Charlotte is an Australian lawyer based in our Beijing office
Charlotte grew up in Australia, in the laid back suburbs of Sydney, where she learnt to love the sun, being out in the ocean, and all the pleasures and curiosities of living in a diverse multicultural community. She would roam with the kids on her street after school, on bikes or rollerblades; then they would all congregate at one house and feast on dinners that could include anything from agnolotti to pinto bean chilli, pho, gyros, or larb – or, of course, steak and three veg. This is how she came to be unofficially adopted by her Greek Yaya and Italian Nonna.
Sometimes trying to navigate through the potentially competing forces in her life could be challenging: her absolute love of the hurly burly of the sports field; an intense bookishness; her desire to fit seamlessly into the Aussie idyll; and her parents' desire to reclaim a Vietnamese identity for her. She found a way. It meant Saturday mornings spent learning Vietnamese grammar and poems, a quick costume change in the car, and Saturday afternoons spent sizzling on the hot asphalt of the netball court or the athletics track.
When at age nine, Charlotte had some of her writing published and began to see herself as a budding writer, her mother was cautious and not quite brimming with encouragement - "I'd rather you weren't a starving artist, dear." When the time came, Charlotte did a combined Arts/Law degree. She would pursue her interest in gender studies, history and literature alongside a profession. After graduating, she worked for several years with a large international law firm in Sydney and then, like many Australian lawyers, decided to broaden her horizons by going to work overseas. Having only been to Vietnam once before, she packed her bags and headed to Asia. At the time, she thought it was just that she had come upon an exciting looking opportunity with Rouse in Ho Chi Minh City. But perhaps, looking back, she was also in some way wanting to acquaint herself with her family's history a little further.
After several years in Vietnam, she began to feel the pull to explore its huge intriguing cousin to the north. And she has been in Beijing ever since.
There are two short stories that reveal a lot about Charlotte: one from her past, one from her time in Beijing.
The first is about fencing. At university, Charlotte developed a passion for fencing. More than a passion, an obsession! For five years she fenced competitively and even made it to the nationals. Whereas things like netball had come easily to Charlotte, fencing didn’t. It wasn’t instinctive. She had to claw every inch of the way. She remembers having a training partner who would smoke on the side-lines, then walk casually on and win his bouts. No practice, no weight training, no speed drills needed. He had the ‘feel’ for it in a way that Charlotte didn’t. She was frustrated at how hard it was for her to make it click – it’s still one of the most challenging things she’s pursued in her life. Why the persistence? Her theory is that something in her has probably always gravitated to seemingly lost causes, causes that almost challenge one to prove the label wrong.
The second story is from her time in Beijing. Despite the pollution, and the fact that many Chinese have abandoned their bicycles in favour of cars, Beijing is still a city of cycles. The modern noble steed is an electric scooter, which Charlotte has opted for as her mode of transport. Riding in Beijing is not like riding elsewhere – you run the gauntlet of cars, tricycles, bicycles, scooters and pedestrians. One day at an intersection, Charlotte noticed out of the corner of her eye that someone was trying to attract her attention. When she got a chance to look over, there was Luke Minford on his electric scooter. “Race you home." he said – and with that the wave of traffic set off, Luke with it. She caught up with his faster scooter at the next traffic lights and was greeted with his dramatic declaration "Eat my dust!". Off they took again in a wave of traffic, but Luke, having only just returned to Beijing after many years, unwittingly headed straight for a bottleneck. He looked round to see Charlotte zipping off down a tiny side street shortcut. She made it home first. She seems to get a kick out of uncertainty, opaqueness, finding the things that aren't obvious. And this time she was also being rather sneaky, like a true fencer.
So, Beijing seems to be the perfect place for Charlotte. She’s still roaming around her neighbourhood streets, just as she did in Sydney in the old days, but now the roaming is a bit more challenging – and she’s upgraded to a scooter. She finds an amazing energy in the Beijing office and just couldn’t see herself churning through files in a large city law firm in Sydney.