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.

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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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Spring Festival - or Chinese New Year - in rural Jiangxi

South African in China

Shanghai is mainland China’s most cosmopolitan and outward looking city. In 2010, ahead of the World Expo, it was touted and re-touted ad nauseum as “China’s window on the world”, until most of its 200,000 or so expatriates never wanted to see or hear the slogan again.

The city has communities of Japanese and Koreans tucked away in neighbourhoods that they’ve made their own; in the old concession areas, there are Germans, French and Americans making a life amongst the buildings put up by their pre-1949 forebears. Chilean students mix with Nigerians, Norwegians, Turks and Scots in its dive bars on Friday nights, and there are even a few South Africans, who meet once a month at a pub called The Spot, to drink and complain, about China and home in equal measure, and to help each other find Prestik, Western Cape wines and boerewors, made by a butcher in a suburb on the city’s outskirts. For three years, from 2008 to 2011, my partner and I were two of them.

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