Bearing Witness to Bambi

Here is a sad story that I wanted to share since I contacted my family on Facebook 2 years ago.

Meet Bambi. I met her once too on the stairs of my Department of Housing building in Lilyfield some time in the early-2013. We had a brief eye contact and exchanged smiles; I said Hi, she said Hi, and we walked past each other.


A month later, I asked my neighbour who that pretty girl was. “My ex-girlfriend”, he said. “Lucky man! Are you back together?” “She is dead”, he said. Bambi had committed suicide. She was 36 years of age.

Any young person ending their life, for whatever reason, is sad enough, but the more I learned about this girl the deeper my heart sank for her and her family and the more intensely I reflected about my own. It is important that I talk about her because there are other untold migration stories in hers.

Bambi was from Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province, in central China. She was the only daughter of her 4-member family. I am told she was a fine player of pipa, the traditional Chinese musical instrument, and piano, and that she had a fine voice too. She graduated from the conservatorium of music in her hometown, and moved to Macau to sing.

There she met a well-to-do Chinese New Zealander. She married and moved with him to Christchurch. Sadly, her marriage fell apart a year later. After another failed relationship, she came to Australia. Here, things went from bad to worse for her.

For many, it’s counter-intuitive. How can you set foot to Australia, where thousands die in the seas to get to, and fail here? We are so used to hearing success stories that we find it hard to imagine that there are failures too. If with full family and community support, men still end up in crime and women in prostitution, in search of money for substance, gambling and similar addictions, then why should migrants with no support network be immune to it?

The details of Bambi’s life here are hazy, but I am told that she worked as a cleaner in hotels and as waitress in the casino in Cairns. And she worked in a flower shop. I could not find out exactly when but I am told that she developed mental disorders and had a fallout with life. With no social security here, she became penniless and homeless.

She stopped keeping items of personal nature that kept her connected with the past. She threw away in to the ocean her precious crystal balls, which was supposed to predict her future, and her mobile phone, with all the contact numbers for her family and friends. Now she was lost to all who cared about her and she remained lost to them for 10 years.

She lived in women’s refuges, she lived on friends’ couches, she roughed it on the cardboard in the streets and in the parks. With her similarly homeless, alcoholic, white Australian boyfriend of five years, she lived the tough life. In this land of plenty, she begged for food. If only her mother and brother knew what a life of loneliness, poverty and alienation she had here.

Several months prior to her death she was hospitalised against her will in Brisbane. She was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, clinical depression and substance abuse. The anti-psychotic drugs she was put under caused a lot of weight gain; she lost what left of her self-esteem.

Her mental condition visibly worsened after hospital release. It is likely that hospitalisation after such an extended period of homelessness made her face the reality of her situation. She began wearing plastic gloves and avoiding bodily contact. She would constantly wash her hands, shower twice a day and wash her body with soap three times to clean away the dirt she felt on her body and soul. People accidentally swiping her in the streets would upset her.

She contacted her family two months prior to her suicide. Straightaway her brother offered a ticket to come home. She refused; China was no place for someone like her any more. She left family home to have a family of her own; she failed. I am told she was deeply ashamed about coming face to face with them.

My friend tells me that he rang her one night and found out that she was in Watson’s Bay at a well-known suicide spot called The Gap. He rushed there to save her. She was scared, shaking and crying. She didn’t want to die; she was searching for an exit. They came back to his place; that was when I met and exchanged greetings with her.

Two weeks later while she was alone and staying at another friend’s house, she carried out the self-harm she was so afraid of. She took a box of Valium and drank a bottle of anti-freeze. She was found dead a day later by her friend’s cousin.

In her suicide note, she pleaded forgiveness from her mother and brother for letting them down. That she was defeated by chance and circumstance. She expressed her love and affection for them. I am told her father was distinctly unmentioned in her suicide note. He was either dead already or dead to her.

I ought to readily confess that this lady, with whom I only had a 5-second encounter, made a profound impact on my life with her early death and sad story. It was possible to not always land safely in Australia, a la Frank Lowy, who had a remarkable success story here, and that sometimes there can be accidents either due to pilot error or production fault. But there are people faraway who still loved her and cared about her.

Bambi died young, alone and homeless. She was someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s best friend; she was some people’s loved one. Her mother and brother let her go away in the hope that she would have a good future, a career, a family. They all hoped to be re-united one day in good health, wealth, luck and happiness, as the Chinese are fond of saying. They sent her away in flesh and blood, they missed and cried after her for her 12 missing years. In the end, they got her back in a little box of ashes.

Suicide is neither an act of courage nor cowardice; it is an act of desperation, and of hopelessness and helplessness. It is an immoral act, a betrayal of common values and of one’s responsibility towards the loved ones. Suicide is never a way out, however tempting it can be to open that door into the unknown in the hope that it will be better than the present.

As I am preparing for a re-union with my family, relatives and friends overseas after three decades away, the least I could do for Bambi was to bear witness to her story. We shared similar experiences in this strange land with little or no support network, eking out an existence on the margins.

I feel the survivor’s guilt as I talk about her. I wish I had spoken more than a single word with her the one and only time we met. I wish I had befriended her and heard her play pipa and sing a song for us and for ten thousand other lost migrant souls like us here in Australia. Rest in peace, pretty pink lady.