FEAST: found in translation

October 8th, 2007 Fay

Sun streams through the café window as Mrs Szeto pours tea for three. A beautiful autumn afternoon adds to a feeling of optimism as we talk about new connections between Chinese and Scottish cultures and the meaning of the word FEAST.

We are meeting in the Modern Art Gallery café because this is her favourite place to eat in Edinburgh – fresh salads with raw vegetables are an intriguing taste for the owner of a Chinese take away restaurant – and the symbol of food is important.

For Fooklan Szeto believes that subtle changes in food and fashions of east and west show that we are moving, however slowly, to a world of converging cultures where people will live in greater understanding. “Hong Kong is the best example of how Chinese and western influences already combine,” she says, “In Scotland, Chinese food adopts a style to suit western tastes and western cooking now uses spices like ginger and Chinese mushrooms.”

Fooklan and Kimho met through music – Fooklan sings in the Edinburgh Cantonese Opera – and since then she has become an enthusiastic supporter of his innovative efforts to promote intercultural understanding through live performances and workshops. Tea ceremonies (at our Out of the Blue filming session and Castle Street as well as Kimho’s other public performances for iMAP) invariably happen as if by magic thanks to Mrs Szeto’s quiet organisation.

A fusion of influences

But art is her greatest interest and her knowledge of Chinese folk art also influences the stage setting of Kimho’s performances. This cultural blend comes naturally to Fooklan who arrived in Edinburgh 30 years ago already open to new ideas from the West. During the 1960s she was an avid reader of the radical Chinese Students Weekly, full of music, film, literature and politics from the West. Students were part of a passionate campaign for democracy and the movement for change led to the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) established in 1974 to clean up corruption in the Hong Kong government.

By that time Fooklan and her husband were beginning to raise a family in Scotland. Laughing, she apologises for occasional difficulties with the English language. She says the language barrier is still the biggest problem for first generation Chinese in Edinburgh. “But not for the second generation. My sons are both totally fused with the culture here.” Ironically they also have an appreciation of traditional Chinese culture lost to mainland China during the cultural revolution.

In this context, the meaning of FEAST gains special significance. There is no such word in Chinese. The calligraphy of the banner Fooklan provided for the FEAST combines four characters: living, colour, vibrant, aroma.

“When you combine these four it means something like ‘things coming together’”, says Kimho, “in other words life is more enjoyable and meaningful with this combination. That is the closest we come to FEAST”


FEAST: living, colour, vibrant and aroma in Castle Street on August 30

Our thanks to Mrs Szeto, of the Wok Inn, Newhaven Road for support and delicious tea!

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