How far is the Far East

 

By Haoruo Wei, Photos by Haoruo Wei

Mariana Lin, is one of the expats among about 170 nationalities living in Aarhus. She has moved to Denmark in August with her newlywed husband Juan, who is now studying for his Joint-Master degree in Journalism, Media and Globalisation at Aarhus University. Since then, she has been on her way of embracing the Nordic-Latino fusion as well as exploring other cultures, especially, forming bonds with the East.

Born and bred in Uruguay, even from an early age, Mariana was surrounded by dual-cultures, the local Latino culture and the Chinese culture at her grandparents’ home. “No, I’ve never been there. But my grandfather was from that city”, says Mariana, holding a package of “Shanghai cabbage” at an Asian grocery store. Beside currently attending online lectures at home for her Master studies with a Spanish university, she loves cooking. “Juan and I are fond of Asian cuisine”, says she. “Lin” is a typical Chinese family name, which links Mariana to her Chinese grandparents and the East. However, being the third generation of immigrants in Latin America, Mariana has not have tight links with the East, even when it comes to food. “My father learnt some Chinese recipes from my grandmother, but they are actually mixed with Uruguayan, not pure eastern”, explains Mariana. “There aren’t such Asian stores back home in our city, either.”

Mariana Lin is standing in front of a fridge, holding a package of vegetable named with “Shanghai”, her grandfather’s hometown (photo: Haoruo Wei)

Having locked their bikes in front of the store, the couple is heading to the entrance towards the exotic East. “We biked for nearly 30 kilometres yesterday”, says Mariana. In Denmark, they have already accustomed themselves to the cycle path, and they biked for day-trips outside Aarhus in Jutland with other Mundus Journalism students. “It was exhausting, but after we were back home, I cooked wonton soup for dinner, and we felt like touching the ‘hygge’”, she adds, with showing us the online videos through which she has newly learnt for Asian cooking.

“We have never lived in Northern Europe before. I was so excited about everything was going to happen here!” says Mariana at a party with Mundus students. “I told my father that we’re going to eat hot-pot, and then he searched this picture on the Internet and sent it to me”, says, showing us the picture of hot-pot, an authentic Chinese cuisine. “Super delicious! We will definitely cook it many times more”, promises the couple, after the first hot-pot dinner with their Chinese fellows in Aarhus.

Thus, shopping at the Asian grocery store has almost become a weekly routine for this Uruguayan couple. “We try everything”, says Mariana, picking up something has never seen in Uruguay from the fridge. “I have already been to the real East through my trips in Southeast Asia, and I am surprised to encounter the East again in Europe. I really enjoy cooking Asian recipes with Juan, and we almost find all the ingredients we need here”, she adds, “and the food we make as well as the people I have met here makes me more curious about the Asian or mainly about Chinese culture. My family’s origin was there.”

Mariana and his husband Juan are selecting Chinese ingredients at the Asian grocery store. (photo: Haoruo Wei)

Labelled with traditional Chinese characters, the signboard of the store makes it eye-catching when people are passing by. The small “supermarket” is almost equipped with everything characterised by the East: rice, vegetables, tea, ingredients, and bowls. “Look!” Juan takes a package of chopsticks out of the drawer back their home in Aarhus, “We got it at ‘Far East’.”

Since 1991, the store has been operated and named “Far East”, implying the roots of the store owners. “I come from… or rather, my family is originally from China”, explains Guo, the co-owner of the store. “At the very beginning, the majority of our customers are Southeast Asians who were also war refugees like us in that period. In the recent decade, however, we have more Chinese and Dane customers.” Guo’s family had been kept migrating in the last century, firstly from China to Vietnam, then to Cambodia where he was born. Afterwards, they moved to Denmark, finally settling down in Aarhus in 1978. “Always because of the wars”, recalls Guo, “we were living in exile and panic.”

Lin and Guo’s encounter at the Asian store counter in Aarhus. (photo: Haoruo Wei)

Mariana picks up a handbill at the store’s corner, in which some cultural information is given in Chinese. She cannot read it. The only Chinese character she knows is her family name “Lin”, which was once taught by her father, who doesn’t speak Chinese, either. She has already travelled to some Asian countries but never been to China yet. The Chinese flavours stay with family Lin, though. “Oh, one of my father’s favourites”, says Mariana, pointing at a Chinese snack on the shelf.

There are over 170 nationalities who made Aarhus their home. They come from the East, the West, the North, and the South. When they unpack in Aarhus, the original place called “home” is far away. Nevertheless, they can still find spaces that help them trace their heritage and connect with their “homes” from their families’ stories. How far is the East to Mariana? And how far are those families’ roots to the expats in Aarhus?

The Lin family has never been totally separated from the “East”. “Uruguay is situated in the eastern bank of the Uruguay River, that is why we have been known as ‘the Orientals’ historically”, says Mariana. Half a century ago, the family Lin from the East was shipped across the ocean to “the Oriental”. Now, once again, the East is closer to Lin, here, in Jutland.

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