Reimagine Chinatown

It wasn’t until I had worked overseas in Asia that I became increasingly self-aware of my experiences and lens as a Chinese-Canadian. My late grandfather was an active member for many years at the Wong’s Benevolent Association (as headmaster of Mon Keang School), but our language barrier made it difficult for me to understand his role or the organization’s cultural significance.

When I returned to Vancouver, it became a personal mission to get involved. After connecting with the newly formed “youth committee” at the Wong’s, we began discussing how we could enhance intergenerational interactions within the organization, while cultivating relationships with the surrounding neighbourhood.

In the fall of 2017, we held a panel at the Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Gardens and hosted special guest speakers from the W.O.W Project in New York. The evening brought together established and newer businesses to discuss collaborative opportunities in Vancouver.

Living Room Series

In 2017, the Living Room Series held a Vancouver launch event, successfully hosting a full audience in a unique location at the centre of historic Chinatown. Guests experienced live music in an impressive heritage hall, while listening to speakers share intimate stories on the topic of Identity.

Today, the Living Room Series draws 1000+ attendees annually across Calgary, Vancouver, Ho Chi Minh, Singapore and Hong Kong, bringing diverse groups of likeminded individuals to connect through personal stories and dialogue.

The Vancouver International Film Festival

Since 2016, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing incoming directors, producers and actors attending the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF).

Did you know that VIFF screens the largest selection of East Asian films (outside of Asia) and has one of the largest non-fiction programs (outside of a Documentary Film Festival)?

 

In 2017, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mina Shum, whose film ‘Meditation Park’ opened the festival. Meeting Mina was a personal milestone for me – her film  ‘Double Happiness’ inspired my early interests in media production.  I remember sitting in the classroom, eyes in awe at the characters on screen who both looked and sounded familiar to me. During our interview, Mina said how important it is to put Asian faces in front of the camera and capture the diversity of human experiences. I am deeply grateful for Mina’s talents and ability to hold the lens, and share her view of a more colourful world.

Two Days in Taishan: the world’s largest hometown of overseas Chinese

I’ve always known that my Yeye (paternal grandfather) came from Taishan – and recited as much in a matter-of-fact tone if anyone ever questioned my ancestry – but I had no idea what I was getting into when I embarked on this leg of my trip.

(All I had going into this adventure. And no, I can’t read Chinese…)

A few weeks back, I asked my Dad to chase down the name of my Yeye’s village name through old contacts from the Wong’s Association (a Chinese cultural organization my grandfather was heavily involved with during his life). He scribbled it onto paper, snapped a photo and sent it to me via Whatsapp. I hired a translator for a couple days and hopped onto a bus, with my fingers crossed.

I learned plenty on my two days in Taishan. It was emotional. It was hot. It was a lot.

Like many fellow Chinese-Canadians, my Yeye was from the coastal province of Guangdong in the south of China. Guangdong’s capital is the Cantonese-speaking city of Guangzhou, a sprawling and sweaty metropolis of nearly ten million people. Taishan, the area which my Yeye hails from, is a much smaller ‘township’ boasting roughly one million inhabitants. Fun fact: It’s also apparently the world’s “number one hometown of overseas Chinese”. It is said that at least half of North American-Chinese come from Taishan.

People have emigrated from Taishan for many generations. And you can see the positive benefits of money being sent back to family members left behind: There’s a long “pedestrian street” with plenty of clothing boutiques and restaurants, maintained roads, and thriving local businesses. Local attractions include nearby hot springs, a beach, and their local dish – an eel clay pot rice.

At the Wong’s Association in Taishan

I was reduced to smiles and nods when I met with the local clansmen of the Wong Association. I saw my Yeye’s name on a donation plaque for one of their many projects, and a glimpse into the wider network that he so faithfully gave his time and energy to.

When we set out for the village that afternoon, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We took a turn off the main road and drove down a dirt path for a stretch until the village appeared in view.

The village (“Gao Long”) is nearly 150 years old. Though most of the communal buildings were rebuilt in the last 20 years, you could hardly tell once pollution and humidity set in .

At its peak, the village had as many as 300 people, all who descended from the same ancestral family. Many people married off with folk from nearby towns. Like many young couples of their era, my Mama and Yeye had an arranged marriage. And like the other twenty-somethings, they left the village (for Hong Kong) during the late 1940s due to civil unrest and mounting political tensions.

It was a sweltering Sunday afternoon. I offered up candy and snacks to anyone I came across, mostly elders and toddlers.

In every Chinese village, there is an Ancestral Hall that is built to host the tablets which symbolize the community’s founding family.  But many of were destroyed during China’s Cultural Revolution. Unfortunately, my Yeye’s village did not escape this fate. The hall was eventually rebuilt, but was damaged again by a typhoon. Today it serves as a storage.

I toured through the village and saw various properties that my Yeye’s father had owned at one point or another (up to three, I was told). But today, most were plots of land overgrown with shrubbery.

I was told many stories by the village elder who was one of the last people to know my Yeye personally. Even though they were nearly 8 years apart, he had memories of my grandfather taking him fishing at the nearby pond when they were much younger.  When I asked how he remembered him, he said he was “very honest and pure”.

My Yeye had 3 other brothers. Two died young, and were married off in “ghost weddings” to other’s family’s daughters who also died young, as per Chinese tradition/superstition.

He showed me the village “Jook Po”, a genealogy book that documents every village’s descendants and family trees.  I discovered that I belong to the 33rd generation.

The following morning, I came back with flowers in hand to pay my respects to the village ancestors and my great-grandparents.

We traversed as a small caravan through the fields to three separate plots. There didn’t seem to be any obvious path to me, but our guides knew these hills like the back of their hands. It was a walk I was happy to take in silence, as I was all too aware of the moment’s significance. I had reached my destination.

 

 

Singapore’s Finest

During my time with Beach House Pictures in Singapore, I was assigned to produce and direct a 6 x episode television series on athletes competing in the upcoming Southeast Asia (SEA) Games.

Our crew met so many incredible athletes from all different disciplines and backgrounds, from the sailing club to the basketball courts. Production took us to the corners of Singapore and as far as Texas to meet Joseph Schooling, the famed swimmer who would later beat Michael Phelps in the 100m butterfly at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and become Singapore’s first Olympic champion.

‘Singapore’s Finest’ aired on Channel NewsAsia across the region, and later won Best Sports Programme in the Asian Television Awards (2015).

Typhoon Haiyan

In 2014, I was based in Manila and assigned to document recovery efforts by UN-Habitat in the typhoon-affected areas around Tacloban. For months, I conducted interviews with locals who were forced to live in temporary shelters while they waited for official word of where and when they’d be allowed to rebuild their homes.

Rebuilding after a disaster is a crucial period when communities have the opportunity to reinforce their shelters and prepare for future risk. But in many cases, without sufficient funds, skills and experience, self-recovery methods often turn towards ‘building back worse’. The UN-Habitat worked alongside partner organizations and the City of Tacloban to develop a Recovery and Rehabilitation Plan that a proposed spatial development of Tacloban in order to address emergency, recovery, and long term rehabilitation needs.