Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Festival strengthens ties

TWO CULTURES: Ngati Whatua Orakei Trust Board chairman Grant Hawke and Auckland Chinese Community Centre chair Arthur Loo are excited about this Saturday’s Taniwha and Dragon Festival. Historic cultural links forged in the early twentieth century will be honoured this weekend. The ties binding the Maori and Chinese communities will be celebrated in the Taniwha and Dragon Festival at Orakei Marae this Saturday. Ngati Whatua Orakei Trust Board chairman Grant Hawke says people may be surprised to learn the depth of the connections between local Chinese and iwi which stretch back to the 1930s and 1940s when members of Ngati Whatua Orakei worked for Chinese at Glen Innes market gardens. "It was very important. It supplied a huge amount of employment for Maori and meant they could bring home fresh vegetables," he says. Mr Hawke also has a very personal connection to the gardens. His paternal grandmother worked the fields. After she suffered a heart attack while working, his father was raised by two Chinese families. The Auckland Chinese Community Centre chair Arthur Loo says there are many similarities between Maori and Chinese culture. "Like Maori people, we worship our ancestors, revere our elders and believe in consensus decision-making. It's about the subjugation of the self for the greater good of the community," Mr Loo says. "The festival will provide a symbolic welcome, but I think it goes to help strengthen and emphasise the ties Maori and Chinese have always had." He says the two cultures also have ancestral connections. "The DNA of Maori can be traced back to a native hill tribe of Taiwan." The free Taniwha & Dragon Festival is the culmination of talks between marae leaders, Auckland Chinese community leaders and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples. It starts with a huge Chinese dancing dragon and a Maori welcoming ceremony or powhiri. The festival that follows will feature traditional and contemporary Maori and Chinese entertainment, culture, crafts and food stalls. There will also be a workshop where traditional Maori and Chinese kites will be made and flown. This is only the start of the renewed collaboration, Mr Hawke says. The powhiri kicks off at Orakei Marae at 9am and the festival will run from 10am to 5pm. - © Fairfax NZ News KARINA ABADIA Last updated 05:00 24/04/2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Singing mayor strays off key in campaign

Singing mayor strays off key in campaign 5:30 AM Sunday Oct 3, 2010 Mayoress Ying Foon with the album by Mayor Meng Foon. Photo / Supplied In the remaindered rack of Gisborne's Dollar Dreams discount shop are the last couple of copies of Tu Mai, a rare but not very collectible compact disc of the town's smiling mayor singing his own compositions. Nobody else sells the CD and - let's be honest - Dollar Dreams sells it only because Mayor Meng Foon owns the store. Meng Liu Foon is one of the enigmas of local body politics in this country. He swept to a landslide victory in 2001 to become New Zealand's first Chinese mayor in a region known for biculturalism, not multiculturalism. He is seeking his fourth term against one opponent, whose early efforts had him lagging against Foon's charisma. Foon's Chinese heritage and relative youth set him apart from the start: he was 42 years old on a council where the average age was closer to 60. There is something likeable about his direct approach, the way he speaks "Menglish" and his tendency to make gaffes in public places. Like the time he told a group of people with mental illness they should keep themselves clean, because people did not want to hire people who smelled. But he never forgets the name of a constituent. He can walk into a marae at Rangitukia or a rural hall at Tiniroto and address everyone by name during the council's annual community consultation tours. He is surely one of the few people, anywhere, who speaks both Cantonese and Maori. This makes him a de facto representative of half the region's population, and, for this reason, he was widely thought to be unbeatable. Until this past week. Foon does not only speak Maori, he can think like a Maori and do business the Maori way. One suspects it is similar to the canny way of the Chinese. He started in business as an 8-year-old, using a wooden box to reach the till in the family vege shop. At 10 he and his brother were making $12,000 a year each, selling puha to the local markets, banking the proceeds in their Post Office Savings books at school. "Come March our father would say it's time to sign this little slip of paper and then he would go out and buy new land or a tractor so we think we contributed well to the family business." By the time he was in his early 20s, the family business included the TAB and liquor store in Kaiti, where Meng Foon discovered how much money people had for spending. By 1988 the family owned the Kaiti Mall. * * * Going into his home at Makaraka to see the mayor cooking a traditional dish, it is obvious he is also steeped in Chinese traditions. On the wall is a photo of the infant Meng, with his trademark round face, cheeky smile and winking eyes, in a pushchair being pushed by his mother, who looks as glamorous as his wife Ying. In the kitchen he is surrounded by Ying and her sisters, who boss him around with indulgent affection. He says one dish would be most unfortunate, so the family decided on eight courses, "an auspicious number". Auspicious and prosperous are Foon's favourite words and part of his personal mantra. His own special dish is a divine creation of raw oysters suspended in a lightly cooked Chinese omelette. After dinner, guests are led to the mayor's upstairs sanctum, to view documentaries that have screened at Te Papa and on television, and treated to a the sounds of his CD, Tu Mai. He is certainly talented. Foon can sing like a Viennese choirboy in Maori. But there is something else about Meng Foon that has consistently raised his profile, and that is his tendency to shoot from the lip. "Up the coast" he switches into full tikanga mode, which he learned as a schoolboy from his workmates in the vege fields of Makaraka where he spent more time in the paddocks than at school. Outlining the achievements of his council, his favourite yarn is about the enormous cost of the city's new wastewater plant. At $40 million, this is really costing them only the equivalent of a bottle of Pump a day, he says - and even if they have diarrhoea and go 10 times to the loo it costs no more. Although some of the attending executives may cringe, the audiences enjoy this banter. His councillors take his public announcements in stride - they either over-ride or ratify them at later meetings. On the East Coast's high incidence of drink-driving crashes he made national headlines with his comments over a Steinlager-goes-well-with-marijuana mentality. After a nationwide survey on flatulence, he said a local fondness for kinas - or sea eggs - might be to blame for Gisborne topping the list, claiming also that everything in the town was cooked with onions. While some cringe at his blunt approach, most people in his electorate view it as a likeable "what you see is what you get" honesty. But sometimes he goes too far. Like when he claimed this month that he - "myself personally" - saved the ratepayers $54 million on the wastewater treatment plant. After being challenged about this, he apologised for wrongfully taking the credit, attributing this to his natural enthusiasm and positivity. Then were the revelations over his credit card use, which had been deemed by his council minders as acceptable. The receipts that came later showed Meng Foon was not far behind that other singing mayor, Manukau's Len Brown, having racked up nearly $8000. It was spent mostly on meals and entertainment, including a $2340 Christmas shout for his councillors at a licensed cafe. The lavish shout, and the fact that he used his council card to buy himself a coffee or tea while on council business, caused local flak, especially when, in the face of a 7 per cent rate hike, people found out he was being paid $1800 a week. But most seemed reassured by Meng's comments that he was always frugal, and just as often paid the cost of hosting people from his own pocket. Then came the faux pas to beat them all, a court report from Palmerston North last week revealing Meng Foon had provided a reference for a Gisborne Mongrel Mob member, Joseph Donnelly, being sentenced there for a particularly nasty rape. Many people, including police, were gobsmacked by his official support for a man the police have struggled to convict - often because the victims have been unwilling to testify. It came after an intensive community campaign over the past few years for zero tolerance of violence against women, leaving many people wondering whether this was a case of naivety, misguided generosity, stupidity or just "buffoonery". His opponent Gary Hope has surged ahead in unofficial local polls, but has not made hay out of Foon's blunder, saying it is not his style to kick a man who is down. He says he has nothing against Meng. He just believes it is time for a change. "People in power too long get too complacent," says Hope. Foon says he regrets the letter intensely and did not really think about the repercussions. He shows me his new rules for writing letters and they include guidelines such as "will it come back to bite us in the bum?" He does not want to lose the mayoralty. He says it's the best job he's had. - Herald on Sunday

