“You want to be a chef, instead of a lawyer?!” Helen’s father is stunned.
Catering is probably the most common business among the overseas Chinese community. The older Chinese generation labors day and night in order to free their younger generation of the chore of the kitchen. Helen, a British born Chinese, against all expectation leaves her lawyer job to set up her own restaurant. She discovers that her family cuisines are not only tasty but also full of dramatic stories, spanning almost a hundred years and crossing from Guangzhou via Hong Kong to England.
Helen Tse was awarded MBE for her contribution to the food and catering industry in UK in 2014. Her latest cookbook Dim Sum became a Times bestseller. In 2006, she put the remarkable journey of her family and her own into Sweet Mandarin, which was published in 33 countries to great acclaim.
Our Sweet Mandarin will be the world premier of the dramatic adaptation of this uplifting memoir. It also opens the first chapter of our Trilogy of Diaspora, which will introduce three independent plays to discuss Diaspora in various contexts.
The play is an adaptation of the memoir Sweet Mandarin, which is written by British-born Chinese author Helen Tse. Sweet Mandarin is also the name of their award-winning restaurant located in Manchester.
Tse sisters, Helen, Lisa and Janet, were professionals in different fields. A family trip to Hong Kong and a tracing origin journey to Guangzhou, they were touched by the stories of their family. In 2004, Tse sisters decided to give up their jobs with impressive income to be restaurateurs together. The determination of passing on the spirits and history of the three generations of Chinese women in the family led them to open a restaurant called Sweet Mandarin. Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese-Western fusion restaurant. There is no round table and the restaurant is not located at China Town. Most characteristically, the restaurant is still serving Lily's and Mabel's signature dishes: Chicken Curry and Chicken Clay Pot.
The restaurant has received numerous awards. Gordan Ramsay, a world famous chef, has awarded Sweet Mandarin with "UK's best Local Chinese Restaurant" in his TV program the "F Word". On behalf of Sweet Mandarin, Helen and Lisa were invited to cook for the Chinese Premier Li Ke Qiang and Prime Minister David Cameron in 10 Downing Street during Li's visit to the UK. The three sisters have started their sauce business and launched a total of six different sauces. Not only can the sauces be found in big supermarket chains in the UK, they are also sold abroad in Europe and Asia, even Hong Kong.
In 2014, Helen and Lisa were awarded MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), in recognition of their services to the food and drink sector.
專題文章(2) －20世紀中期香港的生活狀況Hong Kong in mid 20th century
Following the end of WW2, there was a population boom in Hong Kong. It jumped from 1.5 million in 1945 to 3 million in 1961. Among the immigrants, most of them were Chinese refugees escaping the Chinese civil war; the result was a huge demand in housing. The housing policy failed to meet the supply, people then turned to live in illegal settlement: rooftop houses, wooden houses and squatter along hillside etc. Not only was this kind of settlement small in size, but they also came with poor facilities and unhygienic environment.
Thus, working as live-in maid was quite an obvious choice for many Chinese female immigrants. Many of them left their home in China and came alone to Hong Kong. With limited support from families here, they preferred to live with the master families for shelter. Some of them treated the master families as their second home. Many foreigners hired live-in maid, who learned to cook western dishes and speak Chinese Pidgin English, a mixture of Shanghainese and English. For example: “ten two o'clock Jardine bomb bomb, chow chow quick quick”, which means at 12 o’clock there is noon day gun fired by Jardine employee, let’s have your lunch.
Hong Kong experienced an economic boom in 60s, when the light industries developed at their quickest speed, factory work attracted lots of young people. However, the paid was 4-5 dollars a day only, for which the workers worked 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. The income was just enough to feed a family. Birth control and family planning were not popular among immigrants, whose families were common to have 5-6 children. Some of the poor families might give away their child to the rich; those unlucky ones might just be abandoned at the gate of those charitable orphanages, like Po Leung Kuk.
專題文章(3) － 英國華人生活 Lives of British Chinese
19世紀初已經有中國人移民英國，大部分是水手。倫敦的萊姆豪斯是歐洲第一個唐人街。但要到1950－60 年代才出現最大的移民潮，當時華人人口由12,523人上升至38,750人。當中許多人為逃離中國內戰而移民，亦有不少是來自香港新界的圍村村民。到埗後多從事飲食或洗衣業。今日的有大部分華裔英國人是戰後移民的第二或三代。而在英國出生的華裔英國人被稱為BBC（British Born Chinese）。
Dating back to the early 19th century, there was Chinese immigration to UK. Many of them were seamen. Limehoue area in London became the site of first European Chinatown. The largest wave of Chinese immigrants took place during 1950 and 1960, it increased from 12,523 to 38,750 people. People consisted of refugees escaping the Chinese Civil War and male farmers from Hong Kong. Majority of them were employed in the catering industry or laundry businesses. Today, a significant proportion of British Chinese are second or third generation descendants of these post-World War II immigrants. Chinese born in UK are referred to as British Born Chinese (BBC).
