Ms Fang in her Chinese curio shop in Cape Town

Ms. Fang’s Chinese New Year: Story of a middle-aged woman in Cape Town

Isabella Fang is showing off a range of festive red and gold envelopes adorned with the character fu – or “wealth” – in her Chinese curio shop on Cape Town’s Atlantic coast. It is the day before Chinese New Year’s eve, or Spring Festival, when red envelopes (hong bao) filled with money are traditionally given as gifts to children and older relatives.

An estimated 385 million people are returning to their hometowns in China this year from wherever in the world they are working or studying, making it the largest human migration in the world.

Continue reading “Ms. Fang’s Chinese New Year: Story of a middle-aged woman in Cape Town”

Don’t make the same mistakes as I did: Letter from a Chinese father – Part II of II

Part II follows Don’t make the same mistakes as I did: Letter from a Chinese father – Part I, a letter that was written by Cape Town-based Mr. Chen to his son C.S.Y., who came to South Africa in 2015 to study at a local high school.

C.S.Y., my son:

You are given a healthy body by your parents. But if you don’t exercise properly, your body will weaken. Do you still remember what I used to say to you repeatedly when you were a kid? “I am a real man.” I am glad that you are equipped with a good body that can qualify you as a man. But your inner self is still lacking. It takes an eagle many failures and attempts over a long period of time to be able to fly high in the sky. You can continue your life living like a pregnant woman, but if you want to stand strong in the world and go wherever you want to go, you must have a healthy body and mind. Continue reading “Don’t make the same mistakes as I did: Letter from a Chinese father – Part II of II”

Don’t make the same mistakes as I did: Letter from a Chinese father – Part I of II

This letter was written by Cape Town-based Mr. Chen to his son C.S.Y., who came to South Africa in 2015 to study at a local high school. Mr. Chen sent his son the letter while C.S.Y. was back in China visiting his mom and grandparents in his hometown in Sichuan during the 2017-2018 school holidays. Mr. Chen stayed behind in South Africa for work.

Permission was given by Mr. Chen to translate and publish part of the letter on WhoKou.

C.S.Y., my son:

How are your holidays going at home? How do you feel about seeing your grandparents? People say that you cannot buy time with gold. Time flies, and here we are – you have become a grown man! When you first came to South Africa, I set a goal for you to master the English language. You have spent 15 months in South Africa, but how much English have you learnt? You seem to have spent far more time on computer games than learning the language.

Continue reading “Don’t make the same mistakes as I did: Letter from a Chinese father – Part I of II”

Master Liu, the Kung Fu teacher at Zambia's Confucius Institute

Portrait of Teacher Liu: A Chinese Kung Fu teacher in Lusaka – Part I

Teacher Liu’s Intermediate Chinese class was due to start five minutes ago, but there’s no sign of him or any of his students. The University of Zambia’s Confucius Institute is growing quiet as the afternoon descends on Lusaka.

Just then, a short, stocky man with Emporio Armani emblazoned across a maroon sweater strolls into the lobby with a sling bag on his shoulder. “Are you Teacher Liu?” I ask. “Yes…” he replies, with something between a guilty and a naughty expression on his face.

Continue reading “Portrait of Teacher Liu: A Chinese Kung Fu teacher in Lusaka – Part I”

The Berlin Wall, Germany

This is my era

There and then: Places and moments that shaped my here and now – Part III of III

Berlin, Germany, 2014

It started to rain when I arrived at the Berlin Wall, so I sat down at a cafe nearby. In the past few days, I had been randomly checking out segments of the Berlin Wall here and there, but in front of the cafe, I saw that one part of it was original, and protected as a historical site.

Continue reading “This is my era”

The Chinese-built Confucius Institute at University of Zambia, Lusaka

Inside Africa’s Confucius Institutes

This is a presentation I made on 20 November at the annual Africa-China Journalists Forum at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. It describes the investigation that took me to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania to be a fly on the wall in the classrooms where China’s Ministry of Education is helping to shape the way people think about the world’s next superpower

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The Dragon Boy

There and then: Places and moments that shaped my here and now – Part II of III

Beijing, China, 1988

1988 was the Year of the Dragon. Chinese people believe that the dragon is a wonderful mascot that represents royalty, authority, and prosperity. My parents were probably among those who desperately wanted a dragon baby of good luck, rather than an energetic rabbit born a year earlier, or a sophisticated snake born a year later.

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Walking barefoot on the land of Africa

There and then: Places and moments that shaped my here and now – Part I of III

The Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa, 2014

I was surrounded by mountains, layers and layers of mountains. I heard butterflies flapping their wings, and birds singing from far, far away.

Staring at the Amphitheatre of the Northern Drakensberg, I took my shoes off, and slowly, I put my feet onto the wild grass. My feet could finally feel it – the land of Africa; a mystery to the rest of the world, and the very origin of the human species.

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Zizhu Zhang, a Chinese journalist in Nairobi, Kenya

Portrait of Zizhu Zhang: A Chinese Journalist in Nairobi

Zizhu Zhang’s parents sent her to the United Kingdom for her final year of high school to improve her chances of getting into a British university. Six years later, with a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics, she returned to her home in the southeastern city of Shenzhen, in China. She had her sights set on working in Beijing, but found that she had no competitive edge — was “unwanted,” even — in a job market that she described as overly pragmatic.

China’s pervasive political system was a factor, too.

“It wasn’t likely that I’d get into government-affiliated Chinese institutions because of [China’s] unwritten rules,” Zizhu, now 26, said. “I wanted to work in an area that was dynamic, where I could have a social impact.”

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The Question Boy

In an interview with a Chinese language instructor teaching in South Africa, the interviewee, who was ‘born a crime’ as the third kid in his family under China’s One Child Policy, shared his experience of reflecting on cultural differences between China and Africa: “People call me ‘the question boy’ because I like reflecting on my observations and experiences. There are so many questions to ask.”

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