Tout à fait dans l’esprit Regarde les Chinois-eque, ce fut par hasard que j’ai rencontré les prochains invités à cette chronique (qui se traîne encore les pattes à Beijing, alors que je suis rentré à Montréal depuis plus d’un mois). Je rentre dans ce magasin quelconque de la Nanluoguxiang, la nouvelle allée « in » parmi les hutongs, au centre historique de Beijing, après avoir aperçu à la fenêtre des t-shirts design-és à mon goût. Voilà tu pas que le gars dans le magasin m’accueille avec « Ni Hao » bien accentué (en anglais). En plus d’être un Chinois d’outre-mer, le type est né et a vécu les premières dix années de sa vie à Montréal! Avec des copains (aussi Chinois d’outre-mer) rencontrés à Beijing, Raymond Walintukan a fondé NLGX, un genre de café se basant sur un groupe de protection des hutongs et qui vend des patentes design. Raymond et Edmond Hung, son comparse californien, se sont échangés la parole, pendant qu’on déménageait le sofa sur lequel j’étais assis…
Going perfectly along the Regarde les Chinois-esque spirit, it was by pure chance that I met the next guests to this column (which is still lagging behind in Beijing, while I am back in Montreal since more than a month). I enter this random store on Nanluoguxiang, the new “in” tourist street at the historical centre of Beijing, after seeing nice designed tees that I liked. And there you have the guy in the store greets me with a thickly accented “Ni Hao”. On top of being an Overseas Chinese, he was born and lived in Montreal for the first ten years of his life! With friends that he met there (also Overseas Chinese), Raymond Walintukan founded NLGX, some sort of cafe based over a hutong protection group that sells designed stuff. Raymond and Edmond Hung, his Californian pal, both spoke to me while they were moving out the couch that I was sitting on…
(Raymond passe à l’émission Ailleurs c’est ici à la Première Chaîne de Radio-Canada, mercredi le 2 juillet 2008.)
Comme les Chinois: So you came here, and you met your friends?
Raymond Walintukan: Yeah, on an unfortunate event, on the Great Wall (laughs). Seriously, that’s how I met them, on the Great Wall… We were camping on the Great Wall, and just decided to do something, and we did it, and it was a lot of fun!
CLC: This thing (NLGX) was an association for preserving the hutongs…
RW: Right, and we’re working actually with a culture heritage project… it’s actually on our website. And what they are doing is culture heritage protection and things like that, in Beijing. So, that’s what we’re all about: we want to preserve the hutongs, and the bu chai (不拆). You know the story with the bu chai, right?
CLC: What’s a huchai (sic)?
RW: You see our grey t-shirt over there, maybe you can take a picture later.
CLC: Yeah, I think I’ll buy one of these. (And I did.)
RW: The government puts it on somebody’s house, and two weeks later, they’ll go and demolish the house. So, some guy was really brave, and then he wrote a “bu” (editor’s note: is the character for the negative of something), to kind of show, like, against the destruction. And these are really really old hutongs, but they are demolishing it for whatever reason, for making money or whatever. And so, that’s what we’re all about…
CLC: And this is something you run… You have been here for two and a half years, been doing this for all this time?
RW: Ah, we’ve only been doing this for, since last… Um, the shop’s been only open for a month, since March (2008), but NLGX was open since, maybe, October. And it was only a concept, an idea. We wanted to make a lifestyle brand, you know, wanted to make it all about travel, all about the apparels, stuff like that. We never thought that it would happen, but we had so much success in the last month. This is a great thing, y’know. We’re lucky to be on this street – this is a really nice street, with a seven hundred years old history, and you see old people up and down, walking around, it’s really cool…
CLC: But it’s been very commercialized…
RW: A little. It’s very very different from a year ago, or two years ago.
CLC: That’s what I was discussing yesterday with someone I met. He came to Beijing – he’s Canadian Chinese – three years ago, and lived (around) here. And he said that when he came here, there was like two cafes. And the whole street has been developed.
RW: Yeah, that’s because the government put a law on this street, and protected it. So, we cannot build any buildings. You can change the interior, and a little bit of the exterior, but it’s considered to be a national treasure now, or something like that, so the government put a law saying that you cannot do any major construction. So, nothing is going to change here – maybe the shops will change, but everything else stays the same, which is going to be cool.
CLC: It’s a good thing for you to start the shop, now… So, you’re going to stay in town when the Olympics happen?
RW: Yeah, it’s going to be crazy. I have no idea what is going to happen. It’s totally up in the air, what sort of people are going to show up! (laughs) Yeah, I mean, it’s going to be exciting. It’s only two weeks and we’re for the long run. It seems like there is a lot of people that are building things for this two-week Olympics thing, which I don’t know what the deal is with that.
CLC: What kind of expectation do you have, what sort of dream do you have (with NLGX)?
RW: With this? Well, we just want to promote the hutongs. That’s the most important thing… We love this place. I mean, these guys (patrons) live here, some of these guys live here. I can’t afford to live here (laughs) but I come here all the time! It’s basically like if I live here.
CLC: You live on the fifth ring, right? That’s pretty far…
RW: Yeah, fifth ring. I ride my bicycle here though sometimes. Two times a week, I’ll try for, and it’s an hour and six minutes, and it’s a long ride. But it’s good, because you get to see more of Beijing, and this area, this hutong area, is what Beijing looked like 50-100 years ago. You can imagine what it’s like. It’s the same, you know, whereas cities like Shanghai are so developed that it’s what cities are going to look like in 20 years!
CLC: So, why did you come to Beijing?
*** And, at this point, Raymond knocks down my double shot espresso, at which point we switch focus on Edmond.
CLC: So, you are one of the partner, right?
Edmond Hung: Yeah yeah.
CLC: You were in the States before?
