BY TONY CHAN
Asian Canadian feminist writer Momoye Sugiman once used the phrase “Asianadian fever” to describe the cultural, social, and political activism that centered Asian Canada from 1978 to 1985. Those were the heady days when Cheuk Kwan, Lau Bo, and I launched and pushed the Asian Canadian envelope that nurtured and developed a unique Asian Canadian sensibility, which persists today.
Appropriately, we met over a plate of pork sausages and over-easy eggs at Toronto’s Mars diner on College Street in November 1978 to start The Asianadian. The magazine is no longer with us as it ceased publication in 1985 with its 24th issue, yet up until today, it remains an indelible example of what a progressive and critical magazine could be and was. As we laboured over IBM typewriters and countless story meetings, that atmosphere of Chinese food from a box, critical ideas, and endless talk was always at the heart of The Asianadian.
And it is that same atmosphere of food, ideas, and talk – along with film – that brings out once again the imagination, pride, hard work, curiosity, and relentless hunger of Cheuk Kwan.
In 1978, Cheuk and I embarked on a media journey that knew no bounds. Even then, he always talked about becoming a filmmaker. While The Asianadian lasted twenty-four issues, his Chinese Restaurants enveloped fifteen episodes of smells, colours, facts, sounds, frolic, journeys, friends, and food fever in many languages and in many time zones.
The Asianadian nurtured and exposed many ideas. One of those was the Chinese cafes. In a 1979 issue, I started my own cafes journey with The 50 Cent Special at the Panama. That article culminated in the films, Chinese Cafes in Rural Saskatchewan (1985) and The Panama (1996).
Remarkably, Cheuk Kwan revisited Jimmy Kook in Outlook, Saskatchewan after screening my 1985 picture, but he took the notion of cafes further, faster, and more fervently. He was able to transcend continental boundaries, time, and space. It is the stuff of filmic legend.
After twenty-five years, Cheuk Kwan’s cafes journey has come full circle with a tribute to “Noisy” Jimmy Kook (Canada episode) who started it all. Without Outlook, our films would have been just ideas lingering, festering, and unmet. With the same breadth of determination and creativity he had when we began The Asianadian, Cheuk has captured in Chinese Restaurants what Chinese people really think about: food, family, and fun.
The humanity of the people in the series transcends stereotypes, racist assumptions, and the mistaken notion that the Chinese are stiff, inscrutable, and unfeeling. Here we meet many Chinese who personify laughter, camaraderie, adaptability, and a daring penchant to live life to the fullest. It is because of these core traits that there is little wonder why the Chinese as a people have survived 5,000 years of unbroken history. And there is little doubt that they will survive another 5,000 years. The Chinese have done it all and many times over. However, no one had chronicled Chinese restaurants on this level until now.
And to think, I thought that Cheuk Kwan’s four-year journey to the ends of the world was just to find that perfect hot bowl of spicy Chinese noodles!
Filmmaker, author, journalist, and educator, Tony Chan teaches digital journalism and Asian American cinema at the University of Washington. His most recent book, Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong, 1905-1961, is being developed as a major motion picture by Luo Yan.