Istanbul Express – Blog

(Een eerdere versie van dit blog is gepubliceerd op de website van Holland Doc)

In less than two weeks, an Istanbul Express train will arrive in my hometown Amsterdam. I’m looking forward to its arrival, as I was asked to do research for one of the films. The subject is a second generation Chinese man who will show us his home and workplace, and can tell about his bonds with the ‘dragoncountry’. A great challenge, as I’ve been told the Chinese community is usually closed for outsiders and generally doesn’t kiss and tell.

Chinese architecture Amsterdam style My research starts in what can be called the Chinatown of Amsterdam. The area, close to the city’s harbor, houses numerous Chinese restaurants, souvenirsshops, and herbal health centres. My first stop is a Chinese community center. With a little hesitance, I enter a big room with Chinese banners on the wall and simple wooden tables on the sides. An older man gives me a questioning look. He doesn’t speak Dutch and walks with me to a woman sitting at a table. In the corner of my eye, I see some older man with their coats on playing a boardgame. The woman cleans bean sprouts. After exchanging some heavily Chinese accented words, we come to the conclusion that we do not understand eachother and that I should come back another day. I smile, she nodds, I’m off again.

For the next hours, I wander through streets decorated with Dutch as well as Chinese names. I learn that hundred years ago, numerous Chinese came to Amsterdam to work in the shipping industry, explaining also the location of Chinatown. The Chinese character adds mystic to the well-known Amsterdam features of coffeeshops, abondoned bicycles and red light windows. The result is a cosy medly folkneighbourhood, I’m thinking it would be a nice scenery for the film. However, as I talk to several shopowners, most Chinese do not live in Chinatown anymore. In the 70’s, a part of the community had to move to give way for a new subway station. As of today, the Chinese community in Amsterdam lives scattered in the city and around.

The shipping industry and Chinese are historically related in Amsterdam.

The modesty of many Chinese I speak to (”this person can tell you better than I can”) leaves me with a whole lot of references to other Chinese, but as of yet no approval to star in the film. Back at home, I send several emails to adresses handed to me. Guess what, within an half hour I have a consent and an appointment with a Chinese restaurentowner! A prejudice seem to uphold, Chinese like timely punctuality and indirect communication. I am looking forward to meet this man next week. In the meantime my search continues.

Already apparant is the fact that the Istanbul Express project enhances the ability to get to know, understand, and appreciate others. My experience is ofcourse small-scale, but in my mind I’m with all other researchers and filmmakers interacting with Europe’s diversed communities. It is a great experience to be part of. See you soon in Amsterdam!

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