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Touring lunar lanterns with Sydney’s student ambassadors

By Evelyn A. Opilas
February 27, 2018


Fancy learning about Sydney not from locals but from international students temporarily in town while they complete their degrees.

That’s exactly what happened one early evening during Chinese New Year festivities in Sydney when a group of international students, including Filipina Yvonne Custodio Bachiller, brought guests around Circular Quay to see, appreciate and get to know the Chinese zodiac through lunar lanterns on display.

The students, volunteers of the City of Sydney’s International Student Leaders and Ambassadors (ISLA) program, are completing postgraduate courses at centres of learning in Sydney including the University of Sydney, the University of New South Wales, and Western Sydney University.

The ISLA program provides free leadership, communication, event management, community engagement, training workshops, work integrated learning and volunteering opportunities, according to senior community programs officer Susana Ng, herself one of ISLA’s previous ambassadors.

It helps to enhance international student leadership skills and experience which become transferrable to their future careers, she said, and an opportunity to make friends which grow and strengthen Sydney’s global connections.

The training, mentoring, and practical work experience program over six months trialled in 2013 promotes Sydney as Australia’s global knowledge centre and business hub as well as inform international and prospective students about services and initiatives available for them.

Selected for their previous leadership and volunteer experiences, the student ambassadors are among the over 35,000 international students who study in Sydney’s local area.

In 2014 the program won first prize at the inaugural NSW Government International Student Community Engagement Awards presented by StudyNSW and the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Yvonne, who is doing a Master in Information Technology at Macquarie University, counts among the 2017-2018 crop of ILAS recruits guiding locals through the lunar lanterns dotting Circular Quay.

Guests were divided into three groups, each with two ILAS guides providing information about the lanterns, asking questions at the end of each talk, and giving away prizes for the first best answers. Overall winners got complimentary T-shirts while everyone received a lucky Year of the Dog charm and a fortune cookie.

“Don’t lose us,” reminded Yvonne and Jarvis, a student at WSU from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as our group sashayed through the crowd and the buskers from the Sydney Opera House to Cadman’s Cottage near The Rocks.

“Long ago there was no Chinese zodiac. The Jade Emperor wanted to select 12 animals to be his guard. He sent an immortal being into the world to spread the message that the earlier one went through the Heavenly Gate, the better the rank one would have. These 12 animals stand guard at the Heavenly Gate, each with its own sign, characteristics and appear in sequential order,” read Jarvis from ILAS-provided notes, before we strolled through the larger-than-life animal signs of the lunar zodiac.

Towering up to 13-metres tall and designed by Asian-Australian artists, the lunar lanterns were contemporary interpretations of a centuries-old tradition and curated by fashion designer Claudia Chan Shaw.

The artists and their creations are:

Dog – Song Ling, who came to Australia in 1988 from China and had been a finalist in the Archibald, Wynne, and Sulman prizes.

Rat – Guo Jian, who first arrived in Sydney 1992, has exhibited in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and China.

Horse – Qian Jian Hua, who came to Australia in 1991 as a visiting scholar, had sculptures featured in major exhibitions in Australia.

Monkey – Laurens Tan, who was born in Holland and moved to Australia in 1962, has commissioned work in the United States, China and Australia.

Ox – Tianli Zu, who was born in Beijing and now lives in Sydney, was a finalist in the Archibald Prize 2015.

Snake and Rooster – amigo and amigo, a lighting and design studio that explores the combination of light and sculptures in public spaces, was co-founded by Simone Chua and Renzo B Larriviere, who have exhibited extensively in China and Australia.

Sheep – Alexandra Sommer and Brad Clark had collaborated on seven consecutive Chinese New Year celebrations with the City of Sydney.

Tiger – Kevin Bathman, a Malaysian-born artist and graphic designer, worked in Sydney, Auckland and Kuala Lumpur.

Rabbit – Claudia Chan Shaw, the curator of the lunar lanterns, is an artist, author, fashion designer.

Dragon – Guan Wei, who came to Australia in 1989, took up a residency at the Tasmanian School of Art.

Pig – John Deng, an architect and interior designer who arrived in Australia 1989 from China, lives in Goulburn.

What a pleasant surprise to learn about Sydney from unlikely sources.

 (Text and photos by Evelyn A. Opilas/ ©2018 Evelyn A Opilas)

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