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Unusual sea tragedy recalled

An exhibition in Kohukohu is dedicated to one of Northland's worst - and most unusual - maritime tragedies. In 1902, the steamship SS Ventnor sank off Northland's west coast, claiming the lives of all but a few of its crew. Reports of the death toll vary, but at least 13 perished. The ship was on its way from Wellington to Hong Kong when it struck a reef off Cape Egmont. The captain decided to head to Auckland via North Cape for repairs, but got no further than Hokianga Heads before the ship went down. The cargo included 5000 tonnes of coal and 499 coffins carrying the remains of Chinese goldminers who had died in New Zealand but were to have been taken home for burial in their family villages. It was a great tragedy for the miners' relatives, because traditional Chinese belief is that a soul will not rest unless the grave is tended by family members. Many of the coffins washed up along the west coast, where they were found by the people of Te Roroa and Te Rarawa. Not knowing where the caskets came from, but realising their significance, Maori buried the miners along the coast and in their own cemeteries. The story had been all but forgotten until 2007, when Rawene woman Liu Sheung Wong made a documentary about the tragedy and met Te Roroa elders, who told her their ancestors had found the coffins and given them proper burials. Contacts were forged between the descendants of the Chinese miners and the Maori who had buried them, culminating on Friday with dedication ceremonies for memorial plaques at Waipoua and Mitimiti. It was also the miners' descendants' first chance in more than 100 years to perform the rituals of Ching Ming, a Chinese custom in which people visit the graves of their ancestors around April 5 each year. About 50 descendants also attended the opening of an exhibition at Blackspace Gallery in Kohukohu on Friday evening, in which 19 mostly Maori artists explore themes of loss, memory and connections. The Kohukohu community staged a powhiri for their Chinese guests, who lit joss sticks and made offerings of food at an altar set up next to the gallery. The exhibition, which is sponsored by the Chinese Historical Ventnor Group, is open from 10am-3pm, Tuesday to Sunday, until April 19. Blackspace Gallery is a few doors up from Village Arts in Kohukohu, North Hokianga. See Saturday's Advocate for more on the Ventnor and Friday's historic visit by the miners' descendants. SPIRITUAL VISIT: Connie Kum (right) lights a bundle of joss sticks to honour the souls of the SS Ventnor, with Liu Shueng Wong of Rawene (left) and Kai Shek Luey of Auckland. Peter de Graaf Peter de Graaf 9th Apr 2013 1:00 PM

Peace at last for Northland's 'hungry ghosts'

