When I was in primary school in the late 1960’s there weren’t many Asian people living in my part of Sydney apart from the staff of local Chinese restaurants. The immigration from South East Asia didn’t happen until the 1980s.
What got me interested was the trip made in 1936 by my grandfather, Dr Mylles Cave to China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines. I never met him as he died before my father got married, however he wrote a diary which I typed out and published.
Dr Cave bought many books, ceramics and furniture from China and Japan and some of those items are now in our living room which we named the “China Room”. We have a camphor wood box from Hong Kong, ceramics, and beautiful Japanese books printed on crepe paper as well as a few guide books from Peking (Beijing’s old name). I am sure he bought a samurai sword but I never found it.
The Chinese had a presence in Victoria in the 19th century following the gold rush in Ballarat. We have visited Sovereign Hill Gold Mining town in Ballarat several times since it opened in 1970. There you can see a Chinese temple and other reconstructions from that area.
In primary school I used to write notes in a wirebound journal and I still have one of these books. The image at the top is a scan from the book showing my crude attempt at writing Chinese numerals. I wrote a lot of notes on how silk is made and included a picture of Si Ling Chi, the first empress of China who is supposed to have deduced how to extract silk from the cocoons.
The only Chinese food I had tried up till the late 1970’s was the typical suburban Chinese restaurant with the predictable menu of sweet and sour port with pineapple pieces, chicken with cashews, beef and black bean sauce and spring rolls. I enjoyed the food but I didn’t realise it had been heavily adapted to Australian tastes. Suburban Chinese restaurants had similar decor – decorative lanterns and plastic chopsticks. It wasn’t until the 1980s that I discovered Yum Cha and other types of Chinese cuisine.
I wanted to learn more about Chinese cooking and in 1978 I got an electric wok for a present from my aunt. It was packaged with a cookbook and I made some attempts at Chinese food. It wasn’t until we got a gas stove in 2004, a heavy iron wok and wok chan (shaped to fit the wok) that I could follow my interest in Chinese cooking.
I have never been to China but we visited Hong Kong in 1984 after our wedding in Kyushu, Japan. As well as my deep interest in Japanese culture I am also interested in Chinese history, food, language, literature, cinema and most importantly getting to know Chinese people.
Click on the thumbnails below to see more of my journal from 1968.