As it was Christmas not long after he’d arrived in the country, he told us, being a Catholic and, what’s more, a Catholic from China, he thought he might follow the suggestion of a friend and take his family along to one of the special Australian Christmas masses at the local church.
It was wonderful day. After mass they were invited into a hall and sat down to a huge, delicious lunch. There had been so much food he hadn’t been able to finish his serve.
When he and his family got up to leave they joined a queue at the door, and at the end of it, people were handing out presents. One of them was dressed up as Father Christmas. His daughter was delighted. He took lots of photographs and video footage: his daughter with Father Christmas, his daughter in front of the tinsel covered tree on the porch, holding a box wrapped in green and silver foil. But the people giving the presents weren’t happy, he said. They gave his daughter presents – even his wife and himself a huge bundle of presents, but the people on the porch weren’t at all happy.
It was only an hour or so later, when he’d got home and caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror, that he realised that he hadn’t been dressed like anybody else at the Christmas lunch. He’d worn a new white suit, he said, because in China you always wore your best suit to church, but nobody else at the lunch in the hall had been dressed like that. It was only then that he realised that everyone else had been poor, as he called it.
Perhaps right at the beginning the people in the church or in the hall might have said something to him. They might have given him a hint or asked a few questions – he didn’t remember – but his English hadn’t been good in those early weeks then. He wouldn’t have understood. He’d only just arrived.