A Northland woman's quest to discover the truth behind a century-year-old maritime tragedy has brought two peoples together - and brought peace to hundreds of ''hungry ghosts''. The sinking of the SS Ventnor off Northland's west coast in 1902 with more than 500 Chinese gold miners on board would have been New Zealand's worst maritime tragedy - but for the fact that most of them were already dead. The ship was carrying the remains of 499 miners who had died in the South Island's goldfields and were to have to been buried in their home villages in China. According to traditional Chinese belief a soul can find rest only if its grave is tended by family members. In return for offerings of food and incense during the annual festival of Ching Ming, souls of the departed will grant the living a year of good luck and happiness. Lost or forgotten souls are doomed to wander the earth as ''hungry ghosts''. The loss of life when the Ventnor sank off Hokianga Heads (see the story below for details of the sinking) was significant, but it was also a tragedy for the dead miners' families. They were never able to bury their men or carry out the rites needed to put their souls to rest. But that changed last week, 111 years after the sinking, when descendants of those pioneering miners were finally able to carry out the rituals needed to satisfy the hungry ghosts. Just as importantly, the miners' descendants came to Northland's wild west coast to give thanks to the descendants of another people - the Maori of Te Roroa and Te Rarawa who had found the mysterious caskets and bones on their beaches and buried them, sometimes alongside their own ancestors. The final chapter of the Ventnor tragedy began with Rawene woman Wong Liu Shueng, a third-generation New Zealander whose roots lie in the same district as some of the lost miners. She had long heard whispers about bones from the Ventnor washing up along the coast, so when she had to make a short film for a movie-making course in 2007 it was the obvious topic to tackle. Ms Wong made contact with Te Roroa elders, who confirmed their ancestors had gathered the bones and buried them. Many were laid to rest in a wahi tapu just south of Kawerua, on the edge of Waipoua Forest. She also made contact with Te Rarawa further north, who had passed down similar stories, and began organising ceremonies to put the miners' souls to rest and give thanks to west coast iwi. It was a slow, laborious process - but if the souls had gone hungry for more than century, she figured they could wait a few years longer. The preparations were finally ready last Thursday, when 100 descendants of those long-lost Chinese miners - mostly from Auckland, but with a few from as far away as Hong Kong and Australia - travelled to Te Roroa's headquarters in the Waipoua Forest to unveil a plaque amid a freshly planted kauri grove. The inscription, in English, Chinese and Maori, reads: ''With gratitude of the New Zealand descendants of the Poon Fah and Jeng Seng districts to the iwi of this area for respecting and caring for the remains of the Chinese washed ashore following the sinking of the SS Ventnor on 28th October 1902. May their souls now rest in peace in your rohe.'' They then travelled to Kawerua, the site of a once bustling coastal settlement, for the first of many bei jey ceremonies. The ritual honours the dead when the exact location of their remains is unknown and involves calling the ancestors, lighting joss sticks and sharing food, usually chicken and pork. On Friday the group made the long journey to Mitimiti, North Hokianga, where a century ago bones were gathered up and buried on Maunga Hione. The artist Ralph Hotere was laid to rest on the same hill earlier this year. They were formally welcomed to Matihetihe Marae and dedicated another plaque, this one giving thanks to the people of Te Rarawa. It is mounted on what Ms Wong describes as a ''spellbindingly beautiful'' Chinese gate overlooking the sea. On Saturday they visited the lookout at Signal Station Rd, from where the signalmaster watched the Ventnor slide beneath the waves, and the giant dunes of North Hokianga Head for a final bei jey ceremony. Among the Chinese Kiwis in the group was Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon, who said he had joined the miners' descendants because he wanted to be with them as they went ''from grief to gladness''. During yet another welcome, this time at Kohukohu's Blackspace gallery, Mr Foon said from the tragedy of the Ventnor had come diamonds. ''It was a tragedy for our ancestors who never got back to China. Their womenfolk, their children, are still mourning for them. But the beautiful thing about this is we've formed a new relationship with Te Rarawa and Te Roroa, and we've found strong similarities between the cultures - especially our desire to go home,'' he said. Te Roroa elder Alex Nathan said the story of the Ventnor's bones was all but a myth to the Chinese community before Ms Wong made contact, so they were surprised to find it was common knowledge among Maori living on the coast. The Chinese expressed their gratitude many times during the three-day visit but Maori did not bury the remains for the thanks, he said. ``Our people were just obligated to take care of the bones until such time as the rightful descendants appeared on the scene. They didn't do it with a view to being thanked. It was an obligation, we'd do it for anyone.'' It was the first time many of the Chinese visitors had had such close interaction with Maori. They were surprised to discover parallels between the two cultures, and by the end were referring to their Maori hosts as ''our long-lost cousins'', Mr Nathan said. Thirty-nine of those taking part in last week's journey were descendants of Choie Sew Hoy, an Otago businessman whose remains sank with the Ventnor. They included great-great-grandson Peter Sew Hoy, until recently a GP in Dunedin. ''To be the first descendants since the boat went down 111 years ago to be able to pay our respects and do the Ching Ming ceremony, at the site where Choie Sew Hoy is, was very, very emotional.'' Mr Sew Hoy hoped more descendants would come to the west coast each year to mark Ching Ming. Ms Wong said on one level she was glad the journey she had begun many years to uncover the story behind the Ventnor's washed-up bones, and give thanks to those who had cared for them, was now over. Many of those who took part in last week's commemorations had discovered how much they had in common with Maori, and some had even discovered family links. She was certain that all had gained a deeper understanding of what it meant to be Chinese. And what about the hungry ghosts? ''I'm sure they're smiling now. I'm sure they're full up and I'm sure they're happy.'' The story behind the Ventnor's ill-fated voyage The ill-fated SS Ventnor was built in Glasgow in 1901 and chartered in 1902 by a charity called the Cheong Sing Tong, set up by the Chinese community in New Zealand to return the remains of their countrymen to their home villages in China. In the 1800s thousands of Chinese men, mainly from the then impoverished province of Guangdong, came to New Zealand to dig for gold. Although life was hard they could earn a lot more in the goldfields than they could in China, and most hoped to return home to build better lives for the families they had left behind. Many, however, died in New Zealand. According to traditional Chinese beliefs, graves must be tended by family members to ensure a good afterlife for the deceased and prosperity for their descendants - but that can only happen if they are buried close to family, usually in their home village. Those who are buried where family members are unable to practice the proper rituals cannot rest in peace and become what is known as ''hungry ghosts''. Hence the efforts of the Cheong Sing Tong, which in 1883 collected the remains of 230 miners and shipped them home to China. In 1902 the society prepared an even bigger shipment, exhuming 499 miners from 40 cemeteries in Otago, Southland and the West Coast. The bones were sealed in lead boxes, which where were then placed inside kauri caskets and taken to Wellington to be loaded into purpose-built compartments under the Ventnor's deck. The ship's other cargo was 5000 tonnes of West Coast coal destined for Hong Kong. However, on October 27, a day after leaving Wellington, the ship hit a reef off the Taranaki coast. The captain decided to head around North Cape to Auckland for repairs but the damage was too great. The ship sank off Hokianga Heads on October 28, taking its cargo and most of its crew to the bottom. Only a few made it alive to Omapere. Figures for the death toll vary. It is thought at least 13 died, including the elderly Chinese ``attendants'' given free passage home in return for looking after the remains. A attempt by the Cheong Sing Tong to salvage the caskets failed. The sinking was a great tragedy for the men's relatives, who feared their souls would be unable to find peace. Among those whose remains were on board was Cheong Sing Tong founding member Choie Sew Hoy, whose grief-stricken son Choie Kum Poy reportedly said: ''My poor father, he has died twice''. It is only in the past few years that the miners' descendants have learned that not all 499 bodies sank forgotten to the bottom of the Tasman Sea. Some caskets washed up along the west coast from Kawerua in the south to Mitimiti in the north, where they were discovered by Maori of Te Roroa and Te Rarawa tribes and buried. In Kawerua horses were used to drag the lead caskets up what later became known as Chinaman's Hill; at Mitimiti, bones found scattered along the beach were gathered up and buried alongside Maori dead. The story had been largely forgotten outside the west coast's Maori communities until Rawene woman Wong Liu Shueng, whose ancestors hail from the same Jeng Seng district where some of the miners were born, made contact with Te Roroa for a short film about the Ventnor. Last week's visit by the miners' descendants was timed to coincide with Ching Ming, a festival dating back more than 2500 years in which people visit the graves of their ancestors, honouring them with incense and offerings of food. In return the ancestors grant their descendants a year of good luck and happiness. Translated as Ancestor's Day or Tomb-sweeping Day, Ching Ming is a national holiday in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The records of whose remains were on board have been lost so the only known descendants are those of Choie Sew Hoy. He arrived in New Zealand in 1869, setting himself up as a merchant supplying the goldfields. His business acumen and command of English made him wealthy. He invented a dredge suitable for working river beds and eventually owned 11 mining companies. He founded the Cheong Sing Tong in 1882 and died in 1901. Peter de Graaf 14th Apr 2013 10:18 AM

Saturday, April 13, 2013

David Fung and Te Roroa's kaumatua Fraser Toi

It's been 111 years since the Chinese-chartered freight ship SS Ventnor sank off the Hokianga coast, spilling over 499 coffin "boxes" and two full-sized coffins into the sea. Now the so-called "hungry ghosts" from its wreck have finally been laid to rest. About 100 Chinese people from around New Zealand and Australia gathered in the Waipoua Forest and Mitimiti to ensure their ancestors - mostly goldminers from the 1800s - received the "good afterlife" at an unveiling, blessing and dedication to the Te Roroa and Te Rarawa iwi who found their calico-encased bones along their shoreline and buried them in their own urupa (burial grounds). April 4 and 6 were chosen to coincide with the Ching Ming Festival when the Chinese honour their dead and visit their graves.

