7 January 2003 2003 nian 1 yue 7 hao

Editorial: Dropping Out

Dear Australia,

Sorry I won't be there when the revolution comes. I've accepted a job teaching English in China for a year. But I'll be thinking of you.

All my love,

As much as I love Australia, some issues cause me great concern at the moment. Near the top of the list are: Australia's treatment of asylum seekers, America's anticipated war on Iraq, and the government's exploitation of terrorist fears and racism to justify various infringements of civil rights.

I don't claim to be much of an activist, but I try to make at least a small contribution: I've attended a few rallies, argued with a few people, and one time I visited my local member of parliament with a couple of friends.

The point is, I can't just stand by and do nothing. But in China, I'll be impotent. I'll have effectively dropped out of Australian society, and to voice an opinion on international issues while in China seems risky: foreign teachers are forbidden to talk politics with their students, for instance. As for domestic issues, forget it. I would have to be not only very brave, but also very arrogant to pass judgement on a society whose culture is half ancient and half modern but wholly beyond my understanding.

(Although having said that, there is a part of me which is secretly glad to have an excuse to ignore world issues for a year. Dissent is a duty with few rewards and little satisfaction).

By dropping out I'll also miss a whole year of music and movies. And I'm not talking about the Hollywood crud, dubbed into Chinese and coming to a dianyingyuan near you. On the other hand, I guess I'll be living through a year of China's music and cinema history instead. Oh yes, I just can't wait to hear the syrupy tones of the latest Mandopop smash hit emanating from the local karaoke joint! I'm not saying that China has nothing of quality to offer, but it's taken me years to learn where to find good films and music in Australia, so what chance do I have in a country where I can't even read the name of a CD?

Last but certainly not least, a year in China means that contact with my Australian friends will be reduced to emails (and I am unfortunately not a good correspondent) as well as the tenuous strands of communication that can be found here on this web site. But what's a year between friends? Not much, I hope.

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