The Food of the People

Three generations of James’s family take the opportunity to delve deeper into their shared familial and cultural heritage during Alert Level 3.

用繁體中文閱讀這篇漫畫 (Cantonese)

用简体中文阅读这篇漫画 (Simplified Chinese)

用繁體中文閱讀這篇漫畫 (Traditional Chinese)

Click the expansion arrow to open this slideshow in full-window view. The panels in the English-language comics have a descriptive caption for screenreaders.

Panel 1

A suburban home. In the distance, the Sky Tower dominates the Auckland skyline.

Panel 2

A young girl, Kei Kei, looks excited.

“What are we going to have for lunch today, Gong Gong?” she asks.

Panels 3 and 4

James sits on the couch, on his phone. The young girl has her hand on his arm.

Narration: “James looked up from his latest sudoku puzzle to see two wide eyes staring intently at him.”

James: “Oh?”

Kei Kei: “Can we have ha gau siu mai?” she asks.

James: “No, my dear Kei Kei... we can’t have yum cha foods because the yum cha restaurant is closed during lockdown.”

The screen on James’s phone shows his in-progress sudoku.

Panel 5

Kei Kei’s mum, wearing an apron, appears.

“Maybe we can give some of the yum cha recipes from my online cooking group a try!” she says.

Panel 6

Mum and grandma sit at a laptop.

Narration: “Mum and Grandma’s cooking group connects people from their ancestral home village. They found it by accident while surfing the net during lockdown and now they’re hooked!”

Panels 1 and 2

Mum is washing some vegetables. James is on the couch.

Mum: “Ba Ba, we are running low on veggies, are we getting some soon?”

James: “I’m getting a delivery from our local fruit and veg shop in the afternoon.”

Mum: “Oh, I didn’t know that the local shop does delivery now... Guess moving online is pretty crucial for keeping the business going in these Covid times.

“One of the Chinese restuarants we like to visit has switched to selling dumplings online, and it sounds like they’re doing pretty well!”

James: “Oh really? That’s a smart move.”

Panel 3

Many thoughts are running through James’s head. “For all its downsides, the online world can be pretty wonderful!” he thinks.

Panels 4–6

Mum is choosing a recipe on her phone. This causes excitement in the household.

Shall we try to make this recipe together?” she asks.

Kei Kei: “Oooh yum, I love lo mai gai! Will it taste like it’s made in a restaurant?”

Mum: “Why, of course it will, your mum is the best cook in the house! As good as Nadia Lim!”

Kei Kei: “Wow!”

James: “Haha yes sure. Well, if it ends up yummy we will forget about the other time you try to make a cha siu bao!”

Mum: “Hey, that’s not fair. I was simply following Aunty Choi’s recipe! Maybe I was just a little too generous when I added ‘a pinch of salt’ and ‘a handful of baking powder’.”

Panels 7 and 8

James grabs a jar from the pantry.

James: “Kei Kei, you know what would go really well with lo mai gai?”

He opens the jar.

“Chan pei hung dau saa!” he says. “We use this homemade chan pei in the red bean soup[GG2] .”

Kei Kei looks on in awe at the contents of the jar.

Kei Kei, James, and Mum sit at their table eating the meal they’ve just cooked. Around them are images from the past, floating like memories on the page: a man and a woman stand while their passports are looked at; the same man and woman browse a homewares store; intimidated by police, they leave; the woman, sad, works a job of hard labour; the same woman, much older and happier now, prepares a meal for a large family.

In present day, there’s a large hand-written recipe; a mandarin being peeled; the food that the family is eating being served.

James: “Kei Kei, did you know these mandarin peels were made decades ago using your great grandma’s chan pei recipe, and now we still use them in our desserts, steamed food, and cooking...”

Mum: “Yes and that is why they taste so good!”

James, continuing: “...and if you have a sore throat or a cough, just put it in some boiling water and drink it, and you will feel better!”

Kei Kei: “Mum, if I could meet her, I would tell her how much I love her chan pei!”

Dinner is finished, and James brings out a photo album.

James: “Do you girls want to take a break from your screens and look at some photos with me?”

Mum: “Great idea! Let’s have a look together.”

The photo album is open, and it is full of portraits.

Mum: “Wow, I’ve never seen those photos before, Gong Gong! They look super old. I didn’t even know they had cameras back then.”

She points at a particular photo.

“Kei Kei, this is your grandma!”

Kei Kei: “Oh! And where did she live?”

Mum: “Guangzhou.”

She looks at another photo. It shows her as a child with her parents.

“This photo here was taken in Auckland, 1979.”

Mum suddenly looks surprised.

“Hey wait Dad, can you turn back a page? I feel like I have seen this photo before. Somewhere.”

Panels 1–5

She looks up Te Papa’s website on her phone. She finds the photo she was looking for.


She holds the photo from Te Papa’s website up – “Unidentified man” – against the photo in her family album.

Mum: “Kei Kei, this is my grandpa!”

Kei Kei: “OMG yes it’s the same person! How did you find this photo, Mum?”

Mum: “Your dad went to a Friends of Te Papa talk a few months ago about the Berry Photographic Collection and unidentified photos at Te Papa.”

Mum is sitting at her computer.

“I found it one day when I was having a look at the photo collection on the Te Papa website.

“I’ve had more time lately to browse the internet for fun. I’ve always wanted to learn about our history in Aotearoa as a third generation Chinese New Zealander.”

James: “Maybe you should get in touch with Te Papa about this photo to give them more information about your grandpa! He probably wouldn’t like to be known as ‘Unidentifed man’.”

Kei Kei: “Yaay yes that’s so cool, Mum!’

Mum: “Yes, I’ll send them a message. Look here is the link.”

Narration: “In that moment, James felt blessed. Despite all its challenged, lockdown had given him this special moment with his family.” The three look happy.

Panels 1–5

It’s a little later. James is heading out.

James: “Alright, Hoi Ting and Kei Kei! Time for me to go deliver some Chinese veggies and fruit to Uncle Cheung.”

Uncle Cheung is pictured sitting at his table, reading the newspaper.

Narration: “Uncle Cheung lives alone and doesn’t know how to order groceries online, so James’s weekly fruit and veggie deliveries have been helping keep him safe from Covid.”

Mum waves goodbye to James.

Mum: “Don’t show him that article from Aunty Lin about putting ginger in your pocket to ward off Covid. He might get the wrong idea!”

James: “Haha thanks, but I actually got a good chuckle out of it and I think Uncle Cheung will too!”

James heads off on his walk. He meets Uncle Cheung at the gate, maintaining a safe distance.

James, in Cantonese: “Uncle Cheung, I am here!”

Uncle Cheung, also in Cantonese: “Thank you, you’re a good man Chiu Wai.”

James: “You’re welcome, take care!”

James continues on his walk, along a pathway lined with trees. Their leaves are an autumnal orange. He looks content.

Narration: “On his way home, James reflects on a day filled with unexpected moments of connection... What will tomorrow bring?”