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Is it all about the springrolls and chow mein?

January 22, 2013

Next week Tuesday (29 Jan)  I’ll be in Cape Town to give a lecture as part of the University of Cape Town’s Summer School programme.

The theme of my talk is “Being Chinese in SA Today”, mostly it’s informed by the journey of Paper Sons and Daughters in the nearly two years since the book was launched and the conversations around belonging and identity that have as a result.

This mornng while I was piecing together the elements  of what I want to present at the talk, I found myself simultaneously trying to secure a table reservation for the biggest Chinese celebration next month (unrepentant multi-tasker that I am).

SSchool Pic

I struck out at first choice – Swallows Inn in First Chinatown and had patchy success in Cyrildene Chinatown, leaving me a little undecided and and not being able to commit till I conferred with others expected at the feasting table for the Year of the Snake.

But as I hung up, I realised that there were half a dozen clues about “being Chinese”.

First was that food matters, that’s the quality of the food matters and the skills of the chef especially when it comes to celebrating a new year. It while I was comfortable to say yes outright. Another clue was that my first choice was for First Chinatown, in Commissioner Street. It’s the Chinatown of the childhood – the place of memory and connection and personal history. Also my Cantonese palate finds most of the food served up there, most familiar. Years of isolation has meant food preparation styles have had a constancy and dependability I know well. Only with the arrival of the new migrants and the rise of new Chinatown in the mid-90s have new dishes been served up.

The fact that Joburg is a city with two Chinatowns also speaks volumes about the waves of migrations that have taken place as people through the decades have sought the fortunes of the mountain of gold.

What’s also clear are the separations and distinctions that make up the Chinese community, or more accurately the communities within communities. It’s obvious that the imprint of history, socio-political context and personal choices are never far from these stories.

At the end of the all though there’s always room to bread bread together, or in this case to split a springroll and share a plate of noodles.

* JOIN me at UCT on 29 January 2012 for my lunchtime lecture. For more information check out the UCT Summer School web page at http://www.summerschool.uct.ac.za/





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