And we cross the finish line

Buddhist Temple in Bronkhorspruit. Photo: Prelene Singh

Buddhist Temple in Bronkhorspruit. Photo: Prelene Singh

Finally, my in-depth project is complete. The Chinese-Johannesburg topic was great and I definitely learnt a lot of the Chinese and their culture. Our website will be launching tomorrow so please feel free to visit www.chinesejoburg.com to see all #teamvuvu’s work. I will also be hyper linking my feature and all my multimedia to the site in the coming days.

I wrote a reflective piece on my in-depth experience below. Enjoy!

How the seed was planted

Not knowing what I was getting myself into when I embarked on researching my in-depth project, I was filled with excitement and the thought of the unknown was somehow enticing. It was a Monday morning in the newsroom when #teamvuvu was told that our topic is Chinese-Johannesburg.

The first thing I thought was: this is going to be easy, simply because I had already known that Joburg had a large Chinese presence, so it would not be too difficult to research. Then we were given our group topics. I will admit I wished I was in the group that had family and tradition because that is what always interests me.

However, I was placed in the group who had to research history and the future of the Chinese in Joburg. At first I was blank, thinking what I could possibly produce that would be interesting to my readers, I came up with very little. This however, only lasted a few minutes. After meeting with Kenichi Serino, our group mentor, I felt better and I felt I had direction and focus. In my group was Pheladi Sethusa, Ray Mahlaka and Emelia Motsai.

I decided I wanted to make my project personal, I wanted to write about the Chinese in Joburg in such as way that the average non-Chinese reader would be interested and would be able to relate to the story I was telling. I remembered meeting Mr King Pon at the firework shop in Commissioner Street. I remembered being so fascinated by the story about his grandfather’s polygamous ways.

The task was trying to incorporate what I found interesting into my topic. I decided I would use the Pon family as the foundation of my bigger story, which was the journey of the Chinese to South Africa and their presence here since the 1800’s. This would be the historical relationship the Chinese has with South Africa and more specifically Joburg.

The journey

The Chinese in Joburg are very guarded community, they are withdrawn from mainstream society and also fearful of non-Chinese. Bearing this in mind, it seemed quite a task to find a family, like the Pon’s to let me in their personal space with notes, cameras and recorders.

During the first week I thought I would not jump straight into reporting and interviewing the family and scare them away. I went to the Sui Hing Hong firework shop the first day with the intention of just talking to King Pon. I wanted to build some kind of relationship and common ground with him so that he would trust me enough to let me into his family. From the start he did say that they were a traditional and conservative family, of which I had to make sure I respected and make sure he knew that I respected that.

At the shop I spoke to his wife Louis, she is from China and not fluent in English, but as much I could, I tried to start some sort of conversation with her. I spoke to the accountant at the shop, the salesman and King himself. I stayed for a while just talking to them and also offering some similarities my family had with his family. For example: the size of Indian and Chinese families.

Before I left the shop I told King what I was doing and what I needed from him. He seemed keen to help and he said I should email him a breakdown of what exactly I am doing, why I am doing this, what I need to find out and who I wanted to speak to.

I did so, and waited a week for King to get back to me because he is a very busy man running the Sui Hing Hong family business. During this week I visited Cyrildene to try and talk to people about how they came to South Africa but sadly got nowhere because of the solid language barrier between us.

Ther second week I went to the firework shop again to follow-up with King to see if his family agreed to speak to speak to me.  To my surprise, they agreed and I was able to meet all four generations of Pon’s in Johannesburg.

The turning point

On Wednesday of the second week I met many members of the family for a traditional lunch at a Chinese restaurant. I met Shue Chee, King’s 99 year-old mother, his brother Bonnie and his sister Gloria, his niece Theresa and Carla and his granddaughter Gabriella. All four generations. This was perfect and just what I needed to tell my story of Chinese in Joburg and how they came here.

I met everyone and they were willing to talk to me and tell me stories of their family. This was great and for once after a very long week and a half, I finally felt like I was getting somewhere with my personal topic. The other days before this was spent learning about the Chinese, visiting China Malls, speaking to people but nothing that would help me. I ended up blogging about the information I did not use in my feature.

After lunch with the Pon’s is when the real work began. The following week it was production, but before production I had to hand a second draft of my feature to Kenichi. The challenge here was to write a story people would understand, enjoy and relate to. Incorporating the human interest aspect of my story needed work.

The following week I went to King’s firework shop again because I needed to ask him if he had any old photographs of the family I could use for my multimedia to enhance my story and put faces to all the names I speak about.

I thought he would maybe give me five photos because that’s very personal and treasured by the family. When I went back to the shop to fetch the photos, King gave me close to 50 old photos of the family and an architectural project his niece did for Wits as part of her degree, to look at and maybe help.

 Leaving with my extended family

My project was done. Heading into production week I learnt that building a relationship with your sources really helps in your research.

King gifted me with two porcelain antique presents from China and when I returned his photos I gave him a gift too, to say thank you. I feel like he looks at me like one of his nieces and I feel like I have gained an additional family from this project. If not family then good friends for a long while.

