A Better Life?

Author: Charles Wong, urban dweller

Migrants hope for a better life, but how far short do they ever think their expectations may fall?

Since my arrival here in 1985, I have led, it seems to me, a thoroughly uneventful, middle-class existence. Many Australians deny that a class system exists in this country: if that line of thinking applies, then by middle-class, I refer to that segment of society which is employed; has a roof over their heads; and doesn't really need to worry too much about where their next meal is coming from.

I have not enjoyed the distinction of being called a chink or the felicity of being directed to go back from whence I came. Thus emigration has fulfilled my expectations—or, to put it another way, it has not been to my detriment.

When I think of this, it usually brings to mind the man who sleeps in the doorway of my building. Well, 'doorway' is inaccurate; more precisely, it's a recess, back from the footpath, just large enough for a person to sit out of anyone's way.

This man can, firstly, only be classified as a street person. He looks grubby, carries a bag crammed with possessions and sits on the footpath. But if you take a closer look, the marks on the clothes are such that no amount of washing will remove them; he looks reasonably well-scrubbed; there are no odorous stains on him. In short, he's clean. Secondly, he is distinguished by other factors: he doesn't ask for money, nor does he mutter at people or drink from a brown paper bag. He just stands there and looks around, minding his business, and looking eminently sane. Thirdly, he is of Asian descent.

He's at the doorway almost every night. Previously, I thought he just sat there, on his milk crate, during the day, and disappeared somewhere—home, a hostel?—at night. Then, when returning home late, I would see him seated on the milk crate, hugging the bag on his lap and sleeping. And I would think: What sort of life was he hoping for when he came here? What did he leave behind? Whom did he come to? And did it ever cross his mind that he would be sleeping on the streets?