Haifa’s Yan Yan Restaurant was established by Chinese-Vietnamese refugee Kien Wong. Wong is a devout Christian who evangelizes Chinese migrant workers and expatriates. His children, meanwhile, variously negotiate their complex identities as Christian Chinese Israelis in a Jewish homeland surrounded by Arab states, rocked by Palestinian uprisings and steeped in religious orthodoxy – in a country where religion and ethnic identity are powerful sources of tension as well as solace.
We are driving up the West Bank, stringing Biblical landmarks along the Jordan River—the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Bethlehem and the Sea of Galilee—on our way to Haifa. I had found the Yan Yan two years ago. The ‘Happy New Year’ sign written in proper Chinese characters hanging inside the window had signaled to me that the owner was Chinese. But the story got better. Kien Wong turned out to be a preaching Christian and one of the ‘boat people’ taken in by Israel in the late seventies, thereby adding emphasis to the words ‘refugee’ and ‘religion’ in my story.
At the end of his Friday sermon in an abandoned construction site in the Golan Heights, Wong walks out into the sunlight, creating a halo effect for our camera. The opening lyrics of Zehava Ben’s Spinning Wheel are, appropriately: “God, God, what is my destiny?” On our drive back, the setting sun longingly peeks through the hills while apple trees flash by. Coming down the hill from the village of Merion, driving along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, I am overwhelmed by Wong’s passion and steely determination to preach his Christian faith in this Jewish land.
Israel Musical Landscape, Lumb & Giancola
The Quiet American, Craig Armstrong
The Quiet American, with its longing vocals and emotive pentatonic chords, provided much of the inspiration for our editing. Composers Janet Lumb and Dino Giancola contributed with their soulful Song of the Exile, which became the title track, eventually providing the title for our first film. To give the profiles of the two youngest Wong daughters a sense of youth and urbanity, young Toronto composer Aaron Tsang threw into the mix his Tel Aviv Techno, the same kind of music I heard while walking around Tel Aviv’s trendy seafront district and the bars and cafés on Dizengoff Street.