Monday, May 27, 2013

China Rising

A four-part series that gives a rare insight into the country on the move, with history in tow

After centuries of western dominance, the world’s centre of economic and political weight is shifting eastward.
In just 30 years, China has risen from long-standing poverty to being the second largest economy in the world – faster than any other country in history.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kolkata’s Chinese Breakfast

May 2013  issue

 Tiretti Bazaar is one of the few remaining places to sample authentic Chinese snacks like steamed pork buns, dim sum, and light, subtly sweet, sesame sprinkled deep-fried batter balls. {Photo by Arundhati Ray}

Kolkata offers several interesting ways to start the day, but few as fascinating and delicious as breakfast at the Chinese market in the heart of the commercial district. For decades, this was where Kolkata’s large Chinese community lived and worked. Even though, from the 1960s, the old quarters were gradually razed to make way for office blocks and broader roads, for a few hours at dawn, the site reclaims its old identity as a traditional open-air market along the broad Sun Yat Sen Street.

On mats, rickety tables, and upturned packing cases, vendors sell a dizzying variety of homemade products: soy and chilli sauces, tofu and pickles, roast pork and Chinese sausages, glass noodles and prawn wafers. Pots, steamers, and woks, perched on sidewalk stoves, produce soup, dim sum, stuffed buns, hot patties, as well as pakoras and aloo-puri. Many of the vendors and shoppers are Chinese or of Chinese descent.

Sunday is the busiest day at the market as there’s no hurry to finish before a river of traffic brings office-goers to the commercial district. At 6.30 one weekend morning, we hurry to join the queue for a special dish that gets sold out within 30 minutes of being put on sale: red roast pork. Two young men are swiftly slicing pork backs, weighing the pieces, wrapping them in newspaper and handing over the parcels to customers. The meat is still warm, fragrant with star anise and coated in the mysterious spice mix that gives it its delicious flavour and characteristic ruddy appearance. We eat some right away, the juices dripping from our fingers, because the only way to savour the superb crackling is to have it fresh from the oven.

An old Chinese lady has been setting out her wares on the neighbouring table: ivory bricks of firm tofu and magnolia-white mikao pao. With a silken texture akin to blancmange, these rice buns are rather flavourless. But when warmed and eaten with the little packets of sweet-garlic-soy sauce that accompany them, they morph into delicious snacks. Another table is laden with pink-edged prawn wafers, soy and chilli sauces, mysterious bottles of pickled mustard greens, fried momos and oily, but tasty arbi (colocasia) fritters. Subtly sweet, richly fat, air-cured Chinese sausages, a much-awaited winter treat, lie in tangled red and white heaps, trailing their signature scarlet twine for good fortune.

At the far end is the main attraction of the Chinese breakfast: soup with pork and fish balls. Three women manage the huge simmering pot of broth on a sidewalk stove, ladling out the soup into plastic bowls and dropping in pork and fish balls before handing the bowls over to us. We have our soup standing round a table set with little dishes of chilli sauce and spoons. We are joined soon by a Sikh family, a young Bengali couple visiting from Bengaluru, and a group of Anglo-Indians on vacation from Australia.  

A vendor advertises his wares in English for the increasing number of non-Chinese visitors. Some years ago, such signs were rare. {Photo by Arundhati Ray}

The light, flavoursome broth warms us against the chill of the morning, and the steamed fish balls have a satisfying rubbery bite which contrasts nicely with the more meaty pork ones. Two bowls of soup later we move on, but not before we’ve bought some of the fish and pork balls to store in the freezer for soups.

Lids removed from towering, multi-tiered steamers release fragrant steam into the air and reveal neat dim sum made with prawn, pork, fish, and chicken, and large rounds of steamed bread stuffed with pork and chicken. We snack on the excellent dumplings and pack the saucer-sized soft buns for home. A baksawallah or patty man, is selling his wares from the ancient tin trunk traditionally used to hawk around those flaky pastry envelopes stuffed with curried vegetables or chicken. Other Anglo-Indian treats beckon: a tray of crumb-fried egg chops and golden pantharas—deep-fried, meat-filled pancakes.

