Parkour: the spectacle, the practical, the philosophical, and where competition fits in

Parkour as a spectacle is easy to define. It looks beautiful, impressive, terrifying, exciting. It’s often fast, it often flows, it can look animalistic and superhuman. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular on YouTube, why shows like Ninja Warrior have so many viewers. Parkour as it is widely understood – an extreme sport for super-fit adrenaline junkies and/or ‘crazy’ teenage boys  —  is so far from most people’s everyday lives that it fits perfectly into our constant hunger for a vicarious experience of danger, excitement, fear, pain and satisfaction from the safety of our couches.

Parkour as most practitioners understand it is quite different from this. Parkour is big jumps and small jumps. It’s rhythm, flow, balance, teamwork, strength and discipline. It requires self-checking and courage, an embracing of fear and challenges in order to be better. It’s on rooftops, it’s on the ground, it’s in cities and in nature. It’s quiet, serious, creative and playful. It’s personal and universal. It’s asking questions. It’s endless possibilities. It’s an extension of everyday life, a way of making sense of the madness. It’s experimentation, repetition, refinement, and precision. It’s damn hard at times. It hurts. But it also makes you stronger, literally building a thicker skin. Parkour is a means of getting from A to B, working with your environment rather than against it, or being complacent within it. Parkour is taking your power back. It’s a pathway to freedom in a world in which it’s easy to forget how much you have, how much you’re capable of, and what you have to contribute.

Parkour is not a competition. There is no winning in parkour, just as there is no winning in life. There is only constantly striving to do the best you can with what you have. Your ‘parkour career’ doesn’t end when you get injured, or you establish yourself as the best in the world (whatever that means).

You can’t measure who will be most useful in an emergency, or who trains the most sensibly to last longest, or who has grown the most on a physical, emotional, spiritual level since they started. There are too many variables. Those concepts don’t fit neatly into an event; they don’t make for very sexy TV.

But parkour movements fit easily into competition culture. You can compete to see who has the biggest jump, the fastest time, see how many techniques you can demonstrate over certain obstacles. I can see how this can be motivating, driving practitioners to become faster, stronger, more technically proficient. Obviously it can be fun, and bring people together as they cheer each other on. 

I’m not against having any competitions which measure some aspect of parkour skill at all. I’m not against a reality TV series showcasing the incredible athletic ability of people I already know are amazing to the masses. I have huge respect for people who have competed in Ninja Warrior – to me they are admirably brave and strong for not only tackling the course, but for not having my fear of epically failing in public! I have found it particularly empowering to see women competing on the same course as men, for the same prize.

My concern is that you can only compete with parkour movements. It can look like parkour, but the intention is different. And viewers will always, unless we work really hard to make it otherwise, assume a parkour movement competition is parkour.

Personally, since I was very young, I’ve lost interest in most activities the moment they turn competitive. I grew up around some pretty competitive people. Roaring, cocky, throwing racquets and clubs, slamming doors competitive. Play hard to win, even if it means getting injured, competitive. I know it wasn’t their intention – I was always encouraged to join in – but I never felt their passion for competitive sport. I was never very ‘good’ although I enjoyed playing, and this made me decide that I wasn’t sporty. So I retreated to my quiet activities of reading, writing and crafting things.

Maybe it was growing up in a competitive culture, a society in which things are validated by levels and awards. But as I got older and more passionate about writing, I craved something more than personal satisfaction, wanted to share my work with more than my teachers and parents. The only apparent option was to try and become a published writer by entering writing competitions for kids. One prize meant so much to me I cried when mum couldn’t find the awards ceremony venue, even though missing it wouldn’t change the fact that I had won a prize. On another occasion, I won a national short story competition. I still remember how I hung up the phone after receiving the news and danced around the house. When an extract of my story was read out to a full banquet hall, I heard someone behind me whisper to their neighbour, “Wow, that was actually really good!” (not knowing I was in front of them) and that’s still the greatest compliment I’ve ever received, one I never would have received had the competition not existed. So I think I understood then how much winning and recognition meant to others in sport.

