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"China Through My Eyes," Ambassador of Australia

Twenty years ago, Mr. David Irvine suddenly discovered that he wanted to learn Chinese and would like to work in China in the future. Therefore, he arranged to spend one year learning Chinese and then lived in Hong Kong for another year. In 1982, he was posted to China as Counselor (Political) in the Australian Embassy in Beijing.

"That period of time was very interesting," said Irvine, "Because at that time it was the right beginning for China to perform Mr. Deng Xiaoping's reforming and opening-up policy. And the culture revolution had just finished."

At that time, like most Westerners, Irvine considered China to be a mysterious oriental country. "But when I got to Beijing, I found that there wasn't a great difference between China and other countries."

"However, at that time not many Chinese people had ever seen foreigners. I still remember, one day my two lovely daughters and went to see pandas during my visit to a city in mid-China. When we watched the pandas, people watched us, showing great interest in the two pretty foreign girls with golden hair." Ambassador Irvine can't help laughing. "At that time, in the mainland of China that kind of children was more rare than pandas."

After finishing his mission in China, David Irvine went to Indonesia as the Minister in Australian Embassy. Twenty years later, he has returned to China. "From 1982 till now, 20 years have passed. The changes in China are enormous and striking. Beijing has become an internalized city, not only Beijing but also Shanghai, Guangzhou and many other metropolises of China."

"The living standard, life style and consumption habits in Chinese metropolises are quite similar to those of other metropolises in the world. Of course the situation in Chinese countryside is another issue. But the distance between Chinese countryside and foreign countryside is temporary. I believe that the Chinese countryside will experience great development in the near future."

Referring to the communication with Chinese people, Irvine said, "I get on very well with a great number of Chinese people. The Chinese are very friendly and they have a good sense of humor, although sometimes foreigners can't fully understand Chinese humor."

In his spare time, ambassador Irvine wants to study the leather-silhouette show. "I also long to further study Peking opera and some other local dramas. But as an ambassador, I'm very busy with diplomatic affairs and social activities. So it's a pity that I have no time to do what I like."

"I once watched a ballet adapted from Zhang Yimou's The Red Lantern. I found this kind of art form to be interesting because it unites the Chinese manner of thinking, Chinese artistic arrangement and some foreign modern aesthetic expressions. I think this can speed up there development of Chinese art and promote the internalization of Chinese art."

Moreover, at the suggestion of president Jiang Zemin, Irvine would also like to read more Tang poetry.

"Fifty years ago, we could say that Australia is an European country on the edge of Asia. But at present, as a country Australia has more profound meaning. It is a diversified country," said the ambassador.

Australia is built by people from different cultural background. Its population comes from over 140 countries. "In my opinion, because Australian people are from different races and national backgrounds, it's easy for Australians to understand Asia and people from Asian countries. Meanwhile, Australia's multiculturalism makes it easier for Asian people to understand Australia better. We have already done a great deal in this kind of interactive communication."

"Australia has very outstanding features of a western country in terms of political system, legal system and social life. But from the perspective of geographic location, most of its neighbors are Asian countries whose culture is quite different from Australia."

Fifty years ago, Australian people barely knew of the caraway. Then Chinese people went to Australia and introduced caraway into cooking. Now, Australians have started to use caraway even in Western cuisine.

(Bilingual World January 24, 2002)

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