Enterprising vendors are constantly tinkering with traditional products to adapt to changing tastes. On this visit, we discover chicken rolls—crepes stuffed with spring onion and chicken mince and rolled into long cigar shapes. Right next to the sealed packets of Chinese prawn wafers are freshly made “prawn papars”, flat puris studded with shrimp. But not all the experiments are successful. When we unwrap our packets of sticky rice, we are disappointed to find what once was a moist melange of glutinous rice and succulent pieces of pork scented with star anise and soy has been Indianised with a bland lentil paste, barely any meat, and no Chinese character to it.

By now, the place is bursting with people. An old Chinese gentleman is distributing invitations to a family wedding, calling out to potential guests as he spots them. Chinese New Year is around the corner and several people crowd around a poster announcing the programme of celebrations. Two youth study a sign advertising Mandarin lessons. As we sip cups of tea from the chaiwalla, we are greeted by Chef Jacky, who runs an eatery in our neighbourhood and, like many other Chinese restaurant owners, is stocking up on supplies. A burly young man of Chinese origin speaks with us in fluent Bengali to explain he’s now relocated to Beijing and introduces us to his beautiful wife who speaks only Mandarin. “This place is great to meet everyone at one go when we come to Cal,” he says.

Our last stops are the fish seller for large whiskered catfish and the vegetable man for fat stalks of celery. Then, resisting the temptation of hot onion pakoras, we head home laden with food and reassured that this living tribute to Kolkata’s cosmopolitan identity still remains resoundingly robust.

                                                                                                                                 Arundhati Ray

( NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA is the Indian edition of National Geographic Traveler (U.S.), the travel magazine of the National Geographic Society. The original was started in 1985 and currently has a readership of 7.6 million worldwide.

National Geographic Traveller India's main aim is to inspire travel. It is an inclusive magazine that focuses on 'real travel for real people' through experiential and immersive storytelling. It's about family travel, unique experiences, as well as new ways of covering older destinations and sharing eco-tourism insights.

Traveller's tag line is 'nobody knows this world better,' and accordingly, all stories attempt to capture a place's essence in a way that inspires readers to follow in the writer's footsteps, and equips them to do so with useful destination information.

National Geographic Traveller India eschews fashion and fluff in favour of fantastic photography, insightful articles and reader-friendly service.

Above all, the magazine tries to cover India more interestingly, while making all this information accessible so that it can enable readers to travel and to go to newer destinations. )

India's only 'Chinatown' in Kolkata

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Gallery

Kolkata ,Wednesday , 15 May 2013
Times City , page 2

Tagore gallery to beef up Sino-Indian ties

Kolkata: The culture ministry of China is helping Rabindra Bharati University to set up a gallery on “Rabindranath and China.” On the eve of the visit of Chinese prime minister LiKeqiang’s visitto Delhi, the gallery would help deepening Sino-Indian friendship, consul general of China in Kolkata Zhang Lizhnog said on Tuesday.

    The Chinese government would donate RMB800,000 to establish a theme gallery at Tagore House on the Jorasanko campus of Rabindra Bharati University. It will highlighte Rabindranath’s “contribution and historical position” in cultural exchanges between India andChina.The gallery,tobelaunchedon Wednesday, would have eight rooms, seven on different themes — India and China in ancient days, China: Dwarakanath and Debendranath, China study, China: In Rabindranath’s writings and works, Xu Beihong’s studio, Tagore’s visit to China in 1924 and Tagore studies in China.

    Exhibits in the gallery would be provided jointly by the Chinese and Indian sides,Zhang said.The ShanghaiArchive Bureau would offer 23 panels to reflect Tagore’s visit to China in 1924. Beijing university professor Wei Liming has helped select 500 books in Chinese, both translations of Tagore works and research paperson Tagore, 300of them has already arrived in the city. The gallery would be a permanent exhibition.

    Tagore’s works had an extensive influence in China, people of China treated him as a literary giant, Zhang said. “We are friendly neighbours, having time-honoured exchanges in culture and literature. Minor irritants like the recent border dispute in Ladakh should not overshadow the mutual respect for each other. A peaceful resolution of the disputehasbeen in theoverallinterestof the two countries,” he said.

