people in your neighbourhood

Sitting in the Ultimo public library I met a man who told me he was being persecuted by the Australian government in alliance with the Chinese.

(The rest of this story is all what he told me. Obviously, I haven’t fact-checked any of it.)

His name was Yee, and he was born in Australia but his family returned to China when he was two years old. He said he was 75 now. That’d put him on the boat to Guangzhou in about 1938, not a wonderful time.

Mr. Yee started talking to me to get some help with the grammar on a couple of documents he had. He was writing to the Australian government complaining about his mistreatment for the past thirty years. He told me he was an engineer in Guangzhou but when he came back to Australia he could only get a job sorting mail at the GPO.

His real troubles though, they came when he wrote an open letter to an Australian newspaper in praise of a visiting Chinese scholar in 1987. Because of that letter the Chinese government and the Australian government banded together to crush him.

He was fired from his workplace for illness but no doctor would write a diagnosis saying he was ill so he could collect disability insurance. He was convicted of crimes he didn’t commit and was sent to jail, “the gates of hell,” twice. They said he was mentally ill and told him to go back to China, which wouldn’t take him.

Mr. Yee was going to put on a photo exhibit about the Chinese life in Sydney at an Ultimo community centre, but on his walk home he was attacked and beaten and his photos and the negatives were taken. The police never came because the government had sent those robbers. They’d tapped his phone and knew he was taking those photos to the community centre.

I didn’t ask what the pictures were of.

Now, he said, he’s 75 years old and sick of being silent. “I’ve taken it all my life but now I will not be silent.”

The letters I was proofreading for him documented this story of his trials and tribulations. The part he was most adamant that I get correct was the bit where he talked about being in the crowds back in China shouting “Long live Chairman Mao!” He didn’t want to use the word shouting because “we were polite! It was like this…” he mimed out applause “not…” and then he mimed angry shaking fists. “We were polite!” I explained that the way it was written about shouting “Long live Chairman Mao!” it would get the meaning across. He practically forced me to add a word to make it more positive (we settled on “in support”).

It was kind of an awesome interaction. I tend to listen to people like that in the library with a lot more tolerance than I have for people telling long rambling stories at a bar. I mean, he was getting a bit animated and talking a bit loud for the surroundings but whatever.

When I used to work at the library and dealt with patrons like this (Beard Lady comes to mind) I was conscious of representing the library in some way. But here I was, just a patron and I could just sit there and listen and proofread without having a sense of further responsibility.

I wonder if he goes to the staff at this branch to ask them for help, and what it was about me sitting there that made me look like I might help. I know at my old library there were patrons like this who we’d help and others who were more assholish who we’d find rules and policies to follow to avoid getting too involved.

I appreciate that kind of individualistic approach in library dealings. I’d much rather be able to do something like what I did as a person tonight than to have to tell the guy to go tell someone who cares. It’s probably not coincidental this branch of the City of Sydney Public Library is attached to a community centre.

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