Canberra: The Choice

As an international student, Ian says he primarily chose Canberra for his studies but has since grown to love Australia’s capital. Ian kindly agreed to share his personal feelings and experiences to, in his words, “raise more emotional resonance about Canberra and convert some misunderstandings into love!”

This is a self-reflection of Ian's daily life in Canberra.

Canberra: the Choice

During my 30 years’ life, this is my first ever time to publicly confess that I am committed to a place where I have lived for almost four years and where I shall continue to reside for at least another two years. This confession is a little bit exciting because it will be a journey in which I can thoroughly explore my sense and sensibility to this place. This confession is also “lightly burning” because commitment is such a BIG word. It is a relational account which embeds legality, morality, ethics and loyalty. I am not sufficiently capable of presenting myself by playing with these normative abstractions. Instead of “commitment”, I am more willing to use the humble word “choice”, not only to illustrate my intimate connections and sincere affection to Canberra, but also to demonstrate that Canberra methodologically is an ideal choice for me.

A Choice of Surprise

In the late afternoon of 23rd June 2015, I arrived in Canberra after a 5,000-mile flight and 3.5-hour Greyhound coach journey. As I stepped out of the bus, a chilly wind was pouring into my thin shirt. The dancing goose bumps reminded me that I was not just physically away from my hometown, but I was also seasonally inverted. This spatial-temporal surprise has brought me some funny moments over these past four years. You can easily imagine how my friends and family in the North were surprised when seeing pictures of me running along the shore of Lake Burley Griffin on Christmas day wearing only tanks and pants, and most importantly, a Santa hat. Or how envious they were when they knew I was enjoying a skiing trip in Jindabyne while they were suffering a heat wave in China in July. This surprise may seem trivial, but for me, it is my down to earth life and highlights my real feelings about Canberra.

Fireworks on Lake Burley Griffin

The other surprise I want to share is from an ideological perspective. Two months after I settled down, my local friend, Ronald, who nearly knows every corner of Canberra, kindly treated me a one-day trip around Canberra’s attractions. From the Ainslie lookout, I was greatly impressed by the brilliant design of the Parliamentary triangle. I also got a specially stamped one-dollar coin when visiting the Royal Australian Mint. But the most stunning surprise was that, without any barrier other than a simple security check, I was able to walk into Parliament House and hear senators’ debate over various national agendas. This was something beyond my cognition. Citizens in my home country approaching central government agencies will usually be directly denied entrance, or may even be subjected to serious interrogation. This can occur even when they may still be three meters away from the outside walls. This surprise to me was explained as being genetically rooted in the divergent political regimes between Australia and my home country. My experience in Canberra has become a process of learning, in which ongoing surprises teach me about things such as civil rights, civil participation, inclusiveness, equality and democracy.

Canberra Balloon Spectacular

Canberra keeps giving life surprises, whether trivial or grand. The only non-surprise is that there still remains many other surprises in Canberra deserving my further curiosity and adventures.

A Choice of Lake Burley Griffin

“I love the Burley Griffin”. This expression precisely captures my affections to Canberra. I do not drive and have been living on the ANU campus for my whole Ph.D. period. Therefore, my eyes and feet are highly glued to areas around the campus. Ultimately, Lake Burley Griffin became the pearl of my life.

Sunset over Lake Burley Griffin

I love the beauty of Griffin, especially its breathtaking sunsets. After I finish my daily work, I often go to the Lake to watch the Sun diving into the far western horizon. The sky is inked by the Sun, and then mirrored by the Lake. The whole world then is melt in red. Sometimes, one or two light boats from the ANU Rowing Club would slowly drift on, leaving waves echoing on Griffin, and echoing in my head. I also love its tranquillity. This is not a joke. For some Aussies and foreign visitors, “Canboring” is a place to run away from. But for me, Griffin’s tranquillity actually features the most precious virtue of Canberra. Every time that I sit along the Lake’s shores, I calm down and can hear my inner peace. I have become to realize that Sydney and Melbourne’s noisy modernity, and the Gold Coast’s crowding tourism, have become uneasy for me. Finally, every time I travel interstate, without any exception, I conclude my journey with “I want to go back to Canberra”.