The hardships of living, language and racism posed problems to the older generations of British Chinese. Most of them were in the catering trade, working unsociable hours, and the lack of after-hours venues has led to the problem of gambling.
For the new generation of British Born Chinese (BBC), they also face the problem of stereotyping, racism or even racism attacks. Some of the BBCs feel confused about their identity as “Jook-sing”, some of them even do not want to accept the identity of being a Chinese; however, at the same time, many of them feel proud to belong both to the Chinese and Western culture. They have to cope with many difficulties growing up as a child or teenage, which is the reason why they are particularly strong and positive, and are motivated to help each other within the Chinese community. School performances of British Born Chinese are outstanding. In 2002, BBCs obtained the best results in UK A-level public examinations compare to other ethnicities. Chinese are generally likely to be admitted to prestigious institutions, as Chinese youth would be expected to study in prestigious institutions for better career prospects in the future in order to obtain a stable salary to support the family, therefore they tend to work in professional field like law or medical industry.
專題文章(4) －英國的中式餐飲業 Chinese Food and Take away Shop in UK
In 1880, Chinese groceries and eating-houses appeared in London and Liverpool, patronized by Chinese seamen, dockworkers and students. In 1884, Chinese food was introduced to the British public at the International Health Exhibition in London. Chop suey, a dish you never find in China, has been an iconic Chinese dishes in the West for a substantial period of time. It was mostly likely a dish created by early immigrations as an adaption to the western palates, or a solution to cover the shortage of raw ingredients at the time. The first recorded Chinese restaurant opened in Glasshouse Street, Piccadilly Circus, London, which was called ‘The Chinese Restaurant’. But not until the end of WW2 there was a steady increase. Chinese food became more popular, chop suey, chow mein and fish cakes were commonly found. In 1958, John Koon's Lotus House at Bayswater, London, became Britain's first Chinese takeaway. Since then many Chinese restaurants offered takeaway service.
Take out or takeout, carry-out, take away and parcel, different names but all refer to freshly-made food that is packed for taking away and eating elsewhere. Working in catering business was in fact very popular among many mid and low-income Chinese immigrants. With low startup cost and minimal risk, these take away shops are very often family-run.
Before the advancement of packaging, the shops offered only dried dishes like pizza, fries and burger. Nowadays we can take away almost anything ranging from saucy dishes to hot soup. Chinese dishes have been westernized to fit the British appetite, for example a three-course meal pattern was established. Well-liked dishes are Kung Pao Chicken, spring rolls and Peking duck etc.
Cooking is not something ordinary; food is not for satiety only. As Prof. Cheung puts it in the article “Food Anthropology”, we are inseparable from the diet through out our lives, be it at the wedding or funeral. Eating and cooking habits definitely reflect the social status, gender and cultural identity. However, it is not stable. Our attitude towards diet will change as the society changes. Just like our characters Mabel and Lily, they represent two generations, whose “kitchen” means something totally different.
In the play, from Lily’s father, Lily to Lily’s daughter Mabel, they all emigrated to a foreign country. They could only rely on their excellent culinary skills to make a living, i.e. the kitchen fed all three generations. Kitchen men stayed in the kitchen, even though the Chinese cuisine flourished in Europe all because of them, their status has never improved. As Mable said, “Kitchen is for those with no choice”. Mabel was the one with no choice, what the kitchen brought her was the memories full of pain as a second-class citizen. Would she agree on Helen’s decision? No.
For Helen and her sisters, who were the third generation of BBC, food symbolized the memories of the family. The dishes were the only channel that she could understand her family history. Just like her spoken Chinese, these memories were nonetheless fragmented: mum’s Chicken Pot, grandmother’s curry and dad’s dishes. The family trip back in Hong Kong put together all these fragments; the Chinese side of her was filled. Finally she could see the whole picture of who she is. Thus, in Helen’s mind kitchen was not about work, but love instead. Opening a restaurant was in fact her first step to reconstruct her British Born Chinese identity.
Hong Kong shares a similar background like Helen. It has been the hub of east meeting west since 1842, where fusion food is easily found. Local day trips were popular in 90s, many Hong Kongers aspired for nostalgic food and culture. This trend is getting popular again this year, facebook groups are set up to “protect” those local or traditional restaurants. Coincidentally, these trends appear when Hong Kong is unstable politically. From the change of eating habits, we can see Hong Kongers are searching for the cultural identity. “It could be a counter attack on the globalization by the local culture”. Capital-driven globalization affects the society, we are losing the local culture bit by bit. Instead of looking forward, shall we take of look of our past? Could we see truly who we are, like Helen did, and are able to rebuild the cultural identity of Hong Kong people one day?