Laid to rest - 111 years later

It's been 111 years since the Chinese-chartered freight ship SS Ventnor sank off the Hokianga coast, spilling over 499 coffin "boxes" and two full-sized coffins into the sea. Now the so-called "hungry ghosts" from its wreck have finally been laid to rest. About 100 Chinese people from around New Zealand and Australia gathered in the Waipoua Forest and Mitimiti to ensure their ancestors - mostly goldminers from the 1800s - received the "good afterlife" at an unveiling, blessing and dedication to the Te Roroa and Te Rarawa iwi who found their calico-encased bones along their shoreline and buried them in their own urupa (burial grounds). April 4 and 6 were chosen to coincide with the Ching Ming Festival when the Chinese honour their dead and visit their graves. Chinese flocked to New Zealand's South Island in the 1800s seeking their fortune in gold but most ended up living, and then dying, in poverty, buried thousands of miles from their families and homeland. Chinese families need to tend the graves of their loved ones yearly to ensure them a good afterlife as well as prosperity for their descendants. This was traditionally done in their home villages. The dead will not be able to rest in peace and become known as "hungry ghosts" if relatives can't perform the appropriate cultural observances such as offering incense and food. The Cheong Sing Tong Association was set up in 1882 by Chinese men from the Poon Yu and Fah Yuen counties of Guangdong province. One of its aims was to send the remains of men from those two counties back to their villages in China for reburial. The founding leader of the association was wealthy Otago businessman Choie Sew Hoy. The first shipment in 1883 saw the remains of 230 men from Otago and West Coast successfully returned to China but the second wasn't so lucky. On board were the remains of 265 men loaded at Dunedin, 173 at Greymouth, 26 at other ports and 10 in Wellington. The bodies were disinterred from 40 formal and "informal" cemeteries. Also on board were the remains of Choie Sew Hoy in one of the full-sized coffins. On October 27, a day after the ship left Wellington, the Ventnor struck a reef off the coast of Taranaki, eventually foundering off the Hokianga coast on the evening of October 28, 1902. Only three of the four lifeboats launched made it to shore, with 13 crew losing their lives, including the captain and second mate. A steamer was launched to try and find the wreck and at least some of the remains, but apart from the ones that drifted ashore and were buried by iwi, the others - and the wreck - were never located. The coming together of both cultures in the tiny Northland community of Waipoua can finally lay the Ventnor ghosts to rest and pave a way forward for the Chinese to remember their own. The heavens - and umbrellas - opened as the powhiri began. Te Roroa's kaumatua Fraser Toi says conditions were fitting. "These are the tears of our ancestors raining down on us now," he says. "The fog is filled with aroha, love and spirituality and everything happening around us now is for your ancestors. Ad Feedback "They're probably saying ‘it's about time you fellas came'." Mr Toi says the event will go down in the annals of history, about a very special people who came to this country to work and make a living and who lived in poverty and were buried here. "And when they died, just like us, they wanted to take them home." Chinese Consul General Niu Qingbao says the balance of relations has grown between China and New Zealand in the last few years. "This relationship is China's best of any western country and this good relationship came from people just like yourself," he told the crowd. "The Chinese and Maori have been doing a lot to promote mutual understanding and I firmly believe China and New Zealand can prosper hand in hand and the Chinese and Maori communities can live in harmony, love each other and prosper very much." Linus Chin, president of the Otago Southland Chinese Association, presented a beautiful piece of greenstone from the Otago-Southland district, saying there were many levels of meaning to it. "Like our ancestors that were lost in Ventnor, it was born on the land, some ends up in the ocean and washes back on shore for people to find, to treasure and look after. "It was a great thing you did and I have great pleasure in presenting it." Auckland businessman and Choie Sew Hoy descendant Donald Sew Hoy says he has been waiting for "this moment" since his great-great grandfather arrived in Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown to seek his fortune in 1869. "Generations later we come to this country and meet our cousins." Mr Sew Hoy says he turned down an invitation to be in China with Prime Minister John Key this week so he could come to the forest. "It is more important to thank the local iwi. "This is very personal to me, which is why I am not in China today." Te Roroa Commercial Development director Alex Nathan says the project had its origins back in the 80s when there was an archaeological project in the forest. "We were recording and locating these sites and wahi tapu [places of traditional and historical significance]." Wong Liu Shueng picked up the story when she moved to Rawene and wanted to make a documentary. "It has been deeply gratifying to fulfil our cultural obligations and to see so many Chinese coming together from different village affiliations and help expose this extraordinary piece of New Zealand, Maori and Chinese history," she says. Following the Waipoua ceremony, the Chinese held a ceremony at Kawerua beach close to where some of the caskets washed ashore before they returned to the forest to plant some kauri trees and establish the Ventnor Grove. The groups continued north to Mitimiti to unveil a second plaque near Te Rarawa marae, Matihetihe, on Friday. - © Fairfax NZ News JO BELWORTHY Last updated 05:00 10/04/2013