The existence of writing competitions gave me a structure to work with – goals, deadlines, themes, and incentives. Not everyone would need it, but it helped me. As writing is such a solitary activity, and with no friends or mentors who loved to write like I did, it provided a way of comparing what I wrote to others my own age, and gaining feedback from professionals. I was awarded and published a few times, rejected many more, and the whole experience made me a stronger, more confident and more determined writer. It gave me perspective and kept me grounded. Not once did I think that just because my work wasn’t chosen, that I had ‘failed’. It just meant that that story wasn’t right for that competition, it wasn’t ready, or I needed to practise more. Again, I know not everyone would respond in this way, but it worked for me. 

Amongst creative writers, there is a strong mutual understanding that success is based on chance as much as skill and hard work, and that lack of recognition isn’t necessarily a measure of the quality of your writing. JK Rowling is a popular example – Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before a publisher finally saw some potential in it. Dedicated writers are persistent, consistent, and passionate; they write because they must, because it brings them joy, because it challenges and satisfies them. If you are writing for money or fame, you shouldn’t be writing, despite the fact that competitions and many avenues for recognition exist.

But back to parkour. Personally, I fell in love with it for many reasons, but it was it’s non-competitive aspect that kept me training. It reminded me that I can and do love moving. I love playing, exploring, being outdoors, challenging myself without worrying about tests, levels, shows or races. I can play and be challenged in my own way, developing practical skills and having fun, and that is not only ok but the norm.

I’ve been trying to work out why I reacted in one way to competitions in sport, and another way to competitions in writing. And I think the answer is that in writing, I was motivated by the confidence that I could be noticed – if I tried hard enough, if I learnt as much as I could, if I stumbled upon the right opportunity. And no matter what happened, because I never told anyone I entered anything unless my work was selected, I didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s expectations.

In sport, I was de-motivated by the acceptance that I had no chance of winning, or even helping a team to win. I didn’t want to get in the way. And no one seemed to be playing just for fun.

The question is, do we want parkour to be a thing that is a casual part of more people’s lifestyles, like walking a dog or riding a bike? Or do we want it to be a pursuit only the able and passionate need bother even try?

Honestly, I just want people to move more and play more, no matter their age, gender, background or ability. I would love to see more value placed on movement for movement’s sake, in the same way I have tried to build Creative Write-it up as a space for kids to be creative for creativity’s sake – don’t worry about grades or if what you do seems silly or doesn’t work. It’s the trying, the process, where the lessons lie. And I truly believe parkour has a lot to offer mainstream modern society, whether the ‘moves’ are part of your everyday life or not. How to face challenges and measure fear. A culture of effort, self-improvement, longevity, and sticking together. An awareness of environment, a connection to it. I’m not saying parkour is the only way to find these things, but it is definitely a way. Parkour provides an antidote to disconnection from the environment, ourselves, and each other, during a time in which disconnection from all of these is one of the biggest, most dangerous problems we face.

If parkour competitions had existed when I started, I’m certain I would have stopped very early on. It would have been like every other competitive sport I’ve tried and lost interest in because I was never going to win, and didn’t even want to. And I worry that now that competitions do exist, and they are likely to continue to, that many people like me will never experience the multitude of positives parkour has to offer. I worry about a shift in culture, from an inclusive, welcoming community, to one in which more people are driven by money, fame, and ego. In which more people are driven to win, no matter the cost. At its worst, I fear parkour becoming another sport which links competition and depression in both the ‘winners’ and the ‘losers’.

If there is a way for parkour competitions to exist without losing our integrity or hurting the inclusive culture we’re all working so hard to cultivate, I’m doubtful. But, based on my experience as a writer who has found value in writing competitions, I’m also hopeful.

Competition culture isn’t going away. The media isn’t going to lose interest in an activity that seems ‘extreme’. But it makes the role of parkour coaches imperative, in the same way we (at Creative Write-it) are constantly reminding kids that the ‘creative writing’ component in their upcoming scholarship exam is only tapping into a tiny element of what it really means to write creatively, in reminding trainees that only so much can be taught. Training for competitions is a very specific skill-set that does not nearly encapsulate the whole of parkour training, in fact the competition element itself is not parkour at all. And training without any interest or intention in competing is just as valid.

