Portrait: Wang Hui Li

Wang Hui Li cropped 2

Wang Hui Li came to work at Harare’s China Garden restaurant five years ago because a relative needed an extra pair of hands. “My mother’s mother is the boss’s sister,” she told me, sounding a little uncertain. Ni mamade mama shi laobande meimei? I repeated. She thought for a moment before repeating the sentence quizzically, and we said it back and forth a couple of times, knowing that something about the description sounded strange. Her mother’s mother is her grandmother – but she must have become accustomed to “mother’s mother” from explanations of how she’d come to this Chinese restaurant in Harare’s suburbs.

Five years is a long time to be away from home, I suggested. Had she adapted to life in Zimbabwe’s capital? Yes, she nodded, with a smile. “The air is good, the climate is good, and there’s no cold winter like in China.” Xi’an, the central Chinese city she calls home regularly sees snow in winter. She’d be going home next year she said. And would she return? I asked. “ I don’t know,” she said calmly, as if uncertainty were the most inevitable thing in the world.

“Wang Hui Li” she told me, when I asked for her full name. She drew the character for Wang in the air with four strokes of her index finger, patted my arm, and said goodbye with a smile.

Chinese at Groot Constantia

Groot Constantia
Groot Constantia Wine Estate is shrouded in mist as I drive towards its tasting room, the lush grounds glistening in the drizzle. A man in a red rain jacket strides toward the whitewashed building. “He jiu! He jiu!” – Let’s drink! – he calls behind him, enunciating the Mandarin tones. He is followed closely by fifteen bright-eyed Chinese tourists in an assortment of rainbow-coloured jackets. Heads swivelling left and right, taking in their surroundings, they head through a green Cape Dutch door. Continue reading

It’s all Chinese to me

I awoke this morning to a sunny winter’s day in Cape Town, and decided to go for a run in the Company’s Garden. It’s more like a park, and its beautiful botanical plants and heritage site status attract plenty of tourists – Chinese, in particular, this time of year. The regions’s first European settlers established the garden in the 1650s to grow fresh produce to replenish ships rounding the Cape. Earlier this year a project began to reintroduce a vegetable garden to the Company’s Garden, and orange overall-wearing men have been hard at work on it for a few months now. This morning, as I ran past the construction area, I saw three of them surrounded by a group of middle-aged Chinese tourists. There was an exchange of some sort going on. I took my headphones out and slowed to a jog. Continue reading