[Article] How many Africans are in Guangzhou?

Most times when I’ve mentioned that I’ve done some research on the African population in Guangzhou, I’d be questioned about their number. Interestingly, “how many” wasn’t the first question that came to my mind when I started or that motivated my research around mid-2013. I was more interested in what they’re doing in Guangzhou and how they relate with the local population. Once I had spent some time in Sanyuanli and Xiaobei, the two areas where African traders spend their time shopping for goods to ship to Africa, I realized that there was a gender gap that didn’t seem to fit what I’ve observed while living in South Africa. I’ll save that for another blog. Here, because the question of number is so typical, I’d like to share a blog by another fellow researcher, who was also a journalist at one point.

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[Article] Of washing powder, Afrophobia and racism in China

To further complicate my previous blog about my personal experience with Guangzhou being an international city that hasn’t adequately coped with its identity yet, I want to share the following story:

By Roberto Castillo

Is Afrophobia really on the rise in China?

Roughly two months have passed since the Qiaobi detergent advertisement went viral. The advert, in which a Chinese woman shoves a black man into a washing machine only for him to emerge as a shiny, clean, Asian man, prompted Western media to call it “the most racist ad ever”. At the height of the controversy, commentators from all over the world quarrelled endlessly over whether or not the advert was evidence of China being a racist society. Eventually, the Chinese government intervened and the company behind the offensive advert issued an apology.

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An International City

One night early this month, on my way to meet a Swiss colleague’s PhD students from the university that she teaches at in Germany, a woman in the subway started to talk to me by complimenting my bracelet. She spoke English, so I replied in English that the bracelet was a gift from a friend (probably purchased on one of her travels in an African country). It turned out that this woman on the subway is a medical student at the university where I’ve been hired as an associate professor (this in itself is a story). She stays on campus, but has an apartment far off campus that she goes to on the weekends during the school year and stays at during the summer break when she doesn’t return to the US. Continue reading

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[Article] Learning to Speak Lingerie: Chinese merchants and the inroads of globalization

This story about Chinese entrepreneurs in Egypt was published in the New Yorker in August 2015. Though not entirely new, it remains newsworthy. In my view, it’s fascinating because who would think that lingerie would sell so well in predominantly Muslim countries? Well, it wasn’t entirely surprising to me, but only because I’ve stayed with a Somali business woman who’s Muslim when I was in Nairobi, Kenya. Her friend gave me a tour of one shopping center that sells fabric and other accessories for making clothes. In that center were many tailors. They were all men. Kenyan women were the assistants, doing the embroidering or pressing works. Somali Muslim women (and perhaps Muslim women from Kenya’s neighboring countries) were the customers. For the untrained eyes, we sometimes fail to see the decorative details on the women’s jilbab. The everyday ones are quite simple, but there are elaborate dresses for different occasions and places. That is to say, just because Muslim women are covered up, it doesn’t mean that they don’t care about fashion or their appearance. But, the article goes beyond the lingerie business, offering an African’s explanation for why Chinese entrepreneurs are successful business people and a Chinese’s perception of development in that specific part of Africa.

Akmat's shop with Ayan-2

A tailor surrounded by his customers in Nairobi, Kenya

With this brief introduction, I now turn to Peter Hessler’s article:

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[Article] Inside the Mall at the Center of China’s Transformation of East Africa

By Mansi Choksi and Kim Wall

Mariam Namata’s face was dappled with sweat when she arrived for a job interview at Sunshine Foods, a company that claimed to be Uganda’s first homemade chips manufacturer. It was October 2015, a fierce summer month in the country’s capital, Kampala, and she was nervous. The company’s Chinese boss sat where he conducted most of his business, at one end of a row of four chairs that had been welded together, near a trash can that contained cigarette stubs.

Namata, a 24-year-old woman with a delicate nose and bleached curls, took the seat next to him and introduced herself in Mandarin. She explained that she had studied international finance at Shenyang University, in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning, and asked if he had grown used to eating matoke, an East African dish of steamed green bananas. The boss clenched a smile, and in less than ten minutes, the interview ended. Namata had been hired as the company’s new translator, administrator, and accountant, and she was shown her desk, next to the room’s most remarkable feature: a shelf displaying onion-flavored Happy Crisps, tomato-flavored Pastoral Crisps, and beef-flavored Whirlwind Potato Chips.

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Want to work in China? Be prepared (forewarned)

Dealing with bureaucracy really saps energy. Some people might respond that there’s bureaucracy in every country, not just in China. That’s right. I don’t want to make the country exceptional, as I haven’t lived everywhere. I have South Africa and the US to compare it to and stories about other places that friends have shared. Plus, individuals have their own experiences, depending on the country they hail from, age, gender, race, class, occupation, as well as personality. Depending on an individual’s positionality, her/his encounters with China’s bureaucracy will differ. So, below, I offer a few pointers to anyone who might be interested in working at a Chinese university as a full-time academic staff. And given the direction academia in the US has been heading, it’s possible that new PhDs would take up jobs in China.

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Places and the (im)possibilities of friendship

Occasionally, I’d receive “come home frendo” and other similar messages on my Facebook wall or inbox.  The “home” referred to in these messages is South Africa, not the US. Though I’ve been back for research purposes, it’s almost been three years since I left South Africa. Friendship isn’t something that I take for granted, but it’s also not something that I’ve had to give much thoughts to, especially when I move to a new place. Certainly, I do distinguish between friends and acquaintances. And, I’ve been blessed with friends wherever I’ve lived. I’ve tended to meet them in my first year, not too long after my arrival at a place. The exception to this pattern is Guangzhou, China.

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