Keep teaching, training, sharing, talking. As Julie Angel’s See & Do project suggests, the more people see, the more they will do.

It’s a tricky balance, but not an impossible one.

 

Further reading:

Federico ‘Gato’ Mazzoleni, Parkour in the Entertainment Language, 2016

Giorgio Ferre, Defined in Practice, 2016

Alex Pavlotski, Parkour and the link between Competition and Depression, 2016

Julie Angel, See & Do, 2013 – present

A Plan of Action

I’ve only ever followed politics to a point. After that point (which will be different for everyone) it becomes background noise, two kids fighting for your best friendship just so they can share the chocolates your mum always puts in your lunchbox. I’ve felt guilty feeling this way, because, despite uninspiring options, it’s something I should care more about. Don’t you care about the economy? About your rights? About the country you live in and the people you share it with?

You think other people will take care of that. You assume they will exercise common sense. You think it doesn’t make much difference who you vote for, or which of these loud-mouthed kids is leading.

But you are wrong.

For the first time, in the lead-up to an election, I felt genuinely worried. Months ago, it was, “Are you kidding me? No one is going to take him seriously.” And now here we are.

I’m not American, but because it’s America, we’re all affected. That’s what makes this even more painful that our vote really doesn’t count, we don’t get a say. We can only watch in disbelief as state after state makes their choice.

For the first time, because of an election, I wanted to curl up in a ball in bed and stay there. Like someone who had personally disrespected me and hurt me the day before, I didn’t want to give him my time or energy – he didn’t deserve it – but then I felt that guilt again. It’s because of people who might have voted differently not caring enough, not knowing and understanding enough, not even voting, that these things happen.

Earlier this year, I was in London the day of the Brexit result. Everyone I spoke to was outraged, upset, disappointed. But clearly my ‘everyone’ was not the majority; at least not the majority who actually voted. Soon after, I learnt that in Australia, Pauline Hanson was back in the senate. Pauline ‘White Australia Policy’ Hanson. She was around when I was in high school, when I was just starting to get over wishing I was ‘normal’ and white, getting  comfortable with and even proud of being Asian-Australian, feeling like I belonged. Her wanting ‘us’ out hurt. And the fact that she had any public voice at all, no matter how easy she was for the media to mock, she had supporters. ‘My people’ supported her wanting ‘us’ out.

Not to mention it made the changing of our refugee policies, and the opening of our borders to asylum seekers who are not only being held in limbo for years but tortured under our government’s watch, having escaped desperate circumstances only to find themselves in equally desperate circumstances, feeling further away than ever. Never before have I felt so ashamed to be Australian, part of a privileged Western society, as I have in recent years.

In school we learnt about Hitler, and the horrors of wars that happened before our time. I had nightmares about living in cupboards only to have my family and friends killed anyway. We learnt what can happen when the majority of people lose all reason, deciding only to look after ‘their own’, brainwashed into living in fear of the ‘other’. We learnt what can happen when the wrong people are given too much power. In class, we shook our heads and thought, “Thank goodness we live now, when people know better!”

But clearly, more voters than not don’t know better.

I’m taking solace from the fact that my social media feeds are flooded with posts from friends who are just as disgusted, shocked, saddened, and disappointed as I am. That some of those posts are reminders of our need to band together and, now more than ever, speak up and fight for what is right. I’m taking solace from the fact that I don’t associate with closed-minded idiots people who pass judgement and make decisions based on fear, ignorance, and hatred.

Right now, I feel small, powerless, and afraid. I feel like this kind of behaviour, and other hurtful, unjustified, uneducated and inhumane behaviours and views, have been validated. I feel like the way I feel doesn’t matter. I feel like the child-version of me was right to wish she was ‘normal’ (a.k.a. white), that I can’t go back and tell her, “Hey, you are just as Australian as anyone else. You belong, you are wanted, what makes you different actually adds to the beautiful, diverse, proudly multicultural Australia you are lucky enough to live in.” I can’t tell her how lucky she is to be born into a time of openness, acceptance, peace and freedom. And it looks like I won’t be able to say that to my future children either.

