Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba
Chinese Restaurants: On the Islands tells story of the Chinese diaspora told through its most recognizable and enduring icon – the family-run Chinese restaurant. Filmmaker Cheuk Kwan takes us on a tour of restaurants in Mauritius, Trinidad, and Cuba, showing us Chinese communities that have become an integral part of these sensual and seductive islands in the sun.
In the middle of the Indian Ocean, Colette, an innovative self-taught chef, serves up inventive new dishes combining Chinese, Creole and Indian flavors in her Mauritian restaurant. Colette, together with other members of the Hakka Chinese community, gives us insights into the Hakka Chinese and their conservative traditions and values.
In San Fernando, we find a rags-to-riches story of restaurant owner Maurice whose passion for quality and service has won him widespread affection and respect while members of his family dance to the infectious beat of Trinidad’s annual Carnival.
In Havana, Alejandro runs a home for Chinese elderly and supports it by operating a restaurant on the side. Meanwhile, we go beyond the ‘Chinese Fantasy’ the Cuban government has created in Chinatown to discover a community that has now become truly Cuban.
Together, these community and personal histories illustrate the wider story of Chinese migration, settlement and integration and celebrate the resilience and complexity of the Chinese diaspora today in these interracial and multicultural island melting pots.
I have had this idea for twenty-five years – to make a film about the Chinese Diaspora through the eyes of Chinese restaurant owners.
Whenever I travel, I would eat at Chinese restaurants and talk to the restaurant owners. Behind every restaurant, there is a fascinating story ready to be told. Who are these people? Where do they come from? What kind of social, political and historical elements are at play?
The result is Chinese Restaurants.
The three countries in On The Islands – Mauritius, Trinidad, Cuba – are unique racial and cultural melting pots. On each island, there’s this wonderful blend of European colonials, African slaves, Asian immigrants and indigenous peoples (if they haven’t been killed off by the colonizers). Add to that mix the sand, the sea and the sun, and we have this sensual and seductive concoction that I call “island culture”.
Islands – and we are talking about small, confined islands here – not continents, are crucible for this kind of inter-racial trans-national trans-cultural human experiments.
Listen to the sing-song quality of rapidly spoken Mauritian Creole, a language that is made up of French, African and Indian words. Listen to that infectious beat of soca in Trinidad’s Carnival, a sound that is the synthesis of soul, calypso, funk, and disco. Listen to my 70-year old Chinese Cuban gentleman who sings about love and fascination in a music that is part Spanish, part African, and part Central American.
And you will know what I am talking about.