This project taught me that the Chinese culture is very diverse and broad. I learnt to be tolerant of other people who are different from me and I learnt that appealing to people on a human level first works best.

Also, researching the Chinese history in South Africa was educational and I have learnt things that I would have never learnt if it weren’t for this project.

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Practicality always wins

From mid-week last week till this Monday life has been hard, to say the least. I have mastered the art of learning to “suck it up” when you feel like lying on the floor and playing dead.

Last week was the final week for #teamvuvu to gather their information. The last minute interviews, the quick video footage and sound bites and the last minute photography we needed.

Last minute interview

This was quite stressful because our 2000 word features are due today and our multimedia for our research proposal is due on Friday. It went alright for me as I had been working from the start but I did have a final interview on Saturday. I needed to conduct a final interview with Mr King Pon to get the final details for my feature.

Saturday I came to the department all ready to interview King and he had forgotten about our interview. The stress-o-meter went through the roof because I knew if I did not do the interview then I would have no other time and my feature would suffer. So I gathered my thoughts and agreed to meet King at 4. I needed to be practical, if I didn’t care who would.

The interview went well, I realised when I got to his Firework shop that he was having some problems because his roof was leaking from the heavy rainfall we had on Saturday. The interview went well and I managed to receive more information that I needed. I spent the rest of the weekend trying to perfect my feature and make it a good and easy read. Not as easy as it seems.

The last trek

With another hectic week ahead and Johannesburg in like what it seems tornado season, I hope I make it through alive . Perseverance has never been tested as much as it has in the past few days but I can see then end and it is near, its this last push and soon I will be over the finish line. Practical thinking gets you far.

[VIDEO]: Temple life – the routines and charity

Venerable Hui-Xing, the Temple Master and also a monk agreed to have a sit down meeting with #teamvuvu yesterday. We were able to ask questions and get answers straight from the monk himself. Ven Hui-Xing speaks about the daily life in the Temple for the monks and nuns in the video. He also elaborates on what they do throughout the day.

[WITH GALLERY]: Fo Guang Shan: Nan Hua Temple, Bronkhorstspruit

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Venerable Master Hsing Yun, who is the founder of the first Buddhist Temples had aspirations to propagate Buddhist teachings through cultural activites, foster talent through education , to benefit society through charitable programmes and purify human hearts and minds through Buddhist pratice.

I observed much of this today at the Temple. The main Shrine was massive and the smell of incense burning could be smelt from outside the Temple. Before you enter the Temple you need to remove your shoes as a sign of respect and preferably ladies should not show their shoulders or the legs also as a sign of respect. This I am well aware of as it is the same in the Indian religion.

THE TEMPLE

Entering the Temple was an experience by itself. Stepping foot inside was like stepping foot into a new world. We were greeted by three Buddha’s: on the left is Western Pureland or Land of Ultimate Bliss is Amitabha Buddha who represents longevity and endless light. By praying to this Buddha by bowing down in front of the statue you pray for infinite compassion, wisdom and aspirations. The Buddha in the middle is the teacher of the Saha World called Sakyamuni Buddha. His teachings bring an abundance of joy and benefit to all human beings. The Buddha on the right is the Pure Lapis Lazuli Paradise in the East called Medicine Buddha. By giving your respects to this Buddha you will gain good health and longevity.

THE SOUTH AFRICAN TOUCH

Our tour guide took us through the Temple and showed us the different aspects of the place. It was uplifting and quite similar to the Hindu religion. It was also comforting to know that the Temple was built in such a way that some parts of the architecture represented South Africa. For example the straw roof, Buddhist Temples do not have straw inside but this Temple did as a tribute to the African culture and make it unique from the other Temples because it in South Africa.

THE THEORY OF CONSUMING FOOD

After the Temple tour we had Chinese lunch with the rest of the people at the Temple. It is all vegetarian and you are required to eat in silence. This is because eating is not seen as an indulgent thing in the Buddhist religion, it is a necessity. You need because it is seen as medicine for your body, you eat to stay alive and not out of greed. The monks, students and guides at the Temple eat bearing in mind that it is a quite place to appreciate the food and the preparation that went into making the food and after you have eaten you leave quietly by saying thank you.

The Temple has a coffee shop, curio shop and museum for guests to come and view. It was a new experience and something I would definitely do again.  This is exactly why I fall in love with what I do on a daily basis, I would have never went to the Temple otherwise.

[VIDEO + GALLERY]: Zuma in Cyrildene

On Friday last week we went to Cyrildene for a meeting and for the opening of the Chinese arch. To my surprise the President Jacob Zuma attended the event. It was a grand affair and my first time seeing Zuma in the flesh. I took some pictures  to document my day. Here is a gallery of some photo’s i took at the opening.