I don’t share this blog much/at all, so if you’re reading this, you probably know me, and we’re friends because we’re both not bigoted assholes good people who care about other people – and not just those who look like us, behave like us, and have grown up with similar circumstances and privileges. You’ve probably contributed to the social media feed I’ve been taking solace in. So I don’t need to convince you. And what we need now is not more venting and despairing (thank you for reading though), but a plan of action.

Here’s mine:

  1. Bury my head and weep for a few days.
  2. Re-group. Remember that the day before yesterday I was on a mission to live a full life and contribute positively to the world I want to live in. I believed, and still believe, we essentially all want the same things. To be happy. To be free. To feel safe. Even though fear and hatred are the driving forces at the moment, this can, will, and must change.
  3. Continue on that mission. Continue calling out bigotry, homophobia, sexism, racism. Even – especially – when it’s a ‘joke’. It’s never, ever a joke. It’s never ok.
  4. Continue to take solace from the fact that the people I know and associate with are intelligent, compassionate people with good hearts, many of whom are actively driving conversations and initiatives towards greater understanding, love, empathy, and acceptance. Read, talk, and remember how many more of us are out there. We are on the same side, and together we can effect change.
  5. Dont lose hope. Ever.
20161001_163859

An amazing tree I found in Bali, Indonesia about a month ago. I’m going to assume it’s survived a lot of tough times, but has stayed strong, kept going, and has only grown more and more amazing. This is my hope for humanity.

Belated.

I often scribble things down and forget about them, but some thoughts are worth holding onto.

2016-09-07 12.28.15 1.jpg

19/8/16

I don’t know what distance I covered. I don’t know how much time I spent. All I know is that after a day of feeling overwhelmed (there were tears) I felt infinitely better after going outside to just quadrupedal alone under the moon and stars. I could achieve that, the more I pushed the more natural it felt, the stronger I felt. And now I feel like I could conquer anything.

Atti

P1060538

Atticus told me to write a story about something beautiful. But what is beautiful? A bouquet of flowers, a symmetrically-featured face, a snow-capped mountain, a satellite view of the earth orbitting the sun?

He clicked his pen as he thought of his own ‘beautiful’ story.

‘Can you stop?’ I said. ‘It’s distracting.’

‘Sorry.’

He stuck the end of his pen in his mouth and cracked his teeth against its edges.

I gathered my notebook and went outside to sit on the deck.

There was nothing but fence and straw-coloured hills and sky. The cows and sheep must have been over the hills, grazing in the shade or drinking from the water hole. The gum trees rustled in the breeze, and goosebumps appeared on my arms. I stretched my legs into the sun, but kept the rest of me in shade so I could see my pages.

You know what’s beautiful, I wrote. The lines in the wood on the deck right here. You can follow them with your fingertips and go on journeys to everywhere. And you have to wonder what came before – what kind of tree was this wood made of, and which year of its life did this line signify? What happened that year – or the years and years before – to make the grain swirl in this way? Who sat under this tree, who climbed it, who lived in it, who scratched their initials into the bark? 

What’s beautiful is even thinking about these things. How does the sun feel if you’re a tree? Can you feel yourself growing?

Does your stump still exist out there somewhere, left to grow tall again while you are here, a plank of wood for me to sit on, stretching my legs out in the sun and writing about something beautiful?

Bare footsteps padded towards me, thumping and peeling away from the inside floorboards. The door opened then slid shut again to keep out the flies.

‘Time’s up,’ Atti said.

‘You didn’t say there was a time limit.’

‘Sometimes you can’t know these things.’

‘But-‘

He snatched my notebook and held it high, ignoring my protests and jumping in pointless attempts to get it back. Giving up, I sat on the pile of firewood, crossed my arms, and waited.

‘Not bad,’ he said at last. ‘I’m impressed, little sis.’

‘You have to show me yours now.’

‘Didn’t write anything,’ he shrugged.

