This is the part three ~ featured in the 5th Annual ReelWorld Film Festival ~ of Cheuk Kwan’s Chinese Restaurants series. Please check “Chinese Restaurants: On The Islands” for the previous glimpse of his film documentary edition.
Date/Time: Thursday, April 14, 2005 5:00PM
Place: Rainbow Cinemas – Market Square
Duration: 80 min.
I quoted the film synopsis as follows: Three Continents, based on the 13-part documentary series Chinese Restaurants, tells the story of the Chinese Diaspora through its most recognizable and enduring icon – the family-run Chinese restaurant. Filmmaker Cheuk Kwan visits Madagascar, Norway and Canada, exploring the meaning of “home” in Chinese communities that have established themselves on three continents.
Did the Chinese come to Madagascar in the fifteenth century, years before the Europeans? And how have recent immigrants integrate in the most multicultural country of the world? These and other questions are answered as we visit Restaurant Le Jade in the port city of Tamatave, where there is a large Chinese population. More traces of Chinese settlements are revealed as the filmmaker visits the oldest Chinese immigrant on the fourth largest island of the world.
In Norway in the land of the midnight sun, Michael Wong and his wife Ting have opened one of the very few Chinese restaurants inside the Arctic Circle, the Little Buddha. As the owner couple promotes their Hong Kong-style efficiency on the Norwegian waitresses, the Chinese kitchen staff openly discusses their lives as Chinese restaurant workers — how they first entered Europe illegally and the loneliness away from home.
Chinese workers came to Canada in the 19th century to build the trans-continental railroad, but by 1923, the country were keeping the Chinese immigrant workers out as their services were no longer required. Against these odds, Jim Kook came to the Prairie town of Outlook, Saskatchewan as a “paper son” using a dead Canadian’s identity. The gregarious “Noisy” Jim soon became the most popular man about town and ran his New Outlook Cafe for forty years until his recent death.
Together, these community and personal histories illustrate the wider story of Chinese migration, settlement and integration. These stories celebrate the resilience and complexity of the Chinese Diaspora and expand the definition of what it means to be “Chinese” today. They highlight the fluidity and highly personal nature of identity, and the human impulse to connect both with the past and with those amongst whom we find ourselves.
For me personally, the most captivating story in this installment is without any doubt the Noisy Jim in Outlook, Saskatchewan. Jim had such a personality that the community loved him so much. He built such a strong bond with his customers that he would even leave the keys to his café to his customers, and they just helped themselves to breakfasts! *smile* After 40-year of working and owning this café, Jim sold it. But, he still came early in the morning to help out the new owner and served the customers. When the new owner offered to pay for his wage, he refused, and said that he loved to help them out and a free man never accept money as exchange for help. (Wow! What a philosophy of life.) He’s sharp and quick… most often his response was effortlessly amusing. *smile* When he died the whole town gathered in the community hall to pay their last respect to him. The café was closed, for the first time outside Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The funeral car that carried his coffin passed the café three times as required by Jim’s Chinese customs before headed to the cemetery… Jim’s last resting place.
Wong and Ting in Tromso, Norway were some interesting individuals. They worked very hard during the restaurant’s hours and they could still stayed up late talking and drinking. Their two children are raised up by Ting’s mother in Gutenberg and they spend only couple times a year with their children. Wong said he didn’t like Hong Kong and would never return there. He left Hong Kong when he was 17 years old by jumping ship. He landed in Germany, worked and stayed couple of years there before he moved on to France, Spain, Sweden, and Norway. Wong has long thought of running a small boutique in France when he has enough hard and long work in Norway.
In this installment, the issue of identity is not as troublesome as in the previous installments but the issue of home is quite profound. For immigrants all over the world, what’s the meaning of home for them? I believe wherever we move we’re trying to create the life for ourselves… a new home that makes us preserve the memories about our ancestors and that makes us absorb the challenge and values of our new adopted homeland.