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Dutch Chinese are searching for their roots in China

19 januari 2018, NPO Radio 1, VPRO Bureau Buitenland

Dutch Chinese search for their roots in China increasingly often. Foreign Desk-editor Cindy Huijgen paid a visit to Wang An Oe, who was born and raised in the south of the Netherlands and successfully found her Chinese family.

“This is my ancestral home, where one of my ancestors played as a little boy,” says Wang An Oe, looking at a panorama picture placed on a shelf in the middle of her living room. The shelf is reminiscent of an altar, but for her, it serves more as a memory of an emotional trip to China.

Oe grew up in Limburg, a southern province of the Netherlands. Nowadays, she lives near Amsterdam with her partner Tjabring van Egten. Together they went searching for her Chinese roots. “We were able to trace the village where my great-great-grandfather grew up. At one point he migrated overseas, so it was a surprise to still find family living there.”

There are approximately 150,000 overseas Chinese living in the Netherlands. Especially the youngest generation is curious about their often-unknown roots. Over the past few years genealogical services have been emerging rapidly. Dutch entrepreneur Huihan Lie founded My China Roots in 2012, which offers help in tracing ancestral villages. In only five years he has seen the interest grow well beyond his expectations. Lie: “Nowadays, we can barely keep up with the demand.”

Culturally mixed couples

Lie believes that the convenience of the internet contributed to the blooming of his business, but the growing number of culturally mixed couples among the Chinese diaspora plays an even bigger role. “Cultural identity is a main factor in those relationships,” Lie explains. The importance of ancestral lineage is a key factor for his more elderly clients. Lie: “In order to give our clients a valuable journey to the past, we try to show them how their ancestors lived and why they had to emigrate.”

It is this emotional context that Oe appreciated most. She describes the visit to her ancestral village as a modern fairy tale. “I was excited for weeks before going there. When I finally arrived, I was welcomed as a lost daughter.”

Gay Games are finally coming to Asia
10 November 2017, NPO Radio 1, VPRO Bureau Buitenland

The Gay Games are coming to Asia for the first time since they were founded. Hong Kong will host the eleventh edition of the LGBT sporting event in 2022. “This is unique. I think it will make a positive impact to the acceptance of homosexuality here,” says Dennis Philipse (44), founder and chairman of the Gay Games organisation in Hong Kong.

Athletes who compete during the “gay Olympics” are often part of the LGBT community, but everyone is allowed to participate. “You do not have to qualify for the games, it is open to all who wish to participate,” Philipse elaborates. He is from a small village in the south of Holland and moved to China for his work seven years ago.

Philipse never competed in the games, but he attended the opening ceremony of the 1998 Gay Games in Amsterdam. “The gay scene in Hong Kong now is similar to the situation in Amsterdam back then. There is no real discrimination of homosexuals, but the LGBT community keeps to itself.”

Feeling of shame

It took Philipse two years to bring the Gay Games to Hong Kong. “At the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland, there was a Japanese athlete who won a medal. He told his family he was on a business trip and did not dare to bring his prize home.” Feelings of shame are still a deeply rooted problem in Asia.

Edie (46) from Hong Kong confirms this issue. He tried to gather a volleyball team for the 2002 Gay Games. “In the end, we had to compete with one athlete short, because people were afraid to join. I am very happy the Gay Games are finally coming to Asia. I hope this will improve the stigma LGBT youth often have to face.”

Support and criticism

Although there is a lot of support from Hong Kong for the Gay Games, there is also criticism. For example, chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said that she is catholic and therefore does not fully support the games. Eddie: “That is absurd. As a politician, you do not represent a religion, but the citizens of Hong Kong.”

Eddie does recognise that public opinion in Hong Kong has changed in favour of the LGBT community. “That is very necessary, especially now that we will host the Gay Games. But needing to accept homosexuality is not the same as wanting to accept it.”

© 2019 Cindy Huijgen