New Zealand's China Experience

Book Review: New Zealand's China Experience By Rick Bryant 6:00 AM Saturday Apr 13, 2013 New Zealand's China Experience ed. by Chris Elder (Victoria University Press $50) My fairly positive "experience" with this book was abruptly, even rudely, spoiled by the very last item, a contribution by John Key, former merchant banker and Prime Minister of this country. Well, it purports to be by him, but I think we have a variant of the "who really did this bloody awful painting" scenario. It is the text of a speech delivered to the symposium marking the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and China. The notion that Key writes many of his own speeches has to be quaint. Not that it matters much - it is anodyne and predictable. Sample gem: "In February I launched the New Zealand Inc. China Strategy. The strategy is about getting greater efficiency and effectiveness across all government agencies that work in and with China. And it's about developing more targeted and cohesive services to help successful businesses to develop and grow in China." Maybe you had to be there. And no doubt it will reassure New Zealand's pig farmers, threatened with the bio-security menace posed by Chinese raw pork imports; and comfort the Zespri growers and shareholders who see their industry ruined by China-sourced PSA disease, if you need to identify a government agency that has already made a major biosecurity blunder. That was policy, too. Not to mention that this government at least is considering sweetheart deals for rich tourists wanting to fast-track customs and immigration processes. They can fudge it how they will, but that, in plain English, is what is proposed. It's a shame, actually, because I had been thinking the book was going quite well, considering a collection of very disparate elements could have got, well, too disparate. But the Key contribution had to spoil it. Professor James Bertram is represented by two excerpts, and arguably there could have been a lot more. For a start, he can write. And he really knew the main men, and had the kind of overview Elder's book could do with more of. More importantly, he had the empathy to make him a real China hand, someone who was on a cordial basis with Mao, who was a clear-eyed observer of big people and big events, who empathised politically and historically, but most importantly, on the basic human level. The Japanese started World War II in China in 1933, although it was largely ignored in other parts of the world. But the sufferings of the Chinese people were not ignorable if you were there on the ground. Compassion is the most evident quality displayed by Elder's less celebrated contributors, showing us New Zealanders at our diverse rugged individualist best. Rewi Alley is the best known of these and achieved more than the others, but the missionaries, teachers and nurses who shared his aspirations for the Chinese in their homeland, although sometimes misguided, provide a positive contrast to the beastly bigotry that Chinese miners experienced in New Zealand. When Helen Clark apologised for the poll tax and other anti-Chinese laws, it was long overdue. I can remember being shocked by the casual racism of some of the kids at my school, directed at fifth-generation New Zealanders of Chinese descent, echoing the tone of the most pungent elements of the rabble-rousing of the anti-Chinese lobby in our colonial immigration policy-making. We might have expected it in the 1860s but the highly discriminatory laws prevailed until 1948. Elder deals with this nasty part of our history well. Rita Angus, Fiona Kidman, James K. Baxter, Robin Hyde, Ruth Dallas and C.K. Stead are just a quick sample of the many good writers with interesting contributions to make. But it's a shame about Key's bit. Rick Bryant is an Auckland reviewer.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Vandalised 'bomb site' now restored

The future is looking brighter for more Chinese graves in Dunedin's Southern Cemetery after a painstaking restoration project has largely overcome previous ''wilderness years'' of vandalism and neglect. The outcome of the restoration project, which started in 2007 and is now largely completed, will be celebrated in a public function at the cemetery at 2pm on April 7. The project has been co-ordinated by the Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand, working closely with many people and organisations, including the Dunedin City Council, the Dunedin Chinese community and the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust. Conservation trust chairman Stewart Harvey said the outcome was ''fantastic''. ''It's been a great success and it's been teamwork from day one,'' he said. The cemetery's Chinese graves constitute the largest historic Chinese grave site in the country. Conservation volunteers initially faced what Mr Harvey terms ''a bomb site''. Vandals had overturned some of the heavier gravestones in the 200sq m Chinese section and smashed some of the thinner headstones into many pieces. It was ''a large jigsaw puzzle in marble pieces'', he said. But, now, with the project largely completed, new granite grave stones, appropriately relettered, stand beside existing older stones, and damaged sarcophaguses have been restored. Les Wong, who has been actively involved in the restoration, is also pleased with progress and says the graves constitute a ''spiritual link'' between different parts of Dunedin's history. The restoration work also showed ''two cultures working together, European and Chinese'', both ultimately ''part of the community of Dunedin'', Mr Wong said. When the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, led by Ngaire Ockwell, transcribed the Chinese gravestones in the 1980s, they found 114 headstones representing burials carried out between 1877 and 1920. It is thought there may be up to 200 burials in this area, but few signs of earlier burials remain. - By John Gibb on Tue, 19 Feb 2013

Restored Chinese graves dedicated

Restored Chinese graves dedicated Home » News » Dunedin By Debbie Porteous on Mon, 8 Apr 2013 News: Dunedin Les Wong and Noelene Wong listen to speeches at the official opening and dedication of 114 restored Chinese graves at the Southern Cemetery in Dunedin. Photo by Craig Baxter. Les Wong and Noelene Wong listen to speeches at the official opening and dedication of 114 restored Chinese graves at the Southern Cemetery in Dunedin. Photo by Craig Baxter. Ching Ming Day was celebrated in Dunedin this year in a fashion the city has not seen for 60 years. About 50 people gathered yesterday for the official dedication of 114 early Chinese graves that have been restored in Southern Cemetery, on Ching Ming - or ''tomb-sweeping'' day. Chinese historian and project adviser Les Wong said it was great to see the Chinese traditional Ching Ming Day (the day to visit ancestors' graves and leave flowers or nuts) being celebrated in a manner not seen in Dunedin for many years. The last time so many people gathered at the Southern Cemetery for Ching Ming Day, which had faded from popularity in the 1960s, was in 1963, he said. The graves, which have taken the Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust and various members of the Chinese community thousands of dollars and painstaking hours over the past nine years to restore, following neglect and their desecration over time at the hands of vandals, were each decorated with a flower, some incense and an offering of food, in Chinese tradition. Trust chairman Stewart Harvey thanked all those involved, including Mr Wong, and the late Bill Wong, whose knowledge of Chinese characters, he said, was invaluable. Among the several other speeches were words of commendation for the conservation work from consular officer Bao Bai, from the Chinese consulate in Christchurch, who was attending as a special guest with the Chinese Government's cultural consul Zhijie Xu. Mr Bai also commended Dunedin as one of New Zealand's more culturally inclusive cities. Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who gave the dedication, said it was a day to acknowledge the failures and disservices of New Zealand to the Chinese in the past, and to take some comfort that the destruction wrought at the cemetery was in the process of being put to rights. ''Thanks for the opportunity to remember them [those buried there], may they never again be demeaned,'' he said.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Restoration men