I got up and ran inside, but all his stuff was cleared from the table. My blood boiled like only he could make it.

‘I hate you!’ I called.

‘You don’t,’ he laughed.

‘I do! Why’d you make me write that stupid thing anyway? It’s not even a story.’

‘It doesn’t matter. Don’t you get it?’

Just then, mum and dad pulled back into the driveway. Dad got out of the car and opened the gate, and mum drove the car in, crunching gravel all the way. Atti left to help them bring the shopping in, and I cleared some space on the bench.

I gave one-word answers and nodded as they rattled on about the things they saw on the drive, the locals they spoke to, the daylight robbery prices of things at the shops.

And I forgot to say to Atti, No, I don’t get it. Why did you make me write about something beautiful? What did you write? I know you wrote something. I know it.

Now that he’s gone, I wish I’d remembered.

[a 20-minute story inspired by the following random words: beautiful, earth, orbitting, slow, Atticus, drinking, red, tree, running]

London, June 2016

i saw a fox walking towards me in the darkness.

it stalked up the street, we shared a footpath.

headlights swept sparkles across wet concrete

i reached for my phone, knowing i didn’t need an Instagram picture to prove anything

the fox froze, and disappeared through a fence into the night.

*

on the tube, a boy sat down with his young mum.

she sat hunched over him, spoke in whispers, and when she smiled it was quick, forced because he waited for it each time he said something to her

the boy chatted and rummaged through the shopping for a snack

he didn’t know or care about the unspoken tube-oath of silence

he stuffed his face with chocolate popcorn, grinning at the couple beside me with rainbows painted on their faces

ssh, his mum said

he pushed more popcorn into his mouth, then painted arches in the air with his hands

in the reflection, the rainbow-faced boyfriend smiled back

the boy’s mum shuffled in her seat. fixed the boy’s hair, pulled him closer. pressed a kiss into his head.

‘mummy,’ the boy said loudly. ‘do you know chocolate is my favourite of all the fruits? but actually you are in front of any foods is how much i love you. even more than chocolate.”

*

this city is laced with memories of the most unsure years of my life.

the triggers are everywhere –

this was when

here was where

i want to reach through time and hug myself

tell that girl,

you did the best you could.

everything is going to be ok.

20160625_182707

 

Bucket

He fetched a large bucket and placed it out on the balcony in the rain.

‘Free water,’ Dad said.

‘Yeah but water’s always free…unless you buy it,’ I replied.

‘This water’s better. Trust me.’

‘Ok.’

Staying with dad was always an adventure. He did weird things like put tea towels in the bathroom and use garden tools in the kitchen. Once he made a salad with two small shovels because he couldn’t find the salad mixers. None of his plates matched, and he let us use the coffee table as a footrest.

The last time we saw him, he’d just gone outside to check the water in the bucket. It had rained all night – we stayed up late in the fort we’d built between the couches listening to it, flinching every time the lightning lit up the room, and bracing ourselves for the rumble of thunder. Mum waited at the door while we said bye and got our things.

‘Kids!’ Dad called from the balcony. ‘Come see this.’

‘Mick, we need to go. Daniel has a dentist appointment in ten minutes.’

‘Just a sec, Luce. Just let me show them this.’

We walked through the sliding door onto the balcony. The air cut through our clothes like ice, but the sun warmed our backs.

‘Look at that,’ Dad said.

In the bucket, a brown-speckled duckling swam in circles, making chirpy-quack sounds.

‘Might be missing its mum,’ Dad said.

‘Or its dad,’ I replied.

[a 10-minute writing exercise using the prompt ‘He fetched a large…’. From Pilot 2016: A Diary for Writers]

The Edge of the World

[a short story written in 2009, that I just found and felt like sharing] 

It’s like standing on the edge of the world. Evelyn’s mama lifts her high enough to see over the wall, to the land of concrete below, the planes resting between flights, the long trailers of suitcases like worms and the people like ants following each other in lines, trying to find the best way to lift the planes and carry them back to their hole.