The Captain Cook Memorial Jet on Lake Burley Griffin

The Lake is also a paradise where I can enjoy running. To date my Nike Run Club record has reached 2,201 kilometres. This is the equivalent to a round trip between Canberra and Gold Coast. It has been built up on my weekly 10k Parliamentary Triangle runs, 6k ANU runs, or my 21k west Lake circle runs. When I am running, my body is energetically restored, while the released dopamine ignites my brain which then sparks many wonderful ideas for my research and thesis.

I will never forget one scenario which occurred one summer’s day. When I was running along the Lake, a Bikini clad girl overtook me. After a second stare, I realized that she was not a girl, but an elderly lady who was in her 70s or above! A 70-year old lady was having a robust run in a Bikini! What a vivid embodiment of passion, vitality, confidence, pride and beauty! I could not help but be encouraged by her and intensified my paces to follow her. However, she ran too fast and gradually disappeared from my sight, leaving me behind panting and sighing. I wish when I reach my 70s, I can also run (or at least stroll) along a lake convincing myself that I am still young.

Running tracker around the lake

For me, Canberra is irreplaceable, but not because its beauty and tranquillity are second to none in the world. I believe there must be many other places that are potentially equally as attractive. For me, Canberra has become an indivisible part of my daily routine, my lifestyle and my Ph.D. journey.

A Choice of Contribution

As a criminological PhD scholar, I cannot imagine a better opportunity than being supervised by Professor John Braithwaite of the ANU. He is one of the most prestigious and respected criminologists in the world and is a leading scholar in restorative justice (RJ). My Ph.D. program is a part of his collaborative project which is looking into RJ in Greater China. My particular focus is on mainland China, with an emphasis on the 2012 nation-wide Criminal Reconciliation Law and on an indigenous mediation processes preserved in the ethnic regions of Southwest China. Under the intellectual and mental steering of my supervisor, I am confident that my research will make significant theoretical and empirical contributions to his project. My Ph.D. still has another one year to go, but I have already published some articles, telling stories of Chinese restorative justice practices to western audiences.

Besides my thesis, I have also started to plan my postdoctoral path. One potential proposal is a 2-3 years project which will compare the restorative practices of Mainland China and Taiwan, so as to explore the rationale for RJ in two different political regimes (authoritarian VS democratic) and which share the same historical root. To make ongoing contributions to the field, my current and future research cannot easily proceed without the mental and intellectual help of Prof. Braithwaite. This means I will have to stay at the ANU, and which then means that I have no reasons to say goodbye to my beloved Canberra.

In addition to my research, I have also actively engaged myself with the community. In September 2015, Prof. Braithwaite co-established the Canberra Restorative Community with the ACT Government. The Community aims at broadly prompting restorative values and improving the criminal justice system of Canberra. I am so lucky to be one of Community members. My major task is to administer our official Facebook site and to help Dr. Mary Ivec, our convenor, to organize formal RJ conferences and informal gatherings of community members and RJ practitioners in and outside of Canberra. This is my humble contribution to the community of Canberra.

Canberra Restoritive Community website showing view over Canberra City

A choice of ???

“Where is my future heading?” This is an everlasting question for everyone until his/her last breath. I have been both cognitively and methodologically prepared to choose Canberra as my home; however, being honest, I am not certain where this choice will exactly lead. But like four years ago, when I stepped out of the Greyhound coach, I had no idea about what lay ahead. To date I have received only satisfactory answers during my stay in Canberra. Now, I am standing at the crossroad of my life and asking myself “Where is my future heading?” again. But now, I confidently leave this question to Canberra. She will give me the answer I want. Yes, she will!


Ian has travelled to Canberra from China to undertake his PhD Candidacy in Criminology at the Australian National University. The words and images in this article are his own and we thank Ian for allowing us to share.

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