Consul general of China in Kolkata Zhang Lizhnog at a press meet


Wednesday , May 15 , 2013
 metro , page 18

China Gallery at museum in Tagore Home

In 1924, Rabindranath Tagore spent 49 days in China, delivering addresses and forging associations. The visit, though occasioning protests from a section, built a bridge with Santiniketan and left Tagore’s imprint on the cultural mindscape of the land that lasts to this day. Now China’s gift to the city on the occasion of the bard’s 150th birth anniversary — a gallery on Tagore and China — is set to open at Jorasanko Thakurbari on Wednesday.

“This gallery is our tribute to Tagore, a friend of China,” says Zhang Lizhong, the Chinese consul-general in Calcutta. China has contributed about Rs 56 lakh for the gallery. “We also donated 500 books published in China comprising Tagore research and translations in Chinese.” Gifts have also been made of calligraphy tools, cutlery, lanterns and such representatives of Chinese culture.

Rabindranath Tagore

It all started with Lizhong’s predecessor Mao Siwei visiting Tagore House on the eve of the Chinese foreign minister’s visit in 2008. “He saw the Japan gallery and asked us why there couldn’t be a China gallery too. When we cited financial constraints he asked us to submit a proposal. That set the ball rolling,” recalls Indrani Ghosh, curator, Rabindra Bharati Museum.

Once the agreement was inked, the work was taken forward by officials of the Shanghai Archive Bureau, who came to Calcutta after hosting an exhibition in Delhi in 2011 on Tagore and China. “They sent 26 exhibits documenting every important event during Tagore’s stay,” says Zhong. These find pride of place in one of the eight rooms in Ram Bhavan, on the first floor of Tagore House. “There will be a touchscreen computer with information on Tagore’s visit, including transcripts of his speeches there,” Ghosh adds.

The scope of the gallery extends beyond Tagore, dating back to visits of Chinese pilgrims Fa Hien and Huen Tsang to ancient India.

The second room is dedicated to the Tagore family’s links with China. “Some of Dwarkanath’s ships were used by the East India Company for the infamous opium trade. Later, he himself engaged in it. But grandson Rabindranath was a bitter critic, calling it Chiney moroner byabsha in an article in the journal Bharati,” points out Ghosh. Debendranath, Tagore’s father, had visited Shanghai.

The other rooms are on China studies, China in Tagore’s writings, Tagore studies in China and Xu Beihong’s studio. The artist had visited Santiniketan and even held an exhibition in Calcutta. A copy of his portrait of Tagore will be on view. There will also be a library cum conference room.

“The opening of China Hall will send positive signals to the Indian people ahead of our Premier’s visit to India later this month,” the consul-general summed up.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Monday , May 06, 2013
Metro , page 20
Chinatown-Tiretta Bazar

The Chinese have been in my city since Job Charnock’s time but I would have remained oblivious of the community’s deep local roots had I not joined the group that set out to explore the old Chinatown and Tiretta Bazar on Sunday morning.

The community has even inspired the Bengali word for sugar — chini — because they had first produced it in the city. Dishing out such trivia and guiding us was Joseph Percy Ling, who chose the Chinese breakfast stalls as the first stop. Pity that nobody wanted to eat for fear of getting late!

A temple tour followed, starting with the Sea Ip Church, which houses the god of mercy and compassion. Those who wanted to know what the future held in store for them shook a bunch of wooden sticks until one fell off. Depending on the number on the stick, a piece of paper was handed out with predictions about the person’s future.

We proceeded to the Nam Soon temple, home to the “mad monk”, who earned the sobriquet because of his fondness for meat and wine. A room in the temple housed quite a collection of antique Chinese furniture.

Nanking Restaurant, which was apparently frequented by Shammi Kapoor, was the next attraction. On the floor above the closed restaurant, the Tong On Church was the highlight of the walk. Locals brought out dragon masks and treated us to dragon dance, which is usually performed during the Chinese New Year. Some of us even got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of trying our feet at dragon dance.

The final stop was Gee Hing Church, where community members were playing mahjong, which I felt was a complicated version of the popular card game, rummy. We also visited the place where the last rites of the Chinese are performed. Whether a body is cremated or buried depends on the person’s last wish.

Ritwik Sen