It feels like standing on the edge of the world because behind them is Kai Tak Airport’s main building – large and multi-levelled with laminated floors and fluorescent lights, shops and food and people concentrating on getting from one place to the next. Behind that is the city, all shiny hotels and shabby apartment blocks, local people’s laundry stemming from windows and flapping over the street like flags. Evelyn’s kindergarten is in there somewhere, amidst the flashing neon signs and the sweet sizzle of fried taro. People stand beside street vendors slurping noodle soup from plastic bowls. Glossy Peking ducks hang in restaurant windows, with soy-sauce chickens and crisp pork bellies; there are businessmen in sharp shirts and pants, old men laughing behind counters of herbal medicines or hiding within caves of red incense, firecrackers, and smooth-carved firewood. Women walk with baskets slung over their shoulders, like human scales, each basket loaded with jewel-like oranges, or bean sprouts. Children play marbles in front of their parents’ shops; a blind man flicks the strings of his liu qin, sending streams of quivering, high notes into the air. There are huge white buildings with columns and arch windows, where gweilos work and they keep the British flag raised to make sure nobody forgets. All of these things, the feeling of always being in the middle of a busy market, the polished rich people and the dusty poor people, the smells of street food, the repetition of stinky herbal shops and colourful grocery stores, Evelyn and her mama’s apartment, the playground at the bottom of their building, her kindergarten, all of these things, mixed together somehow to become the same memory, are what will come to Evelyn when she thinks of her old home. In front of her, beyond the concrete floor, is the oily grey-blue water of Kowloon Bay, dotted with junk boats, surrounded by city buildings thick along the coast, and mountains so dense with trees they look like broccoli. Beyond that, Evelyn is struggling to picture anything but the man with the crinkle-faced smile, the one they are moving for.

She doesn’t want to go. But she has to – her mama says so. Her mama says her new baba will be waiting for them in Melbourne – and won’t it be nice to have a baba again? Her mama also says Australia is full of gweilos. Evelyn has seen them on the streets of Hong Kong Island, where she has lived all her life with her mama in a one-bedroom apartment on the seventh floor. Tall men and women, pinky-white skin, blue eyes, green eyes, fried daufu coloured eyes. But if Evelyn closed her eyes when they reached the front of the street vendor queue, or stepped up to buy their bus ticket, she wouldn’t have known that their faces didn’t match the Cantonese shooting out through their lips.

There were two blonde sisters at Evelyn’s kindergarten. Their parents were British, but the girls were born in Hong Kong and sometimes it seemed like they had forgotten they weren’t Chinese. Evelyn never forgot, though – she couldn’t help looking at their fine blonde plaits, the way the loose strands turned white when the light touched them at certain angles. The girls’ cheeks flushed magenta when they ran around too much; their lips were the colour of lychees and their eyes reminded her of sunny day skies. When Evelyn looked at them she thought of fairies – pretty and fascinating, but also mysterious and strange. Evelyn was never really sure whether she wanted to play with them or not.

Evelyn wonders whether, in Australia, people will call her and her mama black ghosts because of the colour of their hair. She imagines going to a school full of gweilo fairy children, where all of the blonde, brown and red-haired teachers stand tall and proud. What if no one is sure whether they want to play with her? What if no one wants to be her friend? Her mama tells her she will have to learn English. What if English is too hard? All of the other children will already speak it – what if she can’t learn fast enough, and can’t talk to anyone – how will she make any friends then?

Evelyn and her mama go inside, holding hands, Evelyn’s other hand clutching her dolly tight. They wait in line, give their tickets to a man at the door, then follow everyone else onto the concrete outside. The sun is shining and the water is just a thin strip now. The planes are as big as buildings.

The echoing bang of her mama’s heels against each metal step. Rows of seats, blue carpet, hidden cupboards in the ceiling. Towards the back, Evelyn’s mama buckles her into a seat and sits beside her, nudging her handbag under the seat in front with her feet.

A loud whooshing noise sweeps through the plane. Evelyn buries her face in her mama’s body, breathing in her perfume. She feels the plane begin to move, slowly at the start, slowly for what seems like forever, and just when she thinks maybe they are already flying, and she is about to lift her head and look out the window, the plane lurches forward and she is sucked into the back of her seat. Her eyes are closed, and her mama is squeezing her.

