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Visit of a student from Massachusetts during her summer holidays to explore the Chinese culture in Africa
Monday - July 15, 2013 1:49 pm
 Can you say some words about yourself?

·         Your Name,

·         How old are you,

·         Your origin,

·         Your country of residence,

·         Your parents,

·         Etc. etc

 

My name is Tao Tao Holmes, and I’m a 21-year-old about to go into my final year at Yale University, in Connecticut, USA. I’ve grown up in America, though I was born in Japan to an American father and a Chinese mother.

   Where have you been mostly doing your studies?

 This summer, I am spending one month in Mauritius followed by a month in Ghana to study the Chinese communities and the way they fit into the broader local cultures. Thus far, I’ve spent most of my time in Port Louis, talking to shopkeepers, members of the Nam Soon Fooy Koon Society, and others in the Sino-Mauritian community. In addition, I’ve visited the National Archives and national museum and collected numerous materials and readings on the history of Mauritius and more specifically, the history of Chinese migrants in Mauritius.

   It seems that you have been travelling a lot, just say some words on your travels. Why have you been travelling so much?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel extensively throughout my life. My parents have always maintained a clear, three-tiered list of priorities: health, education, travel. By living simply at home, we have been able to take trips abroad and visit many beautiful and eye-opening places. I would like to believe that my exposure to many countries and cultures has helped me become a more considerate critical thinker and problem solver, and with this motivation, I continue to travel as much as I can. During my summers at Yale, through generous funding by the university, I have lived in Beijing, Delhi, and now, Mauritius, and I have quietly learned something different from each place that I keep with me as I move forward.

  Is it the first time that you come to Mauritius?

 This is my first time in Mauritius! It is a stunning country with a fascinating cultural history. It’s one of the loveliest places I’ve been.

   According to my experience, people in big countries tend to have a low level of world geography, despite the existence of high technological tools.  Did you know of the existence of our small country before?

  I must admit that if you’d asked me to locate Mauritius on a map before I began planning this trip, I couldn’t have done it. I think this puts me in the same boat as over 98 percent of Americans, who can be exceedingly ignorant about foreign (and local) geography. What is curious is the fact that every single American has heard of the Dodo bird, but no one has heard of Mauritius… so I’m not sure where we all think the Dodo bird actually came from.

  Now that you are on the island, your feelings, expectations, etc….

 As I began preparing for my trip to Mauritius, I was realizing more and more how much the country has to offer, both in terms of scenery and culture. I don’t like to go into a new place or situation with predetermined expectations, so I arrived with my books and notebooks and voice recorder ready to start getting to know a complete stranger of a nation. I’ve been overwhelmed by the island’s natural beauty — the beaches, the ocean, the jagged mountains — and the friendliness and unique diversity of its inhabitants. It’s been a pleasure to read about the island’s present and past while interacting with it every day, and the conversations I have and new facts I discover keep my time here exciting.

   We have been told that you are very interested with the Chinese culture.  Why?

 More recently, I have become more interested in Chinese history and culture. This increased interest coincides with two things: a greater curiosity about my Chinese family history and background, and the emergence of a more prominent China on the international stage. I’m interested in the ways that Chinese culture spreads or recedes as Chinese communities proliferate across the globe.

  You have had the opportunity of visiting the Chan’s pagoda next door, the Nam Soon Pagoda at the Champ de Mars, any impressions?

 The pagodas I have had the chance to visit are beautiful, and appear to be a unifying element of the Chinese communities. While I am not very familiar with Chinese religious practices, I appreciate the spiritual and reflective nature of the pagodas and the ancestral shrines.

   Besides these places, have you seen other places of interest?

 I have thoroughly enjoyed walking around Chinatown and gathering a sense of the stores and restaurants and the people who run them. The NSFK Center and also the Chinese Cultural Center in Bell Village have both impressed me and I look forward to visiting classes at both before I leave Mauritius.

 How different is the Mauritian Chinese culture compared to those that you are aware of?

 The Mauritian Chinese culture is unique, and I have not been disappointed by its vibrancy, enthusiasm, and welcoming spirit. Unlike in rural areas in other countries, where Chinese shops and businesses are spread out, in Port Louis there is a true, cohesive community that has formed and strengthened over the years. For example, I visited and interviewed the owners of several Chinese retail shops in Cape Verde, another African island nation, and felt very little emphasis there on Chinese culture and heritage. This was a combination of the short period of time that Chinese migrants had settled on the island, the short duration of most shopkeepers’ stay (five years), and the distance between the Chinese migrants. In addition, younger Chinese were more “Westernized” as we say, and their attitudes pointed more towards local lifestyles or American culture. So, in contrast, the Chinese community and culture in Mauritius has been developed and cultivated over time by several generations in the proximity of Port Louis and with the help of a number of dedicated individuals. Whether this culture can continue, however, is another issue.