Restoration men By Kim Dungey on Sun, 7 Apr 2013 Chinese graves in 2004. Chinese graves in 2006. A project to restore Chinese graves in Dunedin's Southern Cemetery is complete, Kim Dungey reports. Leslie Wong kneels at a 110-year-old gravestone, clearing away twigs and looking at the faded classical Chinese lettering. A dedication ceremony for Chinese graves in Dunedin's Southern Cemetery will be held tomorrow and he wants the area to look its best. The headstones, most of which mark the graves of early Otago gold-seekers, have taken six years to restore. It's the largest historic Chinese grave site in the country. When he and Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust chairman Stewart Harvey first visited the cemetery, the task ahead seemed impossible. Vandals had kicked over the headstones and smashed the sarcophaguses. ''It was an absolute bomb site,'' says Mr Wong, a Chinese historian and adviser to the project. ''There were broken pieces of stone scattered everywhere and you couldn't find two pieces to join together to figure out if they were from the same grave.'' While much of the cemetery had been vandalised, the Chinese section suffered the most because the headstones were relatively thin and the distinctive inscriptions made them easy targets. Some of the Chinese immigrants arriving in New Zealand in the mid-1860s had journeyed from the gold fields of California and Australia, he says. But about 2000 travelled directly from the Pearl River delta on the southern coast of China, an area of civil unrest and poverty. Few had mining experience and many could not read or write their own language. Already in debt to Chinese moneylenders, they had to pay a poll tax to enter the country - the 100 levy of 1896 equivalent to more than $18,000 in today's money. Many years later, Prime Minister Helen Clark would formally apologise to descendants and establish the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust with $5 million of government money. Grants of $55,000 from the trust have funded the graves' restoration. Not all those buried in the Southern Cemetery were gold-seekers, however. Some saw business opportunities and established themselves as merchants. Others were market gardeners, labourers and hawkers. Some ran cook shops and one was listed as a bottle collector. Though not recorded, there are also likely to be some European women who lived with or married Chinese. The cemetery opened in 1858 and closed in 1980 after 23,000 burials, including at least 200 in the Chinese section. However, when a group led by genealogist Ngaire Ockwell transcribed the Chinese gravestones in the 1980s, they found only 114 identifiable grave sites. Vandalism was not the only problem, says Mr Harvey, whose trust co-ordinated the restoration. Poor construction, natural decay and land subsidence also took their toll and the trees that the Dunedin City Council planted in the centre of every grave were a ''huge'' problem. The main challenge after the council had removed some of the overgrown trees was picking through the stone fragments, trying to work out where to start: ''We had to make order out of chaos and that was very difficult.'' While the written transcript proved valuable, the Chinese characters could not simply be copied to new stones. Chinese often use their family name first and their given name last so cemetery records sometimes had their names transposed or incorrectly recorded. And some plots indicated more than one burial. Some of the missing information was reconstructed by the late Bill Wong, an elder with a wide knowledge of old-style Chinese characters, family names and villages. Mr Wong - whose younger brother George (91), has also helped with the project - did the handwriting for more than 30 of the new stones. When he died in 2011, the volunteers turned to computer software to complete the rest - using Cantonese, rather than Mandarin, because its tonal sounds are related to English transliterations in early shipping, migration and poll tax records. To retain the area's historical ambience, broken stones were pinned and glued and only those which were too badly damaged were replaced with new stones made of granite. Now the work is finished, the Chinese site is the most complete section of the cemetery. Divided according to religious affiliation, the cemetery has separate areas for Presbyterians, Anglicans, Roman Catholics and the Jewish. Most of the burials in the Chinese section took place from the 1880s to the 1920s. Many of the miners eventually returned to China but those who did not strike it lucky could not afford to go back and some ended their days at the Dunedin Benevolent Society's institution in Caversham. Two mass exhumations were carried out by the Poon Fah Association, which decided to ship remains to villages in China, Mr Wong says. The first was in 1883. The last shipment, in 1902, was lost when the steamer SS Ventnor sank off the Hokianga coast. Sending the dead back to ancestral soil was considered important for spiritual salvation but in his view those left behind were more fortunate: ''Here they are remembered 140 years after they died as a permanent part of New Zealand's history. If their bones had gone back to China and been buried, industrialisation would have bulldozed the whole lot over.'' Cemeteries are steeped in history and in some cases, are the only record of who lived in a district, Mr Harvey says. But damage is a widespread problem and the $300,000 the trust has spent restoring graves in Dunedin has ''hardly scratched the surface''. ''There's a huge amount to do yet but it all takes money.'' One who knows the magnitude of the task is Mr Wong, who together with wife Maisie, restored 48 Chinese gravestones at the Andersons Bay Cemetery. The couple took broken stones home, where they cemented, pinned and glued them together and re-lettered them using a dental drill. The work began in 1996 and took six years. ''The significant thing about this restoration,'' he says, looking around the Southern Cemetery, ''is that two generations away in China, when scholars become more English-fluent, they'll come here using English as their search tool to find the early history of those who left China.'' The Dunedin man says vandalism is ''just a part of life'' and he is relieved the restored headstones will survive at least another generation. ''The Chinese were a part of the early fabric of Dunedin and Otago. This is the only Chinese cemetery of this magnitude in New Zealand so ... it's something well worth preserving.'' Be there Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull will perform a dedication at 2pm today, which in Chinese tradition is Ching Ming Day or ''tomb-sweeping day'', the day to visit ancestors' graves and leave flowers or nuts. Because roads in the cemetery are narrow, members of the public should drive through the main (South Rd) entrance, drop off passengers, then exit through the Eglinton Rd entrance and park in Eglinton Rd.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Working with charities - Qiujing Wong

Qiujing Wong, co-founder of Borderless Productions, with her husband Dean Easterbrook Borderless is a social change company with a mission to create thinking and actions to create positive change in society. More specifically, we create and drive campaigns, digital stories and take-action films with and for businesses, organisations and individuals throughout the world. Q, you didn't just get involved with a charity, you helped set one up. How did that happen? In 2007, I met Minnie Baragwanath, then disability advisor at Auckland City Council. Minnie had a dream and vision to create a social change movement that would shift both attitudes and behaviours towards people living with disability. We soon realised we had similar dreams to create social change and each had very complementary skill sets. Together we created Be.Accessible, the campaign, which attracted local and national government support. It is now regarded as the leading social change movement for all New Zealanders to create a 100 per cent accessible society. Minnie is the Chief Executive of the Be. Institute, the owner of the Be.Accessible campaign and leads teams based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Be.Accessible takes the view that in order for true accessibility to happen, we must address the physical environment, personal empowerment and social attitudes towards our access citizens (disabled people, older people and parents with young children) simultaneously. Be. Accessible does this through a range of programmes targeting businesses, organisations, the disability community and New Zealanders. How is Be. Accessible aligned to your brand? Be. Accessible is perfectly aligned to our brand - we share the values of authenticity and the desire to create positive change in the world. Borderless is a social change agency and Be. Accessible a social movement - in my mind, it is a perfect fit. What is your involvement these days? Until this month, Borderless has been the social change agency managing the creation and delivery of the Be. Accessible campaigns. This included devising strategy, defining the brand and managing how it is brought to life, managing the marketing and communications activity and working with Minnie to further the social change agenda of Be. Accessible. From next month, Be. Accessible will be taking the marketing and communications function in-house and our relationship will transition to a new and exciting phase. Borderless will be working with Be. and Minnie as a boutique social change agency, crafting specific social change initiatives to help further the vision and ensure long-term sustainability of the movement / organisation. What do your clients think about your efforts with Be.Accessible? I imagine our clients have a range of views about our relationship with Be.Accessible. Some have become clients as a result of the work we do with Be. (e.g. DiversityWorks and The Big Event 2013). Others have come about through the reputation we have built through the Be. Campaign, for example the Telecom Foundation. And then there are those where there is constant cross-pollination of relationships, for example Manawanui incharge and the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association. I'm very proud of Be. Accessible so I talk about it A LOT and the anecdotal feedback is that it's an inspired and relevant campaign that has a very good chance of affecting the positive social change it hopes to achieve. How is The Big Event aligned with your business as well as with Be.Accessible? We met Chris Ross, the founder of The Big Event, when Be. was invited to exhibit at the 2012 expo. In the planning phase of the 2013 event, Chris approached Borderless to work on its visual identity (logo / collateral), public relations, radio promotion and digital storytelling. This year's event will be held at the ASB Showgrounds on April 5 Friday and Saturday 6 April and Be. Accessible will be exhibiting again. There is something for everyone (disabled or not) so it is worth going along to learn about how accessibility shapes all our lives at some point. Plus it's FREE! By Gill South Email Gill NZ tech businesses are gaining attention and awards around the world. What have been their successes and challenges? Email me, Gill South at the link above with your ideas. By Gill South 2:00 PM Thursday Apr 4, 2013

