Shape of Tears Reply

by Siqi Yuan

Study abroad can be a lonely place Photograph: johnwilliamsphd

Study abroad can be a lonely place
Photograph: johnwilliamsphd

They come to Australia from all over the world. They are not homogeneous. But they grouped as one: international students. Often they may feel powerless, but they are big dreamers.

Dreaming on

He is standing on the balcony of his apartment, smoking before sleeping. As always, he stares at the dark sky, thinking.

Omar has been in Sydney for nine months. He is studying for his Masters of Business Administration at the University of Technology, Sydney.

A party animal, he comes from Lebanon.  He is a Muslim who shaves his beard every week. His good looks attract many girls. Before he had a part-time job, he used to go clubbing at least once a week. And got drunk most of nights.

Being identified as a Muslim bothers him. Sectarian conflicts continue in Lebanon. The tension between Sunni Muslim and Shiite Muslim continues. Deadly explosions blast Lebanon. All because of religion, and he hates that. He gives a sigh of relief when he makes sure his family is safe.

“I want to stay here as long as I can; if I have the chance to apply Permanent Residency, I would,” he says.

All he wants is an advanced country, a steady life. Five years work experience as an engineer and a MBA may help him find a good job in Australia.

Even though he currently works in a fast food restaurant as a cook, he only gets paid $13 dollars an hour, and he still needs his family to cover his tuition fees.

One day, he stepped on a big rubbish bag that he had just thrown out at the restaurant, posed to show his muscles, and asked his friend to take a photo. Then, lost in the moment, he murmured, “Omar, life shouldn’t like this, not at 29.”

But no one heard and soon he deleted the photograph.

“I can’t have regrets, I need to accept my choices,” he says.

He knows the coming years will be tough but he is determined to get his degree, and widen his business knowledge, and ultimately improve his career.

“The real challenge is to start a new career and new life in a new country,” he says.

He wants a real job – a big office, responsibility, and his own projects.

That is his dream.

His dream is the reason he is here. It is the reason he insists on studying many long late nights. It is the reason he has to agree with that part-time job, even though he did not even have one when he was 17.

It is the end of the semester now, and he has four exams in hand. But tomorrow he has a party to attend, and he plans to get drunk.

“I know what I’m doing,” he says.

Settling down

She is cleaning the kitchen at her boyfriend’s place. She washes the plates and puts them back in the kitchen cabinet.

Helen has been in Sydney for eight months. She is studying for a Masters of Business Administration at the University of Technology, Sydney. This is her second Masters degree at overseas university.

She is a traditional Taiwanese girl but knows much about western culture. Even eight years living in America has not changed her personality. Beautiful, sexy, attractive. She does not give the colourful description too much thought; she wants to settle down. But her boyfriend is not ready for that.

Thirty three, her age, is a horrible number for an Asian girl.

“I want to get married tomorrow,” she jokes.

But where is the man?

Definitely not her boyfriend.

He is an international student as well. No official job, no house. And 30 is still young for a man from the Middle East. There is no reason for him to get married tomorrow.

“I want to find a job as soon as possible. I want to have my own place, have a daughter as cute as my niece, raise a Great Dane with someone,” Helen says.

It is really difficult to settle down when she is in such an insecure situation.

“I must wake up,” she says with determination.

Maybe after she moves out of his place, she can be much braver and leave him behind.

Their goals are different. The most important thing is that they know what they each want.

She thinks to herself: treasure every single one who comes into your life. Only time will give the true meaning of the people in your life.

Secret relationship

It is 7.45 in the morning.  He is kneeling on a prayer rug, head towards the holy city Mecca, devoutly praying. It is the way he starts every single day.

Khalid has been in Australia for 16 months. He is studying English at the University of Queensland. Next year, he will start his Masters of Law there.

This religious man from Saudi Arabia prays three times a day, shaves every 14 days, never drinks. He follows every basic rule of Islam.

But this man has a secret girlfriend in Sydney.

Fate is fate. After he had been in Sydney eight months, she came into his life, a cute dream girl from Japan.

They had been studying English together for 10 weeks.

“She is the girl who I dared to ask for lunch. She has taken my heart and virginity,” he says, staring at the ground.

But his family has already chosen a girl at home for him. “You will like her for sure,” his mother says from the other side of the world. His family prepares an engagement party. His fiancée-to-be is 20, seven years younger than him. She wants to study overseas as well.

However, his girlfriend here knows his dreams and ambitions, and she supports him. She knows a top Australian university is important for his career. When his family arranges a marriage for him, she encourages him to accept it. She knows a suitable marriage is important for his life, his culture and his religious background.

“Before our first kiss, we knew had a limited relationship. She prepared, and I prepared for that day,” he says.

“We will stay connected with each other, even if I get married, on Facebook, Twitter. Maybe I will introduce her to my wife as my classmate. Inshalla,” he says.

Maybe this is the best ending. He will not lose his scholarship, will not lose his salary of $3000 dollars a month, will not lose his family’s support, and will not lose his girlfriend’s support. And he does not have to.

“We came to Australia to study. We should move on and complete our lives,” he says.

But all the beautiful memories they created are under his skin – when they ate Oporto, when they watched the movie The Great Gatsby, when they went to Darling Harbour to watch the fireworks every Saturday night.

It has been three months since their last kiss.

You do not know the shape of their tears, because you cannot see them.

They are fine.  G’day, Australia.

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