‘Look! Can you see? We are flying!’

But Evelyn is too scared to look.

*

Evelyn’s mama says they are going to live in a house – big, pretty, with flowers in the garden – just like the Botanical Gardens! – and Evelyn will have her very own room.

‘But I want to sleep with you, mama,’ Evelyn said on their last night.

‘You can’t,’ her mama replied. ‘You are a big girl now. Big girls have their own rooms, and they sleep by themselves in their own beds. Aren’t you a big girl yet?’

‘I am a big girl.’

‘Then what is the problem?’

‘What if I have bad dreams?’

Her mama stroked her hair, coaxing her into sleep. ‘If you have bad dreams, you can come to me. But you must try to sleep by yourself, ha? Big girl now. Ha?’

‘Yes, mama.’

She had shared a room with her mama since she was born, and shared a bed with her for as long as she can remember. Every night, in that cosy double bed, Evelyn curled into her mama’s arms and wrapped her own arms around her dolly. The three of them fitted perfectly into that space; it had never occurred to her that they would ever need anybody else.

When she was born, Evelyn slept in a cot beside the bed. But then her Chinese-American baba flew back to visit his parents, and on his way to the airport to come home, the taxi crashed into another car. This is what her mama said. She told her that on the night she learned that he was never coming home, she lifted their baby from the cot and sat with her on the bed, letting hot tears fall onto the baby’s brow. The baby blinked with surprise when each one landed, and if they slipped down her fat red cheeks and touched her lips, she licked them. Evelyn’s mama lay down and continued crying, keeping her eyes on the baby beside her. A dark patch swelled on the pillowcase. Baby Evelyn, she said, looked back at her, gurgling, perfectly content. That’s when she knew that the two of them would be all right.

‘Then why do I need a new baba?’ Evelyn had asked before the wedding.

‘Mama cannot give you everything you need,’ her mama told her. ‘Your new baba will look after us; he will send you to a good school so you can grow up smart and have a good job and look after your mama when she is old. Ha?’

‘But why can’t he live here?’

‘Because he lives there. Ai,’ her mama kissed her hair. ‘Everything will be better from now on. You will see.’

Evelyn looked at her mama, wondering.

‘Do you believe me, little one?’ her mama asked. ‘Do you trust mama?’

Still, Evelyn wasn’t sure.

‘Wei, can you hear me?’

Finally, Evelyn nodded. Her mama’s face stretched into a smile, and she gathered Evelyn into her arms and squeezed. ‘Do not worry about anything, okay?’ she whispered. ‘Mama will always look after you. You are my baby.’

*

‘Wake up, wake up! Look, you can see Australia!’

Evelyn’s dream, in which the blonde sisters were holding her hands and leading her into a classroom full of children who looked just like them, fades into black. The steady rumble and whoosh of the plane fills her ears again; she breathes the soapy smell of the seats. She remembers where she is, that her room for the last ten hours has had a window and an armrest, the back of her seat and the back of the seat in front of her for walls. Her mama is beside her. Her dolly has fallen onto her unbuckled shoes on the floor.

The plane is in a cloud, and when it shakes a little, Evelyn whimpers. Her mama points outside again, and she dares to look. The cloud opens up and far, far below is a land – green and yellow and brown, and as the plane gets lower, she can see that it is speckled with white square houses.

Her mama’s arm is around her when the wheels hit the ground. They collect their suitcases and wait in lines, and they are walking through sliding doors, into a room full of people waiting, watching the same doors they came through. Just as her mama had said, there are a lot of gweilos. They wear slippers, shorts and t-shirts and floaty beach dresses, their arms spread wide to greet their loved ones emerging through the doors. And then the tall, slender man Evelyn remembers appears from somewhere in between them. His black hair is flecked with more grey than there was at the wedding; it is combed and gelled to the side. He is wearing a suit and holding flowers and a new dolly with a bright pink and yellow dress. When he sees Evelyn and her mama, and they see him, his face crinkles all the way up to his hairline because his smile is so big.