Monday, April 2, 2012

Blonde Haired Beijinger at Home Helping Others Cope

Blonde haired Beijinger at home helping others cope.

She may never be mistaken for a Chinese person but Teresa Lawler feels at home in Beijing.

Whether it is discussing alterations for a wedding dress in Xidan's wedding mall or editing an academic report in Chinese, the thing that separates Lawler from a local is not her language skills or accent but, her strawberry blond hair and pale features.

With her hair tied in a pony tail and wearing vintage clothing, Lawler retells how, back in 2001, a housemate suggested she try teaching English overseas.

She traveled to Qingdao for six months and promptly fell in love with China.

When she returned to study at Australian National University, she changed her degree in arts and law to one in Asian studies and law, a move she doesn't regret.

She then took every opportunity to revisit China, including going on a whirlwind one-week Young Australian diplomatic program around China, studying Mandarin for a year at Beijing Language and Culture University in Wudaokou and going for a holiday in 2008.

In Lawler's words she was simply "obsessed" with China.

More than nine years on from when she first explored China, the now fluent Mandarin speaker is pursuing a long-held dream, to use her second language to work in Beijing on issues that she is passionate about.

Lawler works for the grassroots non-profit organization Hua Dan, which aims to unleash potential through theater; using creativity to empower migrant women and children and those affected by the Sichuan earthquake.

The group runs participatory theater workshops, advanced role-play and sessions on improvisation, creative games and story telling.

"We feel that, through creativity, people can realize their potential and we can do a lot to help people," she said. "Anything that is creative or artistic has the ability to express things that words and plain speech can't. It's a way for people to explore their own lives without being confronted by them."

As the evaluations and monitoring officer at Hua Dan, Lawler's job is to work closely with her Chinese colleagues to build a systematic evaluations program.

"Staff at Hua Dan have an awesome drive and a unique concept to offer China, my job is to see how it works and to make improvements," she said.

In her role, Lawler has seen the impact the program has had on participants, particularly the children from Sichuan.

"The effects are amazing," she said. "There are changes in students' relationships with other students, their families and their ability to study."

At the moment, Hua Dan has offices in Sichuan and Beijing.

In the next five years, Lawler hopes Hua Dan can expand and have offices all over China working for the needs of the local community where they are, using their hearts and passion to bring about social transformation where it is needed.

Q & A

Q: What do you love about Beijing?

A: I love the community spirit and lack of self-consciousness. People sing loudly to themselves in the street and they just don't care, there is no self-consciousness, that's how I want to be.

Q: Where do you usually hang out in Beijing? How would it be different from back home?

A: On a Friday night, I like to relax with friends and enjoy a glass of wine listening to the jazz lounge music of DJ Little Dave [her fianc] at the Bookworm.

Q: Do you feel as though you are part of the city or more of an observer?

A: It depends where I am, if I am looking out of my window on the 10th floor at the activity in the hutong below, I feel like an observer. But when I am at the KTV with my Chinese colleagues, I definitely feel part of the city.

Q: Do you have many Chinese friends? How do they differ from your foreign friends?

A: My Chinese friends are different from my foreign friends in how we are interested in each others' cultures and we ask a lot of questions. With my Australian friends, it is more about having a piece of home with you.

Q: Do you have a Beijing shopping secret?

A: It's not a secret to the university students, but Wudaokou Clothing markets have the best Korean imports I've ever seen.


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