春期,离开熟悉的环境,离开朋友来到加拿大。最糟糕的是,她和父母被有意无意地误导,认为加拿大是一个社会福利优厚、教育免费和有政府帮助的天堂似的国家,忘记或说是没有意识到,他们将迁往一个心态,文化和政治制度全然不同的国家。







Paradise Circus – from Massive Attack’s 2010 Heligoland album

This short story is also published on Mr.Alberto Forchielli’s Blog and its Chinese version on his Cai Xin Website in China.

–The Thunder Storm–

to be continued…

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