WITH GALLERY: Chinese Johannesburg

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For months we have been told that the most challenging part of our course will be what is called: The In-Depth Project. This is a course where we are given a topic to tackle which will definitely throw us right out of the journalism labs that have become our comfortable home.

Last year the theme was Joburg Justice, and the class of 2012 tackled topics such as social, economic and gender justice. After court week I think it’s safe to say I would have fallen apart if we had the to tackle the justice system again, but having gone through some of the work done last year, I realise how much there is to unpack.

Our topic, is interesting but rather daunting. We have the task of exploring the lives of the Chinese community in Johannesburg. I say this task is daunting because there is absolutely no way this is a desktop-journalism kind of effort. We have two weeks to immerse ourselves into this culture and reflect that to those that will read our pieces and view our multimedia interpretations.

In my group, our sub topic is work and play. When we took a tour of “Old China Town” at the end of Commissioner street I figured none of these aspects would be very difficult. We walked into a shop where the people were super friendly and chatted to us about their lives.

One lady, who has been working in the store for over 30 years gave us advice of eating. She told us to stop drinking Coca-Cola and eating chocolate. Her advice was to drink green tea all day. We laughed with her and continued to chat about other food items that are unique to China and the Chinese community in Johannesburg.

Another friendly store owner, Mr Pon, told us about his friendship with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, his polygamous grandfather and his smart grandmother.  He owns the China Fireworks store on Commissioner Street and his family has been in South Africa for over 100 years.  The stories he shared were personal but he shared them without any reservation.

New China Town was different. Although we were fortunate to meet one store owner who was very friendly, most of the shops we entered were cold. It was a very hot day so I’m not describing the temperature but the reception. This however was something we were already told to prepare ourselves for which is why I said this topic was daunting.

From what we were told by a few speakers, the Chinese in Johannesburg have always been a community who keep to themselves. One of the major challenges we will face as we venture into our project is trying to gain the trust of the people who we work with.

After reading a few articles on Chinese traders and some of the views that have been shared I have realised how easy it is to misunderstand people simply because you have not had the patience, or taken the time out to speak to them and engage with them on their lives.

I love people, but I can be impatient so for me this will be one of those life changing experiences that will definitely teach me to be a better person too. We are yet to decide what our angles are but I’m hoping that whatever it is I decide to do will teach me about a culture and a community in Johannesburg and greater South Africa that I have never taken the time to think about or explore.

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