“I know everything about this country and I have travelled all over South Africa and Johannesburg. I have been to Meadowlands, Jabavu, Moroka and Phefeni. I know all these back corners of Johannesburg,” he laughs.
While many people his age have retired, the wrinkled old man still works as an assistant in a mini-grocery store in old Chinatown and says he enjoys watching locally produced content on television.
“I like watching local soapies. My favourite soapie at the moment is Isidingo because it is interesting and it keeps me on my toes. Generations on the other hand falls away for me. Every night at 7.30pm I watch Isidingo,” says Quan.
Wits university sociology professor David Dickinson says the way culture is depicted on TV often differs from how culture is practised in everyday lives.
“I couldn’t watch a Chinese show even if I wanted to because I do not speak Mandarin. I only speak English”
Dickinson says the media also influences culture as people sometimes mimic behaviour and language. Cultural practice is not only what parents or family teach their children, but how they are influenced by the media.
Language and culture
Wits student Robert Leong is generations apart from Quan, but both were born and raised in South Africa. Although Quan still speaks Mandarin, he favours locally produced content, as does Leong.
“I couldn’t watch a Chinese show even if I wanted to because I do not speak Mandarin. I only speak English,” says Leong. He studies film and television and says he watches TV when he has time.
“I watch channels that any South African guy my age would watch, channels like SuperSport on DStv.”
Molly Chong, a South African of Chinese descent who is a bookkeeper at a novelty shop in old Chinatown, says the downside of migration is the fact that younger Chinese people do not speak their mother tongue.
“I have two grandsons who can’t speak Mandarin, they only speak English and as a result they only watch programmes in English. It is stupid for younger Chinese to speak only one language, a language that is not even theirs. You have got to know your mother tongue, no matter what nationality you are,” says Chong.
Chong believes watching television shows or movies in one’s mother tongue can help with either learning or continuing to speak the language.
Dickinson says language is one of the most important factors in maintaining and fostering culture. He says it gives members of communities a sense of identity and facilitates communication among races.
“Language has always been a way for people to express ideas and feelings, but the way in which people express their ideas and feelings have changed. Culture is learned and not something people are born with and this is taught through language.”
Filling the gaps through entertainment
David Ye sits cross-legged, his eyes fixed on the television screen as he enjoys a bowl of cold noodle soup. He is watching what seems to be a Chinese singing and talent competition. The room smells like an ashtray.
He owns and manages Heng Ji Sound Systems, right next to Mong Kok, one of the most popular Chinese restaurants on Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene. Heng Ji Sound Systems claims to be the biggest Asian DVD and CD store in Johannesburg – in terms of the number of DVDs and CDs stocked. It is a place where Chinese, Korean and other Asian nationals come to get DVDs and CDs.
CLICK TO LISTEN: Chinese movies in Johannesburg
Ye moved to South Africa five years ago and lives in Cyrildene with his wife, mother and son. He says, like most Chinese immigrants, he moved to South Africa to seek greener pastures.
“There was an opportunity for me to move to South Africa, to create a better life for me and my family and I took it. I moved here first and my wife joined me over here after I had settled.”
The shop has an assortment of Asian DVDs and CDS, from Mandarin and Cantonese to Korean and Thai, and there is also a wide range of genres to choose from.
For the Chinese diaspora, DVDs and CDs have become a connection to home.
Musa Mash works in a makeshift travel office within the Heng Ji DVD shop.He says the shop is busier than the DVD shop 150 metres from theirs.
“This DVD shop is popular because it has a wide range of DVDs and music not only for the Chinese, but even for Korean and Thai nationals.” Mash says there is a lack of Chinese television in South Africa and DVD shops like Heng Ji Sound Systems add value to the Chinese community and fill a gap for immigrants.
Translator and interpreter Jin Li is a regular customer and says she visits the store often to get DVDs and CDs to keep herself entertained and stay in tune with what is currently on Chinese television. Li strongly believes that watching Chinese programmes helps her remain connected with Chinese culture.