In the deep end

Last week I had all this unconstrained excitement for our in-depth project to begin. All the preparatory and introductory speakers and an outing made me super keen to dive in, to get in there.

Then Friday came along and took at least 50% of the built up excitement away. We had pitch meeting’s in our groups and then went on to pitch our story idea’s to the rest of the class. I was really excited about the two idea’s I had come up with until I heard them being pitched by other groups. Shit. That word became the opening for my pitch, the pitch I had imagined would be all fresh and original. I suppose that’s what happens when there are other geniuses in the room 😉

Anyway after some discussion I then settled for a new story altogether. Development or under development of Chinese spaces/infrastructure in the city, a look into the future of Chinese spaces in the city.

I woke up with no plan and no direction. Yes I had a topic but what I’d do with it was my worry and the biggest challenge of the day. At first I figured it might be a good idea to work backwards by going down to Old Chinatown, to get a little historical context and all. But that idea didn’t really tickle me.

FIRST STOP: Rivonia Oriental City Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
FIRST STOP: Rivonia Oriental City Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

So I read up a little bit in the morning and found some great research done by Dr Yoon Jung Park, a senior research associate at Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg. Her research focuses on Chinese migrants in South Africa. Her work looks into perceptions, ethnicity, identity, class/power dynamics and more.  Upon reading she highlighted “new” spaces that Chinese people are occupying to branch out (in lack of a better phrase). This then made me do a little noodle dance that saw me heading out to Rivonia.

Rivonia Oriental City opened up just over a year ago. It’s not a ‘typical’ Chinese mall as there is a lot of integration and diversity. There are a hybrid of different stores including commercial South African staples like Pick n Pay and Truworths, we also saw a Kenyan coffee shop, well to say Kenyan is a stretch, they had pap and vleis as the meal of the day, but I digress. There was also a black hair salon next to a discount variety store.

However, there was not much difference in the Chinese stores present in the mall. There were clothing stores and gift and variety stores that sold the same merchandise. Interestingly there was a corridor next to the Pick n Pay that lead to the kind of oriental stores we have become accustomed to. Something about the low lighting and lack of activity making it not so ‘typical’.

GET CLEAN: Miracle soaps being sold at a stall on wheels. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
GET CLEAN: Miracle soaps being sold at a stall on wheels. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Speaking to people at the mall proved challenging, a strong language barrier being the catalyst. The people we did manage to speak to had been in the country for some time and as a result could speak English. It was interesting to hear one guy Nathan Cai say he had “too little” Chinese friends and only wanted more, while someone else, Rose Zheng said she had “too many” and wanted to diversify her friend group.

Rose also said that she liked that this mall was different to China Mall: Dragon City, where she had worked previously. She liked the diversity of shops and people she was surrounded by, pointing out that all the businesses are not all Chinese owned and run. “It’s nice because we are in South Africa,” she added.

Being at the mall and getting insight from some of the people there did not make my angle any clearer but it did give me direction, I was heading North and now in a more North Easterly direction. Ooh suspense.

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