Growing up in the inland city of Shenyang, China, Joyce Liu dreamed of living near the ocean. Now, she doesn’t have to use her imagination –– Liu moved to Halifax in 2012 to pursue a degree in community planning at Dalhousie University and has stayed here ever since.
It wasn’t an immediate decision to stay, though. Between graduation and professional work experience, Liu came to realize that local and new Nova Scotians, communities and organizations aligned with her values, “helped (her) decide that this is the right thing for (her) right now,” she said.
While in school, Liu worked to make the urban planning world accessible to community members, through videos, graphics, and simple language.
“We are planning the city for people, so we want the community to be able to understand what is happening,” she said.
This led her to found Lumi Studios – videography, photography, and design-centred media and production – in 2017. Their work connects art and local urban planning policies, while promoting other businesses’ work, with a focus on immigration topics, local events and helping youth in the city.
She’s done work with the mayor to promote programs for international students, and has worked with various local businesses and events, including the Mosaic Festival and the Most Inspiring Immigrant Award Gala.
“I feel Halifax is going through a big transformation where we have more young people staying and more immigrants that are coming that have definitely brought a lot of new stuff. And there’s some very innovative businesses and organizations that are doing amazing work in the realm of culture, events, youth initiatives, or even bringing in new things from their own culture and blending it in with Nova Scotia style,” she said.
Liu is a storyteller with a goal of promoting Nova Scotia.
When COVID-19 spread to Nova Scotia, it changed the way Liu did business. The summer months within the Atlantic bubble gave her the chance to explore the province and re-organize her future plans. She ended up changing focus from promoting events to Nova Scotia tourism through a video series expected to air soon.
“It’s a learning process for me as well,” she said. “It’s helped me to learn more about the community. I hope to use my storytelling skills to tell their stories and show it to many more people.”
Liu has been travelling throughout Nova Scotia, to places like Cape Breton and South Shore, to find what she calls “hidden spots,” that don’t get the same attention as Peggy’s Cove, for example.
“Before, people took vacations travelling outside of the province. But most people didn’t really have a chance to really get to know what we have here in Nova Scotia. This year is like a gifted period because we get a lot of time to spend at our home, exploring the surprising side of our province,” Liu said.
“We want to show them some more unusual, hidden spots that can bring tourists and amazing experiences.”
Why Halifax (2020)
One of her latest projects pre-COVID was directing the documentary Why Halifax. The film is an exploration birthed from her own curiosity of Halifax’s Chinese immigration history. It was set to premiere March 25, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the screening event was cancelled.
It’s my eighth year in Halifax now. At 6am, on August 28th of 2012, I landed here alone with four pieces of luggage, and I see nothing but green and the morning sunlight through the window of the aircraft. And at that moment, I already know this will be such a unique and different experience ~ the opening of Why Halifax.
Liu talks about taking the community design program at Dalhousie University and how the program taught her to look at cities from various perspectives –– like the many generations of Chinese immigrants in Halifax and the many Chinese international students studying here for the first time.
She’s lost track of how many times people have asked her, why? Why did she come to Halifax? And why did she decide to stay? The process of pondering those questions didn’t lead her to answers, rather, a story of the city that’s hers, theirs, “and in a way, your story too.”
“Because there are similarities in all the immigrants, like we all came from a very different culture to somewhere we’re not familiar with, everyone faces different types of difficulties, from language, to unfamiliar with the community, things like that. So, I wasn’t trying to show that I found an answer, but I was trying to show all these people that came,” she said.
The documentary is about 15 minutes long and took her just over a month to film and produce. Liu speaks with five Chinese immigrants, including Albert Lee, Hong Wang, Johnny Yang, Edward Liang and Fred Lee.
In the film, Liu mentions how meeting and interviewing other Chinese immigrants reminded her of what kept her here, which she described as a feeling of being at home. And with the comforts of home, comes the comforts of food, community, and growth – all shown in the 15-minute short.
Citing Global News in the film, Liu says that in 2016 Halifax had a 61 per cent increase in newcomers, the highest jump in a single year since World War II. And China is playing a big role in the province’s growing population.
But being a newcomer can be hard. As Liu mentioned, there are unique challenges that immigrants and international students face, such as language barriers, feeling alone, and getting settled. In 1952, Halifax had five Chinese organizations listed in the local directory – now, there are more than a dozen Chinese societies and organizations that assist the challenges newcomers face, connect community members and showcase their culture with Halifax.
With this being the first film that Liu has directed and produced, she’s waiting for the ideal time and opportunity to release it.
When asked what her favourite thing about Nova Scotia is, Liu replied that she doesn’t have one favourite part, because Nova Scotia, as a whole, is her favourite.
“We are all bound by the ocean,” she said.