Saturday, March 30, 2013

Family business is a cultural hub on Hobson St

The Wah Lees emporium has become a cultural icon in Auckland. Reporter Danielle Street had a chat over the counter with Barry Wah Lee to try and figure out what makes the place so appealing. Barry Wah Lee has dedicated most of his life to working in the store that was opened with the help of his grandfather more than a century ago. The Wah Lees emporium on Hobson St is a rickety red building crammed with goods ranging from pickled sea slugs, to Chinese medicines, tai chi fans, lanterns, pottery, seeds and spices. The emporium began life in 1904 as a co-operative fruit store that operated in Auckland's Chinatown in Grey's Ave. "My grandfather could speak English, so they probably roped him in and got him to look after the place," Mr Wah Lee says. "It stayed with him and all the kids. The business was eventually handed down to Mr Wah Lee's father George, who moved the store up to Hobson St. "We moved up here in 1966 when they started getting rid of Chinatown and wanted to build up Aotea Square," Mr Wah Lee recalls. At that time Barry was a teenager attending Auckland Grammar School. He remembers watching his father talking to the Chinese market gardeners who would stop in and buy sauces and grains on their way home. "I loved watching Dad chat to people. He seemed to have no end of things to talk about," he says. "I loved hearing his stories of pig hunting." Behind the counter and away from the public eye there are several wild pigs' heads affixed to the wall. Each one was hunted and killed by George, whose photograph hangs beneath them. "He actually never ate the meat but there was plenty of people who would come and snap it up." Life wasn't always simple for the Wah Lee family. The shop also functioned as a bank in the early days but the money was all spent on booze and women by an uncle, Mr Wah Lee says. "So as youngsters all the hard work was to pay back all those Chinese who had their money with us." These days the emporium is an Auckland institution and draws mostly European shoppers, but there isn't so much time for chatting. However, Mr Wah Lee manages to keep up the social aspect via Facebook. The business has amassed more than 11,500 followers, no small feat for such a tiny store. "It's less than Justin Bieber though," he jokes. "I don't know where the people are coming from, maybe they don't know what they are signing up for." Many of the followers reminisce about visiting the store as a youngster. Others just seem to enjoy Mr Wah Lee's philosophical rants. One fan writes: "My big sister first took me there when I was 10 years old. I still feel 10 when I pop in for a shop. I love Wah Lee's." Despite having studied Asian politics and economics at university, it seems that Mr Wah Lee's destiny is entwined with the family business. He still lives above the shop and works there every day. "I've always been part of the shop," he says. - © Fairfax NZ News Last updated 05:00 27/03/2013 JASON OXENHAM LIFE’S WORK: Barry Wah Lee lives above the family emporium and works there every day.

Second Burial New Zealand Chinese Experience 1883 and 1902

Second Burial New Zealand Chinese Experience 1883 and 1902 Helen Wong The Cantonese custom of secondary burial, the idea of exhuming the dead, cleaning the bones, and then burying them again, helps to explain why so many (overseas) Chinese were not only willing to exhume their dead but also to clean the bones and put them in containers for shipment back to China. There were two periods of mass exhumation of Chinese in New Zealand, organised for the Panyu people, by the Dunedin Sew Hoy family. In 1883, 286 Chinese from the South Island were repatriated on the Hoi How. And in 1902, 499 were aboard the ill fated Ventnor when it sank 10 miles off the Hokianga Heads. This time Panyu men from both the South Island and the North Island were included, as well as eleven Wellington men from the Jung Seng county of China. To purchase – email Helen.familytree at NZD 12.00 Post and Packaging in NZ. Other countries - on request. ISBN 978-0-473-24298-5 To view:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How Ellis Island's Immigrant Artifacts Washed Up In Maryland