Thursday, April 4, 2013


CHINESE SPORTS "HAPPINESS TO THE REPUBLIC" CELEBRATION'S AT NEWTOWN PARK. Unique scenes were witnessed at/Newtown Park yesterday afternoon, when the local Chinese residents celebrated the tenth anniversary of the proclamation of the Chinese Republic. In business the Chinaman has shown that he can march' with the times; on. the sports field yesterday he demonstrated that he is an athlete of ability. Those who journeyed, to the Park to see the Chinese at play, and they comprised a large crowd, had expected to see sports of quite an unusual character, but they were treated to a programme much on usual lines. There were, however, several novel events. To their friends the Chinese extended hospitality, and did much to make the outing enjoyable for all. The lining up of competitors for the races created a gocd deal of interest. The line-up afforded good material for eager camera-men. The proceedings opened with addresses by Mr. Wong Tong, president of the Chinese Association, Mr. Ping Ming, a well-known Chinese resident, and the Rev. Y. P. Hi. Each made an appeal to the Chinese to always observe the tenth day of the tenth month. Pleasure -was also expressed at the large attendance of friends.. Among others present were: The newly-appointed Chinese Consul (Mr. Li Kwang Heng), the ex-president of the Association (Mr. J. B. Lum), and Mr. Nl G. Kwong, manager of the "Man Sing Times." Several of the leading men wore the badge of the party under Dr. Sun Yat Sen, awarded for services rendered, and bearing the inscription, "Leader of Kuo Mun Tang." The display of decorations at the Park included the flag of the Republic, with the New Zealand flag on either side, and a streamer bearing the message, "Happiness to the Republic." Two Chinese kites were also a source of attraction. The Consul was late in arriving, but sent, the following message "To-day is the anniversary day of the establishment of the Republic of China. lam glad to.say that the Chinese subjects in those countries where I have resided celebrated this glorious day enthusiastically, and I am glad to see that the Chinese in this Dominion are doing the same.' I hope that all the Chinese will observe this 10th day of October— the double-tenth festival—as enthusiastically as the Americans observe their memorial day, 4th July. I also hope that such celebration will not merely be considered as a formal one, but will be considered as the day to remind our Chinese of the difficulty of the success of, the great, Republic^. We should therefore unitedly love the country, so that the Government for the people, by the people, and under the people, shall not be perished from the world." Liberal prizes were awarded- for the sports events, gold and silver medals respectively, for first and second places, and. neckties for third places. The events resulted as follow:— 100 yds, under 14: Raymond Wong Tong 1, Lo Fung Hong 2, Kong Heng 3. 220vds, under 18: L. Tommy 1, Ah Ken 2. 440 yds: C. S. Fong 1, J. Kitchill 2, Joe Yew 3. In this event there was a large field! The winner was ahead at 200 yards, and, showing fine speed, won easily. High Jump: Joe Yew 1, C. S. Fong 2, J. Kitchill 3. Sack Race: Joe Jong Lun 1, J. Kitchill 2, Jem Lee 3. Two Miles Bicycle Race: James Lowe (Palmerston North) 1, C. S. Fong 2. Jem,-Lee fell,exhausted,,,and Fqng also fell, but recovered. Tug-o'-war: J. B. Lum (captain), Chung Lung, Peter Chen, and Ngan Guy i. Lue Jue, ex-champion boxer, gave exhibitions of shadow-sparring and knife juggling. Refreshments were distributed at the conclusion of the gathering, and "lollie scrambles" provided for the children. 'Much of the success of the celebrations was due to .the work of the secretary, Mr. Matthew Shun. Evening Post, Volume CII, Issue 88, 11 October 1921, Page 3

Double Tenth

CHINESE HOLIDAY. ANNIVERSARY OF REPUBLIC, To-day marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the proclamation by Dr. Sun Yat Sen of the Chinese Republic. Since the alteration of the Chinese calendar to correspond with that of Western countries the occasion has been regarded as the most. important holiday of the year, and is observed as such by Chinese throughout the world. It has become known among the Chinese community as "the double tenth." In Auckland the observance has been dropped during the past few years, but in Wellington, where the Chinese consul's office is situated, some sort of ceremony was probably carried out. In Diinedin a picnic and sports meeting was arranged to take place at Evansdale. Auckland Star, Volume LXVII, Issue 241, 10 October 1936, Page 10

Chinese Sports

Evening Post" Photo. the sports gathering held by Chinese residents of of the Chinese Republic. On the right, the finish of the bicycle race. Evening Post, Volume CVIII, Issue 89, 11 October 1929, Page 7


A CHINESE HOLIDAY To-morrow will be observed, by the Chinese residents of Wellington as a holiday, being the 18th anniversary of the Kepublie of China. All Chinese shops will be closed all day, and sports will be held at Karori Park, commencing at noon. Evening Post, Volume CVIII, Issue 87, 9 October 1929, Page 13 CHINESE SPORTS AT KARORI Park.-On the left, the Chinese-Consul (Mr Ou Tainshuing) and Wellington yesterday at Karori Park in honour of the eighteenth anniversary Evening Post, Volume CVIII, Issue 89, 11 October 1929, Page 7

