Feature: An Australian scholar's happy memories of China

By Bai Xu and Yue Dongxing (Xinhua) 13:58, May 15, 2021

CANBERRA, May 15 (Xinhua) -- Trips, noodles and his own band with a group of Chinese friends... Australian scholar Rod Campbell described his days in China as among the "happiest" in his life, which seemed to be a sequel from his mom's book.

"I think actually having a personal understanding does change one's opinion on how China works," he told Xinhua in an interview.

The 43-year-old Campbell is now a research director in the Australia Institute, who said that his interest in China stemmed from his childhood memory.

His mom Beris Turnley visited China in 1968 as a member of the National Union of Australian University Students group, during which they lived with farmers on a commune near Shanghai, talked with soldiers, and watched films and operas. She detailed her trip in her book "Journey into China".

Now, at the age of 77, Turnley at her home in Melbourne could still sing some Chinese old songs like "The East is Red" and "Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman".

"I grew up listening to my mom's stories, and... every Friday night we used to get Chinese takeaway food from a shop down in St. Kilda," Campbell recalled.

In high school, he was encouraged to learn Mandarin, when there was a big push to get Australian high school children to learn the language. "We were told in the future, Australia will engage a lot more with Asia," he said.

He then entered the Melbourne University to study geography, and went to China in 2000 for a study trip. Two years later, he visited again, doing a project about grain-growing and the management of the Yellow River.

Talking about the year 2005, Campbell said it was "definitely one of the happiest years of my life," when he was involved in a government program to work in Gansu Agricultural University in northwest China.

He would become very talkative at the mentioning of Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu. "It's quite a big city, and no one's pretentious there. They're just wonderful people," he beamed. "There are clearly the best noodles in the world."

He made many friends, with whom he is still in touch on WeChat. He had his own band, Roujiamo, which literally means marinated meat in a baked bun, a burger-like snack typical in northwest China. "Every now and then, people would recognize me in Lanzhou and say 'hey, you're the guy from Roujiamo'," Campbell said proudly.

He also traveled a lot during the three years, talking with farmers in counties, and went to see the murals in Dunhuang (a city in Gansu Province, famous for the Mogao Grottoes, a world cultural heritage site). He even went to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where he had a good time.

Thumbing through an album, he showed the photos that he took there: the grand mosque in Kashgar and smiling residents there.

His personal experience gave him the reason to question some reports of Western media. "I think some of the studies that get quoted are pretty misleading," said Campbell. "As a researcher, I find them pretty simplistic."

During his visits, he also witnessed the changes of China.

He has had a friend who used to work in a regional Chinese university with just a standard apartment about 15 years ago. Now he's got a house in the picturesque island province of Hainan, as well as his own car.

"When there's a lot of discussion in Australian media about how China has developed and what does that mean, I really know what that means," said Campbell. "I've seen what it meant for my friends and the improvement in their standards of living."

"There are up to 1.3 billion people with a lot of pretty different opinions and priorities, and keeping them all reasonably well working together is... a big achievement."

The scholar said he was sad to see the relationship between China and Australia come to this stage.

"I'm very sad about how things have turned in recent years," he said. "In 2005, it felt like China-Australia relations are really going in a great direction, and I was part of that, on a collaborative project between Australian and Chinese government agencies and universities."

It is his wish that the two countries could work on areas of mutual interest, such as agricultural research and climate policy. "We're both big countries with lots of deserts. We should be both interested in how to feed ourselves and how to feed our neighboring countries."

"There's still a lot of mutual interest," he concluded. "A lot of mutual respect between people."

(Web editor: Shi Xi, Bianji)


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