Imaginations of 'nostalgia': relationships at home
Migration and studying abroad is a desired life trajectory. Just as there are the 'push-pull' factors (Mazzarol & Soutar, 2002) impacting upon the demand for Australian tertiary education and residency status, there are also the 'push-pull' factors affecting the three participants reconnecting back to China. They continue to face pressures stemming from home, not only to complete their studies and qualify to teach and remain in Australia as permanent residents, but also to meet the more formal demands of family and friends expressed as responsibilities to their country of origin. All three participants face such dilemmas.
I think being the only child is more about responsibility [pause] ... my parents are not so young; they are already in the sixties already. So, also they have been retired for many years. So not only should I financially support myself, I should also support them as well. [pause] ... . that will be very hard for me in China. Even if I am married so we have two people to share the load to support our parents. Two people still can't afford to support seven people [pause] . .. it's ridiculous. Prices in China are increasing and if you would like to have a child born in Beijing, you will have to prepare about $4000 to $5000 Australian dollars. (06/05/10)
For Chong, being the only child, and more importantly, the only son to his ageing parents, filial piety is, perhaps not surprisingly, the key impetus for him to consider coming to - and wanting to return from - Australia. This is the same for Mei. Both Chong and Mei have plans to bring their parents to Australia when they are successful in applying for Australian permanent residency. To them, life back home is far more challenging than what they are facing here in Australia. Although Chong and Mei do not feel nostalgic about their lifestyles back in China, in Beijing (for Chong) and Shanghai (for Mei), the notion of 'nostalgia' for Chong and Mei is mixed with a sense of filial piety towards their parents.
This strong yearning for a better life for his parents adds another layer of complexity to Chong's nostalgic longing to be with them. However, until Chong and Mei are able to secure a more permanent teaching job and residency status in Australia, this sense of 'nostalgia' can gradually change and become 'fantasy', in which they would have to think of alternatives upon graduation. Chong's alternative is to maintain close contact with his previous employer. As Chong clarifies,
One thing I always have is a backup plan [pause] ... even if I do not gain PR (permanent residency), I do not lose my permanent job as a tour guide. For now, I am still employed as a tour guide in China. In fact, I am going back to China to work during the school break so that I can earn little extra money. (11/11/11)
Chong knows that this is probably the most practical step he needs to take, as he imagines his life as a migrant will 'probably be hard for the first two years to find a teaching job' (06/05/10). This is especially so when he has been advised to first sign up for an English course during his second teaching practicum.
As for Mei, adding to her 'nostalgia' complexity is her age. Being over 30 has posed the greatest threat to being successful in obtaining Australian permanent residency. Yet, because of her increased social capital in Australia (as she gets along very well with her mentor teachers in the practicum schools, tutors and lecturers in the university), she is now more eager to seek better opportunities by securing a scholarship to do a doctoral study in Australia than to find a teaching job. Even though they have all come with a common goal to obtain teaching qualifications and migrant status, Mei's 'fantasy' in the next phase of her life in Australia has diverted from Chong's. One obvious reason is because, within the transnational space, we see more of the unequal positioning of different groups of people or persons shaped by the flows and movements of transnational mobility that Ong (1999) refers to. However, Ping's case is slightly different. She explains:
I struggle against Confucian thinking. Over the years, people put their own definitions into the Confucian theories. Nowadays,
Confucian thinking talks about women should listen to their husbands when they are alive, and when they die, they should listen to themselves. It does not make any sense. I also struggle with this Confucian thinking: if the son is unfilial towards his parents, it is the father's fault. [pause] ... why does it make sense? In a way, it is right; children should have be (sic) taught about good behaviour so that they will learn how to live harmoniously. If this theory goes to a higher level, not everyone can reach. Everything has two sides, and there is consequence. I don't think I should deprive the good nature in kids and make them be perfect beings through his philosophy. (21/01/2011)
Ping struggles with this aspect of Confucian philosophy because it does not match her personal view of being a modern urbanised Chinese woman, wife and mother. To her, there is a great pressure of living up to the Confucian idea of being a woman in modern China today. This pressure is even more critical when both her husband and mother- in-law are the ones expecting her to live up to the Confucian principles; thus, impacting her marriage. So, in order to attain her own identity and a sense of self-worth as an individual, she chooses to move out of China and live in a culture that validates her values and identity of a woman.
Against the backdrop of new opportunities and huge risks of being in Australia, Ping begins to reflexively analyse her Chinese Confucian 'tradition' and philosophy. Her pre-study/migration move to Australia, as part of her 'fantasy' to live freely from the constraints of her cultural roots and estranged marriage, has also opened her mind to interrogate her identity and gender. Such issues, in Giddens' (1991) view, are core concerns of self which he considers to be influential in reshaping people's understandings of their social world. Ping's 'nostalgia' is to imagine herself breaking free from being judged against the socially and culturally constructed criteria of being a modern Chinese woman. This is significant for Ping, especially when she is also married with a young son. She explains that she would be 'dying ... physically and mentally ... I told my husband maybe when I get Australian permanent residency, we can give it [their marriage] a try, but if it still doesn't work, we can still take care of our son and be together but maybe not in marriage' (15/12/2009).
Such an awareness of her past is transforming her thoughts about 'marriage till-death-do-us-part' to 'marriage until-further-notice' (Giddens, 1991; cited in Elliott & Urry, 2010, p. 93). Ping's story problematises the notion of 'astronaut families' (Ong, 1999). Unlike the glitter of some rich transnational businessmen and students who are able to make trips back home or send remittances back to families, Ping has to straddle her transnational space by being virtually connected with distant her son (through the Internet) whilst being visibly connected with real people around her. The following narrative captures one such moment in Ping's struggles straddling within the transnational space between 'here' and 'there'. She recalls:
I didn't talk to him [her son] a lot in these two weeks because lately, he was a little bit angry with me. That day, I was very busy, so I told him I have to go. He just cried after that and he told me if I really miss him, I better get back and not stop. ... Anyway, even though he is not living with me, I still need to spend time with him. (15/12/09)
The pressure for Ping of trying to be 'there' virtually for her son is one example of what Elliott and Urry (2010) have observed in the use of 'miniaturized mobilities' - another term for the latest digital technologies - as part of '"holding" or containment of anxiety'. On the one hand, this can 'facilitate thinking in relation to mobile lives'. But, on the other hand, it can turn its back upon the 'self in various pathologies of mobile lives' (p. 43). In fact, Urry (2003) has argued that virtual contact with families and friends cannot replace a physical contact with loved ones. This seems to explain how the competing pressures of living within the transnational space impact Ping. Perhaps this may have contributed to Ping eventually succumbing to a serious physical illness known as 'left carotid cavernous fistula' while she was studying in Australia.
Although much has been researched on transnational families, such as the notions of 'parachute kids' (Zhou, 1998) and 'astronaut families' (Ong, 1999), who are living in-between fluxes by being paradoxically physically apart and virtually together; Ping's account of her 'virtual' parenting for emerging transnational international students cum migrants, like herself, is under-researched. To me, this reveals an aspect of Ping 'being-in-flux' within the emotional dilemma of transnational space in the position as an 'Asian migrant mother/wife' seeking new possibilities in the host country. Without any of the allure that defines Ong's concept of 'astronaut families', Ping's situation resonates with this transnational 'astronaut' construct. Ping wants to remain in Australia because her 'fantasy', like many of the Hong Kong businessmen, is to create a better future for their children.