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Stove

The Stove On Sunday she cleans the stove. She starts with the cloth she finds by the side of the sink, worn down by frequent scrubbing. She watches as the viscous yellow of the Palmolive seeps into the tired green fibres. Her first attack hardly dents the grease at all. The house is quiet. Wood pigeons chime in the puriri tree outside. A lawnmower roars in the distance, then suddenly cuts out. There are children’s voices coming over the fence, a backyard cricket game in progress. The smell of the first barbeque is already in the air. She’s always liked sitting up here in the kitchen. It wasn’t what you would call a million-dollar view, but there’s something grand about being on top of the ridge, looking down into the valley of houses upon houses with wrinkled rooftops and fussed-over trees. When she was a girl she used to sit by the window on Friday nights, spying on the neighbours through the orange net curtains. They always seemed to be having parties. She would watch the cars as they throbbed along the road, slowing, headlights searching out the street numbers. Sometimes they turned into her driveway by mistake, or used it to turn around, the car tyres swivelling on the loose gravel. She drizzles more of the Palmolive around the elements. Might as well use it neat, it needs a bit more grunt. Pity there wasn’t anything stronger, but she’s done a thorough search of the cupboards already. The golden scum is solid, layered with burnt onions and prawn whiskers and fallen pieces of mushroom over the years. She thinks of herself scrubbing down through the layers of family meals, like some sort of small- time archaeologist. She mustn’t be too much further than 2005 right now, the year of the last big family get together, the year that Auntie Julia had broken her leg while skiing in the South Island. That had been a big deal. “No, don’t come near me!” Auntie Julia, crabby from the lack of sleep while in hospital. “But I was just helping you into bed. Don’t you want to lie down?” Her mother, mild and concerned for once. The accident had shaken the tense rivalry she had with her sister. “Stop treating me like I’m old!” “I’m not treating you like – oh miumiu, I was just trying to be a good host.” “Pah!” And Auntie Julia had wrenched her arm away, not open to social niceties from her older sister, even in her hour of need. That had been the year too that Dai Sook had finally passed away. Her great granduncle had been in a rest home in Henderson for years, ever since his wife had been run over at a pedestrian crossing. After she died it was discovered that the old man had never learnt to cook. Her mother had taken food there for a while, exhausting her repertoire of delicacies. Then, tired of hearing the old man complain about her cooking, she called a family meeting. “But he built that house with his own hands!! It would be a crime to cast him out.” That was Uncle Trevor. He’d helped out on the family garden before it was sold to be subdivided. Uncle Trevor had made a fortune in real estate since then. He and his arty wife and their three perfect piano-playing daughters lived in a large house in Parnell. Mum used to sneer at them. “Oh look, he’s such a gweilo now.” “Well then you go and clean Dai Sook’s pee up from around the toilet then. He’s lost his sense of aim.” Auntie Julia, always the forthright one. “That doesn’t mean he has to lose his sense of dignity!” “Who’s talking about dignity?” Mum cut in. “Look at him, all alone in that big house of his. He can’t even walk up the stairs by himself now. I found him asleep on the sofa in the lounge the other day, covered in old newspapers.” The formerly green cloth is almost completely saturated in grease. She tries to rinse it out under the tap, the water beading over it. Even water shunned the dirt round here. She digs through the old apple box until she finds an empty bread bag, and drops the green cloth into it. She snaps open a new cellophane packet, shakes the bright pink cloths out. It was funny that her mother was so critical of the mess in other people’s houses, when her own was so chaotic. Old celebrity magazines, flattened toothpaste tubes, saved cardboard from the inside of toilet paper rolls, lining the corridors, making miniature CBDs of the rooms. No box that came into the house seemed to go out without doing time lining the corridor like a waiting patient. Each time her parents went to Hong Kong, they’d come back proudly lugging bags and bags of old Chinese newspapers. “We got 33 kilos through this time,” her dad would say, proudly, the sweat standing out along the deep lines on his forehead. The lines were a family legend. It was a favourite party trick of his to pick up objects using only his wrinkle lines. The papers were usually months out of date. She could tell by the pictures, though she couldn’t read what the actual articles said. “What do you want with those?” She knew the papers would end up piled around the toilet and lounge. “You won’t read them anyway.” “Yes we will,” her mother had retorted, “and if you read Chinese properly you could, too.” It always came back to that. It seemed to gall her parents that she was studying languages at University while not knowing much of her so-called traditional tongue. Je ne sais pas. No hablo chino. She’d been born in New Zealand, of course. She’d even been referred to as a banana once or twice, yellow on the outside, white on the inside. The Chinese were like that, folding up their insults as well as their compliments in layers of carefully crafted metaphors, oblique references, sideways glances. How Chinese of her to ignore the comments, swallow her retorts like bitter medicine each time she heard them. If only they knew how Chinese she really was. Somewhere in the garage there were still the old plastic crates containing the wooden blocks that her father had made for her and her siblings. They were lovingly sanded, painted with Chinese characters which had been traced carefully in pencil first. She must go downstairs and look for them before the collectors came. They would be perfect for Tony, he was getting old enough now. She sees the pair of her mum’s holey slippers still lying by the old singlet used as a footrag for the floor. Her feet are cold. Surely no one would mind. She relaxes into the worn down soles, each bump underfoot a mark of its wearer’s walk pattern. She shuffles closer to the sink and wrings out her cloth. She’s finishing off the sides of the stove, wiping the brown soapy water clean, enjoying the gleam of shiny white enamel, when she hears the front door open and a babble of voices burst in. There’s the thump of feet, the slap of shoes being taken off, someone slamming the door shut. Then a voice. “Wendy? Are you up there, Wendy? We saw your car outside.” She walks downstairs, still holding her stained pink cloth, the yellow rubber gloves seeming to glow in the dimming dusk. Her sisters and brother are standing there, with Uncle Trevor, Auntie Julia, and Dad. Dad looks at her, not seeming to see her properly. He’s aged a lot in three days. “I was just cleaning Mum’s stove.” “Whatever for? They’re not going to come to the house after the funeral. We’ve booked a hall with a caterer. You shouldn’t have bothered.” She looks down at herself, the yellow stains running down her faded T shirt, the fat rubber gloves reaching up to her elbows, one size too large as her mother liked to buy them. “I – don’t know. I just wanted to,” she says. “We should throw out that old stove anyway. Buy a better one,” says Uncle Trevor. Auntie Julia frowns. “Why bother? The whole place is a mess anyway, and Big Brother won’t be able to look after the place now he’s alone. I say he should sell up and get a smaller place. Easier for everyone to manage.” “No!” Wendy is unaware that she’s the one that’s spoken, until everyone looks at her. Her brother and sisters look surprised. “No – I mean, I can come and help out.” Dad lifts up his head and looks at her. “Sometimes,” she adds, looking down at her feet to hide the tears that have finally come, pushing their way up from somewhere deep in her belly. As the others push past her, into the house, she realises that she’s still wearing her mother’s shoes. Listener/NZCA Short Story competition winner -"The Stove" by Renee Liang The New Zealand Chinese Association (Auckland Branch) Inc and The Listener wish to congratulate Renee Liang for her winning entry, "The Stove". To read and view the winning entries visit