  It is a fact that the Chinese community, here in Mauritius, is regressing at a high pace. Over the past decade, its population has decreased from over thirty thousands to about fifteen thousands. How, as a foreigner, do you feel about it?

 In the past decade, the Sino-Mauritian population has fallen by a half, to no more than 17,000 (of a total population of around 1.3 million). As a foreigner, I feel that despite their small size, the Chinese are still a very visible community. Perhaps I am biased due to the time I have spent in Port Louis and my observational tendency to seek out Chinese wherever I go; however, I do feel their presence, and I think others can too. It’s clear even to a passing tourist that the Chinese migrants have indelibly influenced the national culture of Mauritius — the local food on its own serves as a testament to that, as well as the face of Sir Moi Lin Jean Ah Chuen on the 25 Rupee bill. The Sino-Mauritians appear to be a well-respected community that has, thus far, stayed out of ethnic conflicts (for example, ethnic riots in 1968 and in 1999 which involved Muslims, Hindus, and Creoles). So, as a foreigner, I feel a natural sense of chagrin at the notion of the Sino-Mauritian community shrinking into obsolescence. While they are a minority, I do think that the Chinese have played a pivotal role, along with the Hindus, Muslims, Creoles, and Europeans, in creating the Mauritius that exists today.

  In some foreign countries, the local Chinese community completely disappeared or mixed up with other communities forming new hybrids, according to your experience of places where you have been, how did that impacted on the Chinese culture?

 I have limited knowledge on the integration of Chinese communities in other countries. From what I have read on the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, there have been considerable levels of racial intermixing; however, historically, migrant communities have been discriminated against and the children of mixed marriages have struggled with a sense of place in local societies. In the US, Asians currently constitute under five percent of the total population, but are disproportionately represented within higher education and among the professional elite. Caucasian-Asian marriages are becoming more and more common and play a role in further integrating Asian Americans into the national fabric. Regarding consequent impacts on Chinese culture, I think that geography and mindset play key roles. Chinese migrants who immerse themselves in non-Chinese communities will most likely adopt local habits and customs rather than gathering around Chinese traditions. Similarly, Chinese and other migrants who begin life in the US, Canada, Australia, or elsewhere and who enter with an adaptive mindset — raising their children with more influence from local rather than native culture — will inevitably lead to the fading of Chinese culture.

  In China today with the rapid developments that the country has experienced, the youngsters are getting more and more westernized caring less about their grandparents’ culture. Any impressions on this statement.

 At this point, it looks like youngsters everywhere, Chinese or not, are becoming more and more “Westernized,” thanks in large part to the rapid spread of technology and modern media. A critical question is: Are Westernization and maintenance of traditional cultural customs compatible? Can they coexist? I believe it is possible — if not always common — to adopt a more Western lifestyle while still holding traditional values (religious, ethnic, etc).

  Have you experience same here in Mauritius?

  I’ve learned that nearly all Sino-Mauritian students go abroad for university studies and tend to stay abroad to seek employment afterwards. Under these circumstances, and without a core Chinese community like the one in Port Louis, I would expect these Sino-Mauritians to adopt local lifestyles and slowly depart from many aspects of traditional Chinese culture.

  What can you say about the Nam Shun Fooy Koon?

 Since I first stepped foot in the building, I have been warmly welcomed by the members of the Nam Shun Fooy Koon (NSFK) Society. I am impressed by its history and dedication; I have visited a number of the daily classes and have seen the large numbers of community members who show up to learn, dance, exercise, paint… I can see that the older members of NSFK care deeply about their heritage and want the younger generation to exhibit equal interest. However, the next generation is distracted by other pursuits and jetting off to other places, leaving the future of the Society uncertain.

 How in your opinion, can we make ourselves known to other Chinese communities worldwide apart from our web site?

 I believe that Nam Shun Fooy Koon should concern itself less with making itself known to other Chinese communities worldwide and instead focus its attention on finding communities with which it can converse and collaborate ideas. Inevitably, organizations like NSFK will be facing similar challenges in the coming decades, and perhaps the most effective way forward is one propelled by cooperation.As we continue into what we’ve collectively termed an “era of globalization,” international lines increasingly blur and notions of culture and ethnic identity become more and more nebulous. The conservation of traditional cultures may be a universal challenge, and NSFK would only gain by seeking out what other organizations (Chinese or otherwise) are doing to overcome it. 

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