First place I ever traveled, at age 20, was China. I had just finished three years language study at university, and was off to the East China Normal University in Shanghai for a few months’ language immersion.
From Port Pirie to Shanghai via Adelaide. My parents did not have passports, and it is only now that I am around the same age my father was when he waved me goodbye that I realise exactly what a gift they gave to me when they gave me the plane ticket they had not yet been able to give themselves. Denis insisted that we go to the duty free shop in King William Street and buy a Swiss Army knife the day before I left. ‘Everyone buys a Swiss Army knife when they go overseas.’
It might be contrived to say that trip changed my life, but it did, not just because of the experiences that I had while I was there, but because a few months after I got home, I watched as the Tiananmen Square protests and all that it entailed unfolded. I would have been horrified even if I had not been to China, but of course it was made more real to me because this was happening in the first place outside my own that I had ever had the chance to experience. It was the beginning of my involvement with human rights organisations and actions.
The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobao is not without criticism, but I thought the image of his empty chair at the weekend’s ceremony was a potent one, made more so by the frenzy surrounding Julian Assange (on which point I will be silent, but I would like to point you to the things which have had most resonance for me: castironbalcony and spiltmilk).