Children at Pei Mei Chinese Secondary School in the eastern fringe of Kolkata didn’t watch the opening ceremony in Beijing on television. On Friday, they had their own opening ceremony. For, they were having their own Olympics, and loving it.
But make no mistake. It’s not child’s play. No less a dignitary than the Chinese consul general to Kolkata, Mao Siwei, was present as the chief guest. He is, after all, representing homeland.
Welcome to Chinatown. The squalid, winding back lanes of Kolkata’s Chinatown — with abandoned sheds of closed tanneries, famous authentic Chinese eateries, open drains and the smell of dried leather hanging heavy in the air — also nurture the aspirations of a people far away from home.
This time, the Olympics is special to them, since it’s happening in China. Now the children, who are growing up in a strange land, have something to identify with. They are staging their own Olympics.
“The children have performed gymnastics, performing arts and, of course, the Dragon Dance — the symbol of Chinese culture. It’s been a cultural show, followed by dinner,” said Monica Lin. Monica is a known figure in Kolkata circles as she runs popular Chinese restaurants, Beijing and Kim Ling in Chinatown, Tung Fung on Park Street and Mandarin on south Kolkata's Sarat Bose Road.
She and her husband Lin Kuo Chao could afford to pay a visit to Beijing last April, soaking in the city getting dolled up for the Olympics. She said, "My family settled in Kolkata in 1940. But even after so many years, we still love seeing a country that speaks the same language as us. We will follow the Olympics on television. But never mind, we will shout and cheer our sportsmen from Kolkata.”
Monica has even drawn up a special menu — an Olympic surprise — for her restaurants this month. There’ll be special dishes, gifts and an experience of China in Kolkata.
There are guests from home, too, to celebrate. Liqiong Xie and her friends Jialan Zhang and Xinyi Jin, post-graduate students from China’s Zhejiang University, are here on a non-government assignment. Zhang, Jin and Xie have decided to experience the Olympics with their friend Yeh Yu Hon, who owns a restaurant at Chinatown, and on the giant screen at Pei Mei Chinese School ground. With the children, of course.