Wednesday, 6 November, 2019 | Dining carriage of a D train from Beijing to Shanghai
I’m on my fourth Xili (Heineken) – the beer a stranger at the dining car bar recommended when I asked, by way of striking up a conversation. Often, all it takes in a train or a bus or a café in a foreign country is a friendly remark, a curious question or a smile, before you’re invited into the world of someone you may have only swished past on a nameless train platform.
Continue reading “Sichuan pepper peanuts with a stranger on a train” →
Wang’s mother was able to marry her way to permanent residence, but she and her son had to jump through a few hoops to gain him the right to live in South Africa.
It all started with an adjustment to Wang’s high school grades to meet the requirements for admission into a foreign university, but that part was easy. “You just tell your Chinese high school you are going to a foreign university and they will let you adjust your marks. There’s no cost, they’re advertising you,” explains Wang. Every Chinese high school has an “honorary list” of alumni who get into foreign universities. It’s symbolic capital for the school.
Continue reading “HURDLES TO A NEW HOME: A CHINESE ADOLESCENT ARRIVES IN SOUTH AFRICA – Part II” →
“I didn’t get admission into a very good university in China, so my mom suggested I study here in South Africa instead,” Wang tells me over a cup of green tea. “In China, even if you go to a good university, after graduating you still just get a job where you only earn 3000 yuan [approximately US$ 470] a month.”
Whether you’re moving to another country for work, studies, or to be closer to family, bureaucratic hurdles are inevitable. Wang wasn’t even sure he wanted the new life in South Africa that his parents had planned for him, but that didn’t make the accompanying bureaucratic hurdles any easier to avoid.
Continue reading “Hurdles to a new home: a Chinese adolescent arrives in South Africa” →
Zimbabwean Daniel Mugandiri had no Chinese contacts nor any knowledge of China when one day he sat down to write a letter to the outgoing Chinese ambassador in Harare. He had recently been named Entrepreneur of the Year in Zimbabwe’s equivalent of “Dragon’s Den”, and was faced with the challenge of turning his business idea into reality. The 26-year-old wanted to manufacture solar panels to help address the nation’s electricity shortage. He wasn’t certain how to go about it, but he knew where to start.
“China is the hub of manufacturing, so I knew I had to learn from them,” he says. “If you buy something in the US or in the UK, it’s made in China. Every country in the world looks East.”
Continue reading “Meet the African students lining up to learn Chinese” →
I first met George Shum, owner of Pagoda Restaurant, surrounded by ubiquitous Chinese restaurant paraphernalia: red-tasseled symbols of good fortune, golden good luck cats and a fish tank, in which lobsters and other sea creatures awaited their fate. It is the only Chinese restaurant in Stone Town, the old quarter of Zanzibar City.
At first glance, I assumed that the 44-year-old entrepreneur belonged to the substantial community of Chinese citizens that had begun to forge a life for themselves in recent years in East Africa. But when I asked where he was from, he replied in a thick Cantonese accent: “Wo shi sang ji ba er ren” — “I’m Zanzibari.”
Continue reading “Portrait of George Shum: A Chinese-Zanzibari Entrepreneur” →
Postcards from China is a documentary series that was produced for South Africa’s eTV, first aired in 2011. “The Art of Learning” (below) is one of four episodes, and follows the pursuits of three South Africans living in Beijing and Shanghai between 2008 and 2011, one of whom is me.
Continue reading “Postcards from China: A South African Documentary” →
Twenty-four year-old He Lingling just spent her second Chinese New Year away from China. It was also her second Spring Festival in her temporary home in Cape Town, where she has been working as a teacher at the Confucius Institute at the University of Cape Town for the past year and a half. Although she badly misses her family and her hometown in a small town in Sichuan at this time of year, she has also found a sense of belonging among new friends and colleagues in a Cape Town suburb, her home away from home.
I asked Lingling what she misses most about Chinese New Year, and what her last two holidays in Cape Town have been like.
Continue reading “Lingling’s Chinese New Year” →
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” →
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” →
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.
Continue reading “Inside Africa’s Confucius Institutes” →