By Camille Grondin, Bachelor of Medical Sciences
As an international student living in Sydney for the first time, this trip with the GLP was an opportunity to explore a neighbourhood I would probably have never visited on my own. Let me tell you about the Cultural Insights Day that I attended in Cabramatta.
For our first activity on that warm September Friday, we visited the Mingyue Lay Temple. It’s one of the largest Chinese Buddhist temples in the southern hemisphere. I was particularly amazed by the sheer grandness of the place, the colours, gardens and dozens of golden Buddhas. I really enjoyed the calm and peaceful atmosphere in the temple.
I also learned a lot about Buddhism: in particular, the different Buddhas in the temple such as the laughing Buddha, a symbol of happiness and good fortune. There was also the Prince of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. He was surrounded by the Buddha of Death who accompanies the deceased. The Buddha of Medicine must be prayed to for good health. In an outdoor garden was the lady Buddha known as the Goddess of Mercy. She stood at the center of a splendid fountain.
Worshippers visiting the temple offered oranges and flowers as a sign of gratitude and thanks. For almost an hour, I felt like I was no longer in Australia - but in greater Asia!
After this guided tour, we visited the Fairfield City Museum and Gallery on a hired bus. I really enjoyed the journey which allowed me to talk to other students. Some looked familiar to me having seen them at colloquia or on campus. Others I didn't know at all.
After we arrived at the museum, we had morning tea provided by the GLP team, and were free to hang out in the vintage village there. The village was a representation of the local businesses and residences from the 1880s to the 1930s. It was strange to go from a modern street with cars and pavement to this little hidden village that took us back over a century!
The village contained a school, grocery store, and some houses that sat frozen in time. Inside one home, a pair of shoes lingered at the front door and plates rested on the table. The scene immediately reminded me of the old American soap opera 'Little House on the Prairie'. It also looked like what my grandmother recalled from her childhood school, the houses that she spent time in, and kitchens of her past. It was a very emotional moment highlighting the economic progress made over decades creating the world we know today.
We were also lucky to have another wonderful guide to show us the “Mình” exhibition at the museum’s gallery. It illustrated the life of Chinese and Vietnamese migrants into Sydney. The artworks on display showed how they felt about the way they were perceived by the wider society as well as their stories.
Then we enjoyed lunch! We had a delicious meal at a Vietnamese restaurant before zipping through an Amazing Race competition around the main plaza. It was another opportunity to meet other students, and collaborate to solve the clues hidden along the street and amongst the shops.
After the game, we visited the Whitlam Library to learn more about the population of Fairfield and its history. We learned how the suburb came to be including how it amassed such a substantial number of Asian migrants.
I learned that in the past, Cabramatta was once considered a dangerous and extremely poor neighbourhood. Now it’s a picture of progress full of Asian grocery stores and restaurants. Many Asian celebrations take place along the main plaza such as the Festival of the Moon at the end of September. It’s an important festival across greater Asia with similar celebrations occurring in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam to mark the end of the autumn harvest. It’s another good reason to visit Cabramatta this year!
Following this historical briefing, we had the chance to meet an incredible man named John and listen to his story. John works for CORE Community Services who provide assistance to local residents in need. CORE places great importance on respecting and celebrating the differences and cultural diversity of the locals, which I think is remarkable. They assist with resettlement, elderly care, education, employment, domestic violence assistance, and drug and alcohol addiction.
I found the work of CORE as well as John and his story quite touching. We've all heard stories of refugees leaving their homeland to seek a better life in another country. But it’s not as simple as that. I was surprised to learn that most of the time, these people don't even know where they're going. They are often sent to a country they don't know with a different culture; but above all, a different language. This can make it even more difficult for them to adapt. You have to be incredibly courageous and resilient to overcome something like that. Thanks to his story, I've realised how lucky I am to have been born and raised in a stable and developed country.
Finally, we ended those inspirational stories and departed for our final activity: a martial arts and lion dance class. I didn't think this workshop was going to be so physical, but it was brilliant! I think I'll need at least ten more years of training before becoming a professional! The instructors were great and we were able to learn the basic movements of the lion dance and the famous dragon dance. I really enjoyed ending with this entertaining activity, and it's more fun to be able to do it with new friends.
Throughout the day, I was surprised to learn about the multicultural nature of Sydney. It wasn’t just about an impressive city centre and wonderful beaches, but also incredible history and cultural heritage.
To conclude, if I had to choose one word to describe this day, it would be INCREDIBLE. It was such a great adventure! I've been able to learn and see a lot of things that I never imagined I'd do or see. I met lots of people who I really liked, people studying the same degree as me, and other international students.
I arrived alone that morning without knowing anyone and left travelling with a friend I'd met that day and saying goodbye to others. I hope to have the opportunity to attend another cultural day with the GLP team very soon!
Camille visited Cabramatta as part of the Global Leadership Program Cultural Insights Series, where GLP students visit cultural hubs around Sydney.