Work. Don’t think. Relax

Earlier this year I met some students from the Taiwan University at an Asian breakfast which Wits Hosted. Photo: Prelene Singh

Earlier this year I met some students from the Taiwan University at an Asian breakfast which Wits Hosted. Photo: Prelene Singh

“It’s a good idea always to do something relaxing prior to making an important decision in your life.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

This is exactly what I did today. Sometimes the pressures of life seem to come crashing down all at the same time and that is when timeout is needed. In order for me to write something worthwhile reading, I needed to just breathe and focus.

An interview with Dianne Leong Man today, the co-author of the book entitled “Colour, Confusions and Concessions: The history of Chinese in South Africa” went quick and easy. I found out that prior to this book being published there was no literature available about the history of the Chinese in this country.

This book took 12 years to write, and it tracks the Chinese history starting from the early 1660’s till 1994. I wondered how in-depth they had to go to write this book. Along the same train of thought, it hit me hard when I realised that I needed to write something similar for my in-depth project by the end of the week, after only two weeks of research. Scary thought isn’t it.

Dianne talks us through how her and Melanie decided to start writing this book and how they gathered their information.

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Yes the length is a 50th of the book they published but nonetheless I had to write this feature. I realised how I could so easily confuse the information I have gathered. The task ahead of me is quite “deep” to say the least (with a grin on my face).

However, because I have had a whole year of practicing, I think I can pull this off, after my deep breathes though. The interview was great and I think I need to refer to the book a lot more to make sure my information is accurate.

A short timeout was just what the doctor ordered before I began writing the beginning steps of my long journey ahead of production. By the end of today I need to hand over a draft of my feature to my mentor. And I hope to get some feedback which will clear my path which is currently white with mist, to the point of where I cannot see the end.

Ending off: Work. Don’t think. Relax. Mantra for today.

A family who eats together, stays together

The most overwhelming and interesting day I have had thus far, had to be today. I left feeling with a sense of family and unity after my interview with the Pon family this afternoon.

The day before…

Yesterday, after I posted my previous blog, I headed down to the Old Chinatown, located on Commissioner Street in Braamfontein, to meet with Mr Pon once again to finalize the last minute details for the interviews today.
I carried some boxes which contained some of his stock for his shop upstairs to his offices. Mr Pon gave me 45 minutes of his time to brief me and make me feel comfortable with meeting his family today. He told me about his family tree and he prepped me for whom to expect today at the meeting. He also gifted me with these two clay antique statues from China, which I thrilled to have.

Leaving the meeting with Mr Pon yesterday left me excited yet mysteriously nervous. I dreamt about the meeting today, all my thoughts and ideas haunted me for a good day and a half.

The morning after…

This morning I walked into the newsroom feeling fuzzy. I decided to speak to my lecturer about how I was feeling and what I should focus on going into the interview with the Pon family. She put my mind at ease and told me to look for the stories, look for the anecdotes which are unique to that family and ask a lot of questions, don’t let anything pass me by.

Thank goodness two of my friends from my class accompanied me to the interview, which helped me relax a bit because at least I did not have to worry about the photography and video part of the interview, I could just focus on my questions and answers.

A small Chinese restaurant located close the bottom of Commissioner Street with red and green as its distinguishing colours was the chosen destination for the interview.

The moment had arrived…

I walked into the restaurant and was greeted by close to 10 family members from the Pon family, who were seated around a round table all having lunch together. I met one of the Pon brothers and his wife, the nieces and nephews were also there along with the grandchildren. The person that I was the most excited to meet was Mrs Pon senior. She is the second generation of Chinese in South Africa and will be turning 100 years old in less than 3 months.
I was able to speak to one of the daughter-in-laws of the family and her daughter which is the great grandchild (fifth generation) to Mrs Pon, Gabrielle. She is three years old and utterly adorable. She is a ballerina in the making and so she entertained us by doing some very impressive ballerina moves.

I spoke to Mrs Pon about her journey to South Africa in the early 1900’s and I was able to speak to her daughter which is the third generation of Chinese, Gloria, she helped immensely in translating for Mrs Pon.

The stories were so fascinating and interesting. To imagine how it was to survive those many years ago is mind-boggling. Mrs Pon left me in awe. She is so fit and put together for her age. I her beautifully painted red nails, her shimmer pink lipstick and her Gucci pink and grey scarf which was tied ever so elegantly around her neck. Mrs Pon walked by herself with no walking stick and I could not spot a single-grey hair on her head. A stylish woman she is.

I spoke to Teresa, who is the grandchild of Mrs Pon (fourth generation). She is a freelance graphic designer and speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, English and a bit of Zulu and Afrikaans. Teresa is a South African born Chinese woman, however still very routed in her Chinese culture.

This was great to see because nothing is more off-putting than the new generation of people from any culture to ignore their roots because it somehow looks “old” and “uncool” (This is probably not very journalistic of me but it is just my observation).

Unity grounded by love

It was overly evident that the Pon family is united, they are a close family and the love they share for each other warms your heart. Even though they might be regarded, by some as excluded from mainstream society, it good to see them cherish their nuclear family after all these years.

You will have look out for my full story on the Pon family in November, but for now let me just say that a family who eats together, stays together.