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The Chinese in Joburg are very guarded community, they are withdrawn from mainstream society and also fearful of non-Chinese.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.