How Ellis Island's Immigrant Artifacts Washed Up In Maryland By: Emily Berman // March 8, 2013 Bob Sonderman is director of the National Park Service's Museum Resource Center in Landover, Md. He unpacks one of the objects from Ellis Island, currently being stored at the Landover facility. While many homeowners in the New York area are still struggling to deal with the flooding from Superstorm Sandy, so are two of the city's iconic islands: Liberty Island (home of Lady Liberty) and Ellis Island, the historic gateway to the U.S. for millions of immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. Liberty Island is set to reopen this summer to tourists, but Ellis Island still has a long way to go. During the storm, a large wave went over the backside of Ellis Island, knocked out lower level windows and doors and flooded the basements of the island's main buildings. Diana Pardue, the Chief of the Museum Division at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, explains all the HVAC, boilers and electrical lines need to be redone. Salt water and wiring don't mix. Most of the museum's collection was on upper floors, away from the water. But everything below the water line was covered in silt. Sending in the 'museum doctor' At times like this, the National Park Service calls in Bob Sonderman. For most of the year, Bob Sonderman manages a museum storage facility in Prince George's County. But when duty calls, he can be on the road in a matter of hours. "I pack my van full of everything I can possibly think of," he says. "I have big blower fans, I have a generator." He even brings his own gasoline, which in times of disaster, can be difficult to buy. Sonderman is head of the National Park Service's Museum Emergency Response Team. And basically what an EMT does in a medical emergency, Sonderman does in a museum emergency. They've rescued artifacts after Hurricanes Isabel and Ivan, Katrina and the Gulf Oil Spill. When Sonderman got to Ellis Island, he was shocked at the damage. "The initial response is Holy Cow! I didn't realize it was going to be this bad. All these museum objects were covered in gook and salty, ookey water, and they're still in the exhibit cases." A display case of medical equipment used to examine incoming immigrants was knocked on its side, and filled with silt. The artifacts were metal, and would soon begin to rust. Sondermen ran out to his van, took out the crowbars, and cracked open the display cases to get these objects out. "We're the best break in crew you've ever seen! " Sonderman brags, chuckling. "The longer you wait, the more in jeopardy the collection can become." Moving to Maryland The team sent the medical instruments to metals conservators in West Virginia. They froze all the wet documents, to stop mold growth. And everything else needed to be put by a fan to dry off. But, the island — and actually, a lot of New York City — didn't have power. In order to preserve the artifacts, they'd need a dry, stable environment — in other words, Sonderman's facility in Landover, Md. More than a million items were painstakingly packed and shipped down on seven semi-trucks. Some of the most fragile things, like tape of oral histories, videos and X-rays of passengers as they came off the ships are in a different room. All the items are organized by the way they were exhibited or stored in the museum on Ellis Island, to make the return trip north as easy as possible. Sonderman says it will all go back someday. Someday, but not anytime soon. At the end of January, President Obama signed the Sandy Recovery Act, designating $234 million to national parks impacted by the storm. There's still no running water, and no electricity on the island, and Diana Pardue says the museum will be closed for renovations through the rest of this year. In the meantime, Sonderman says, the island's collection will stay in Maryland, until the job is done. Photos: Ellis Island

Home as a framework for identity

When Aucklander Alyx Duncan, whose self-funded debut feature, The Red House, opens in cinemas this week, trained as a dancer and choreographer, one of her assignments was making a dance video. The minute she picked up the camera, she says, her life changed. "I was so relieved," the 35-year-old recalls. "I had a frame again. All through my childhood and high school, I painted and took photographs, but you choreograph in 360 degrees." Duncan's short films and music videos marry a highly kinetic visual sense to a formal control that verges on the austere. Her exquisite aesthetic sensibility is on show in The Red House, a languid and contemplative 75-minute film in which her father, Lee Stuart, and stepmother, Meng Jia, play versions of themselves: a cross-cultural couple living on a Hauraki Gulf island whose smooth world is ruffled by the illness of a distant parent. In this simple narrative frame, the film explores deep concerns: the nature of love; the pain of parting; the improbability of intimacy; the unknowability of another human being. The film was sparked by the older couple's announcement that they were going to pack up and leave the house of the title, where Duncan had lived until she was 10. That house, she explains, "contained all our lives" - the pre-teen Duncan's school photo puts in several appearances - and the idea of documenting it took hold. "One thing that comes up repeatedly in my work is a sense of nostalgia. Chris Jannides [the founding director of the dance company Limbs], who was a real mentor, once said of my dance work that I was a nostalgic naturalist. And when my mother told me that she was going to move, I had this real shock. "All my memories of identity were embedded in the physical objects of the house. I wondered: what would I be without the physical traces of my existence." Duncan planned a short experimental documentary in which the house was the main character and her parents - very reluctantly - agreed to be figures in the background, so that the house would not seem empty. In the event, the real-life plan to leave the house was cancelled, but the movie-life plan stayed, says the film-maker. "I realised how interesting and curious these people were, who were not so much performing as being in their natural space but in a directed way." The result is small but enchanting work, neither fact nor wholly fiction, in which the film-maker's autobiography - her sense of self, even - and her technique become indistinguishable. "To me it's a sort of artisan approach," says Duncan, touching the clay cup from which she is drinking tea. "It's something that is conceptualised and formed in the way that you form a piece of Japanese pottery. You start off with the base clay - I do have parents who are a cross-cultural couple - but then I have to carve away and decide what it is that I am looking at." Lee and Meng's reluctance to be background figures was nothing compared to their resistance to being the only characters. Duncan had to deploy all her powers of persuasion. "They really didn't want to do it," she said. "I didn't show it to them until after I had been accepted into the [2012 Auckland] film festival. "Taking it to them was the most fearful experience, because there was a lot of reluctance through the shooting process. And then I showed it to them and halfway through, my stepmother turned to me and said, 'It's a movie. It's a real movie. It's got ideas.' And I was," - she wipes her brow theatrically - "I was ... 'Phew'." Who: Alyx Duncan What: The Red House When: At selected cinemas from today Info: - TimeOutBy Peter Calder 5:00 PM Friday Mar 15, 2013

