By Abel McLennan:
Born in Guilin, a small city in Southern China riddled with beautiful limestone mountainous landscapes and untouched rivers, Gui is a 65-year-old labourer who lives entirely out of his van, and has been for the last five years. The Toyota Hiace he willingly calls “home” provides little more comfort over the Ford Falcon which had served him similar habitual needs for the previous two years. With no family or relatives other than his mother in China, Gui is alone in Australia. He is a talented painter and dreams of leaving the city and living in the countryside, He previously worked as a cleaner at a Buddhist temple and as a groundskeeper maintaining lawns and gardens at a golf club. He is now working in a warehouse in Western Sydney.
He calls it living a “simple life” or a “natural life”, parking by the Nepean River, where he washes, or at a street nearby work, depending on the following day’s plans. Being able to relocate your home sounds quite adventurous and to many people living out of a van would seem to be a ‘hard life’. But happiness and substance is all this man exudes.
His outward situation isn’t normal according to the definitions of society, but what are these definitions and why do they dominate? Because for fear of being ridiculed, we suppress our creativity, let go of whatever branch we were on and become part of the flow. The power of consumption, belonging and desire to ‘have’ or obtain more, is so available and advertised, it now appears to be normal.
We share a common interest in art; when Gui discovered this, he immediately gifted me, without taking no for an answer, two of his oil paintings. One was on the back face of a broken analogue clock, and the other on an old canvas. Every few weeks during work lunch break, Gui will organise pizza for his work colleagues and half way into the meal he will start chopping up a fresh watermelon. These gestures may not seem like a lot, but the act of giving and not asking for anything in return is a strong characteristic of this man’s simple life, and it is quite heartening to experience being offered so much from someone who has so little.
Knowing Gui has been a privilege; he lives a life that finds value in the unseen. It has refreshed my perspective on life, repaired the way I was living and redirected my desire to pursue something different. Seeing how one man could endure so much, be so strong, and willing to open up and share his experiences without fear or compromise, has made its position strong in my life.
The paintings each have a place on my wall, and it may sound cliché but they serve as a reminder when life is tough; trouble is always a stepping stone to growth, accepting what you have or are capable of is difficult but will truly reward in a more valuable way.
Everyone has a story, a voice and a gift to give. Lending an ear can offer much more than you know.
“Until you have it all, you won’t be free” Eddie Vedder