EH: I was in San Francisco, grew up there, went to school at University of St. Louis, went to Hong Kong, worked there for a couple of years.
CLC: Are you Cantonese Chinese?
EH: Yeah. Can you speak?
CLC: 小小 (siu siu / a little)
EH: Yeah, me too, 小小. It improved a lot when I went to (Asia). I graduated from university, and then moved to Hong Kong.
CLC: You lived there…
EH: I lived, worked there for two years.
CLC: What’s your field?
EH: I studied business, went to b-school. The plan was to try and live in Asia, come here working and living. It’s great experience.
CLC: I’ve met quite a few Overseas Chinese… Chinese Canadians who lived all their lives, were born in Canada, and they go back to Asia to find their roots.
EH: It’s cool, yeah. In certain ways, it’s like a… culture shock, you know. But it’s weird being here, and of Asian descent. Most Westerners think you are local.
RW: And most Chinese…
EH: Think you are Korean! (laughs)
CLC: Or Japanese! (laughs)
RW: You get that a lot?
CLC: Ah… It happened yesterday!
RW: “Are you Japanese?” “No-no, I am French! Woaw, no, wait a minute!” (laughs – Editor’s Note: There was, in April, a backclash against the French in China, because of their stance with respect to Tibet, Sarkozy hypothetical boycott of the opening ceremony). You know, I am going to you another cup – you are not going to sleep tonight!
*** At this point, Raymond leaves to get me a new cup of espresso…
EH: Yeah, so it’s kinda weird. I told Chinese people that I was born in the US, and they’re like, but you don’t look American! …
*** We skip a little random talk on California, and Raymond comes back with the coffee…
CLC: Actually, one of my friends in Beijing grew up in California, in Arcadia.
EH: Oh, Arcadia! I am from Irvine!
RW: Oh, I am from the OC (Orange County)!
CLC: So, is Arcadia part of Orange County?
RW: No, Arcadia is part of LA County… It’s pretty close. But we always drive to Arcadia, because it’s the Asian area. To get the 珍珠奶茶 (Zhen zhu nai cha – Bubble tea), the 雲吞 (wonton).
CLC: Well, I am sure you can find your stuff in your city too… I come from Montreal, and you can’t find _anything_ (of course, I vastly exaggerate).
RW: But a lot of Vietnamese, huh?
RW: Hey, (friends) are having a party tomorrow, just nearby.
EH: A housewarming.
RW: Yeah, so there is a party tomorrow, in the hutong, if you want to crash. In a hutong, real hutong.
CLC: Really? When, what time?
EH: Just around here…
CLC: It’s because I have some Chinese friends who invited me to go to Mao Live (a well-known live house in Beijing, close to Nanluoguxiang, on Guloudajie).
EH: Cool place, Mao Live.
CLC: Went to D-22 last week.
RW: Oh yeah?
EH: Our store manager is actually a Taiwanese girl. Her boyfriend is actually being an instructor for a samba group.It’s actually quite an interesting group, mostly Chinese locals actually. It’s called Sambasia. The chapter in Beijing is one of the newest. They also have a chapter in San Francisco, and New York too, as well. They just had a performance at Mao a few days ago, like a second anniversary.
CLC: I saw some old people dancing outside the subway (the other night).
EH: Yeah, they do that every night. In Houhai, there’s a lot of it.
*** The guys give me their cards, but I tell them that I don’t have one, since I am not someone important. “Everyone has a card in China!”, says Edmond. For a while after this, Raymond, Edmond and the dude at the bar discuss how to organize their party the day after. They have a sanlunche. They use it to transport the big red couch I sat on during the first part of this “interview”.
RW: I can’t believe it – can you imagine, he’s got a big couch on a sanlunche! (wipes tear)
CLC: One last question…
RW: Yeah, go for it.
CLC: Why did you come to Beijing?
RW: Ahh, I’d like to say, I like Beijing food. But it’s more… One part is discovering your roots, you know. I look Chinese, I don’t speak any Chinese, it’s kinda like it’s the birthplace of my culture, in the sense that you have to go back and feel it up. (laughs)
CLC: Found any roots?
RW: Sort of! You change a little bit, you know. I learned a little bit more about how the Chinese think. You know, we think as from a Western perspective. We know how Chinese think, because we look Chinese, and our parents are Chinese, but it’s very different here, very very different here. And, that’s one of the main reasons why I came back.
The other reason is that I wanted to get out of OC. I rather didn’t go to another OC, like Shanghai, and decided to come here, and this is where… I mean Shanghai is very very different from Beijing… Shanghai is very shark oriented, go-get, entrepreneurial-oriented mindset. Whereas Beijing is more of a culture centre, because everything is preserved here. Things have been here for a really long time. People who are here, they know that the pie is large enough, there is enough for everybody. Not everyone is here to do business and be a shark. Everyone is here to learn about the culture, and that’s why you meet so many more interesting people, I think, in Beijing, than in Shanghai.
Well, you meet a lot of business people. Business is your focus, and it’s a great place. But here, you meet a lot of brave, culturally-interested people, and you see a vast majority of foreigners who come here are so interesting to talk with. And this is what I love about it.
But the original reason why I came here? More opportunity than California, I think. In California, you would be stuck in an office every day.
CLC: Were you bored in California?
RW: Born in California? No, I was born in Canada.
CLC: Bored, bored of California…
RW: Oh, was bored of California? Yeah, I think so. Because I am tired of the beautiful sun, driving down the beach in my car with the top down… Girls in bikini all the time. You know, I prefer a city with…
CLC: …with grey skies!
RW: …grey skies! And a lot of culture. But it’s the people that make it interesting. People who come here got to be brave. Gotta be mentally-ill or brave. (laughs)
CLC: Ok, thanks!
RW: Sure, anytime you need it!