Movie review: The Red House

An assured dramatic debut and a film of striking formal sophistication, Duncan's intimate and meticulously observed family drama gives new meaning to the term "home movie". In part that's because, as the title suggests, it's about a home: the modest house in the Waiheke bush in which Duncan spent the first 10 years of her life and where her father, Stuart, and stepmother, Meng, still live. The film was conceived as a documentary when Stuart and Meng decided to leave the house for her native China, but when that plan was shelved, it morphed into something else. As the film tells a story of a couple, Stuart and Meng enact a directed version of themselves. The result is equal parts documentary, drama and artwork on video. Duncan, who arrived at film-making from visual arts via dance and choreography, brings a refined aesthetic sensibility to bear, making a piece of work in which form and content are inseparable. On the surface of it, it's a story of an unorthodox couple living a reclusive, even primitive, lifestyle which is interrupted when one must attend to the needs of an ageing parent. But Duncan spins something ineffably subtle from this material: a rumination on the nature of love, the pain of separation and the ultimate unknowability of others, even those closest to us. Its languid, contemplative pace will doubtless drag for some viewers. This is a movie in which the most important "action" is internal. Neither are the performances refined and naturalistic - these are not actors, after all, but rather elements in a composition. It is at its most unsure in the final minutes, when it seems to lose some measure of the poise that distinguishes its opening hour, but this is a bold and assured statement and is recommended for serious-minded filmgoers. Stars: 3.5/5 Cast: Lee Stuart, Meng Jia Director: Alyx Duncan Running time: 75 mins Rating: PG (adult themes) in English and Mandarin with English subtitles Verdict: An artistic undertaking of meticulous control. - TimeOut By Peter Calder By Peter Calder 7:00 AM Saturday Mar 16, 2013

Movie Review: The Red House

Auckland film-maker/choreographer Alyx Duncan planned The Red House as a documentary about packing up her family home, but it evolved into a feature-length drama. The final product observes the shifting tides in the relationship of a 60-something couple played by Duncan's father and stepmother, after much pleading from their daughter. Together for 20 years, environmental activist Lee (Lee Stuart) and Chinese immigrant Jia (Meng Jia) live an unhurried, largely self-sufficient life on Waiheke Island. They're not entirely fluent in each other's languages, so communicate with their eyes, smiles and gestures as well as their words. When Jia returns to China to care for her ageing parents, she finds the country different from the one she left. Meanwhile, Lee packs up a cottage crammed with mementos and memories, perhaps the only place he feels truly himself, before joining her. Not a lot happens in The Red House so if you're looking for a pacey film, look elsewhere. But some will appreciate the gentle caress of a film which feels like a slow, rhythmic dance as it explores the nature of love, communication, interdependence, identity, home and belonging. Stars: 3/5 Cast: Lee Stuart, Meng Jia Director: Alyx Duncan Rating: M Running time: 75 mins. The Red House is out now. - Herald on Sunday By Sarah Lang 5:30 AM Sunday Mar 17, 2013 ✩Save Like on Facebook 0 Post on LinkedIn 0 +1 on Google+ 0 Pin on Pinterest 0

Walk the Chinatown talk

Auckanders are invited to delve deeper into the section of Dominion Rd affectionately known as Chinatown with a theatre project on this weekend. Walk Eat Talk was developed by director Yuri Kinugawa and Yee Yang ‘Square' Lee as a part of the AUT Dominion Road Stories, a series of neighbourhood theatre events which kicks off on March 16. As part of the unique show audiences of up to 12 people will be invited to take a guided walk through the side streets, alleyways and businesses that comprise the strip's most Asian-centric segment. The 40-minute guided walk starts at the Balmoral and Dominion roads intersection where showgoers are provided with a set of headphones. Participants will follow instructions provided to them either by audio narration or by chance encounters with performers from The Oryza Foundation, an Asian arts company founded by Mr Lee. "As part of directing the show, Yuri has developed some performances littered across the different venues. So some of them are street performances and some of them are actually performances in a business or a shop," he says. The adventure culminates with a shared meal. The idea is to allow audiences to experience the community from a different perspective, Mr Lee says. "Part of the concept of the show is to provoke people to go into new places and experience new things, so it's very much about discovery." Mr Lee and Ms Kinugawa spent weeks interviewing business owners and people from the community to gather material for the show. They say the project is a rare chance for people to explore the area properly. "Lots of the places you can't go into if you can't speak Chinese, so this is a great opportunity to visit. Some parts are very unusual - you will never find them otherwise," Ms Kinugawa says. The director says it was a challenge distancing Walk Eat Talk from anything that felt like a city tour. "It's not sightseeing as an outsider looking at another culture, like a zoo. Hopefully the audience will find themselves and their own story through the journey," she says. There are surprising elements incorporated into the show, but Mr Lee says the name sums it up nicely. "It's literally come for a walk, have some food and hopefully you talk about it. That's the bare essence of the project." AUT Dominion Road Stories is presented by Auckland Theatre Company in Association with the Auckland Arts Festival. Visit autdominionroad for more information and for tickets. - © Fairfax NZ News DANIELLE STREET Last updated 05:00 13/03/2013 STORYTELLERS: Yee Yang ‘Square’ Lee, left, and Yuri Kinugawa have developed Walk Eat Talk, a performance to entice people to explore Dominion Rd’s ‘Chinatown’