Lunar New Year Eve
February 8, 2005
Great Grand Dad was “right on” when he told me, “Once Chinese… you’ll always be Chinese… no matter what anybody tells you.” None of us can escape the fact that we’ve been shaped by our own family histories and the political/social realities of our motherland.
My Great Grandfather left a poor village in Toishan, Guangdong province in search of the Gold Mountains in the Americas. My family has more historical connections with “Gum San” than Hong Kong. Both my Mother and Grandmother escaped to Hong Kong as refugees from the Cultural Revolution. People in Hong Kong are all migrants from elsewhere. The Gurkhas have been there since the British India days and they are no less “Honkies” than I am.
I still have family in Hong Kong and Guangdong. Even though I only lived there for a very short period of my life, I still consider the South China Sea my ancestral home and a big part of who I am. I am part of this global Chinese diaspora and identity was destined to be an issue… from the time I was born in Hong Kong and yet my ID there labelled me “stateless” under citizenship.
My application to reinstate my right of abode was rejected in 1997 due to complications with my father’s delinquent “paper son” records. Another layer to burden my identity issue, much too long and complicated to unravel here. Through my tormented 90’s, it had been an important issue for me to reinstate my right of abode status. But I’ve abandoned those plans after realizing now that it’s not the piece of paper… but what’s in my heart that counts.
I have this strange sense of camaraderie in my heart for the Hong Kong Regiments who were abandoned by the British Crown and ostracized by the PLA after the historic Handover of ‘97.
In 1997, I went back to cover the Handover for Newsworld. It was also the eighth anniversary of the June Fourth Massacre. I stood in Tiananmen Square for the first time and found myself in uncontrollable tears for no apparent reason. It was emotionally a very moving moment for me. My only logical explanation for my reaction is that “I am Chinese” no matter how far I’ve transcended my ethnicity and cultural boundaries.
I would be a very different person today had I stayed in Hong Kong instead of going abroad. But we are who we are, based on the choices and decisions we make. Our experiences all differ but at the end of the day, we’re all inter-connected in a personal and global way.
Identity issues seem to follow me from gig to gig, or maybe subconsciously, I make identity my issue. But I don’t consciously look for these project — they seem to find me — which is a good thing because each new experience helps me navigate my own identity closer towards a peaceful existence.
As diasporas, we tend to be quick on our feet and live outside the box. Not only are we unafraid of getting lost but instead, we thrive on getting lost, then finding ourselves, which is a big part of our creative process.
I went into this journey without any expectations… I believe that expectations only bring you disappointments. So… two cameras, thirteen countries, mega miles of digital media, more mileage than Che’s motorcycle can rev up, copious varieties of Chinese food, an extended global family and five years later… the “fat man’s feet” has shown me more than just the global extent of our culture. It has transcended my own ethnicity and cultural boundaries beyond my imagination.
This series has made me much more confident in terms of who I am. I’ve been subconsciously living on the margins without borders for most of my life. But the series became the glue that solidified my experiences and now I’m making peace with that notion.
I’m constantly running into folks scratching their head trying to figure me out saying stuff like, “You’re not really Chinese.” All I can say is, “your perception is your reality… but it’s not mine.”
I was born in an English colony and grew up in another. I’m envious of my aboriginal brothers’ US/Canadian borderless status. I feel no belonging to any one particular country and culture. I am a Global Chinaman, a Canuck, sometimes a Native American or just some “Honkie Dude” from Hong Kong. I live in Toronto, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. I am loyal to my own principles and values instead of a particular country or flag.
Contrary to our South Africa story subject, Onkuen, who feels that she can only “share her paradise” but not claim it even though she was born and raised in Cape Town; I am making claims to my paradise, live for internationalism and cheer for whoever happens to be winning at the Olympics unless they’re playing against my people.
I’d like to join in solidarity with the folks in this series and dispel the myth by saying, “Hey dude, in spite of our passport, we’ll always be Chinese… so back off with your judgemental attitudes.”
This journal is my way of keeping me balance or sane. Anyone’s questions it may address are as irrelevant as the answers are absurd. The film may be the only possible answer. And getting to it means little to anyone but us. I hope to find strength in recollecting my experiences as they had happened… and hopefully by sharing and exposing my vulnerabilities to you. My memories or thoughts in this journal will only have resonance then because they’ve been the things helping me move on.