Read this article in Traditional Chinese: 新年伊始 萬象更新
Read this article in Simplified Chinese: 新年新开始，新年新气象
On 5 February 2019, we welcomed the Year of the Pig. Families and friends celebrated with reunion dinners and games of mah jong, and firecrackers and lantern festivals lit the skies for two weeks. Chinese New Year is the most important holiday for the Chinese community.
There are strong beliefs about luck in Chinese culture, and these can be heightened by New Year festivities – particularly, the emphasis on getting together and playing games, often for money.
Xin Yang, a coordinator at Chinese Peer Connection (CPC), says gambling is common during Chinese New Year, and that winning is usually about more than money. ‘It is about saying they are lucky, and therefore a good person – and that luck is going to last for the rest of the year.’
'Gambling is common during Chinese New Year, and winning is usually about more than money.'
Xin Yang, Chinese Peer Connection
CPC is a telephone support service for people experiencing harm from their own, or someone else’s, gambling. It is one of several services working to prevent gambling harm in Melbourne’s Chinese community – during Chinese New Year and beyond.
Offering a helping hand
Louise Chan is a Gambler’s Help counsellor with the Federation of Chinese Associations (FCA). She says gambling is a form of entertainment for some Chinese people, but it can become an issue if it stops being enjoyable, if they lose their sense of balance and need support to regain control.
CPC and FCA support a diverse range of people, from international students to seniors.
‘Gambling can be an issue for international students when they are losing money meant for living expenses or tuition fees,’ Louise says. ‘Their academic performance can also be affected.’
She says loneliness is a common factor in gambling harm among seniors. Gaming venues can offer a warm welcome and much needed company, as well as poker machines.
Connection is the key
Both Louise and Xin acknowledge it can be difficult for people to admit they might need support. But when people do have the strength to reach out, help is waiting.
At the FCA, Louise provides face-to-face counselling, as well as support via social media on Chinese platform WeChat. Clients and community members are also encouraged to join the FCA’s social activities, which include dancing, gardening, painting classes, tai chi and social outings.
With community education also a key part of her role, Louise taps into the FCA’s social groups to inform members about gambling harm, and to offer support when required. She encourages people to seek help at an early stage. ‘Feel free to talk to us, because earlier intervention can lessen the harm.’
'Loneliness is a common factor in gambling harm among seniors.'
Louise Chan, Federation of Chinese Associations
When people contact CPC, they are first put in touch with Xin, who assesses which volunteer is best placed to support them. This is often someone who also has personal experience of gambling harm.
She says when people are connected with a volunteer and find they are speaking to someone who has been in a similar situation, it can ‘normalise’ what they are going through.
‘The volunteer can tell the caller that they aren’t the only one out there who has been through this. Talking to someone who is in a recovered situation can be empowering.’
Anthony is a former volunteer with CPC. He says he always understood where callers were coming from because it wasn’t too long ago he was there himself.
Anthony came to Australia as an international student. When he was going through some relationship difficulties, he visited a poker machine venue to help relieve the stress.
'Talking to someone who is in a recovered situation can be empowering.'
Xin Yang, Chinese Peer Connection
‘I was spending six to seven hours a day and up to $1000 a night,’ he says. ‘I realised I was putting myself in very difficult financial circumstances. I had to do something about it.’
Anthony eventually got back on track, and decided to help others as a CPC volunteer.
‘You get to see people who have experienced similar difficulties in life coming together, regardless of where they were, and wanting to do something about it. That’s rewarding.’
Support in any language
As well as Cantonese and Mandarin, Gambler’s Help provides free and confidential support in a range of languages, including Arabic, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese.
Visit gamblershelp.com.au to find out how to access support in your language or call Gambler’s Help on 1800 858 858.
For more information on Chinese Peer Connection, call 1300 755 878.