In-depth finale: reflection

The in-depth topic for this year was Chinese Johannesburg.

After the announcement of the essay topic I felt eager to explore this community where few human interest feature stories emerging from it had been told by the mainstream South African media. My group was given the topic Culture and community and this excited me further as I thought this would be the theme that could really make room for writing and telling a multimedia story with a lot of colour in it.

In this essay I will reflect my insights from the past four weeks. The paper will be divided into two main sections of my in-depth project: multimedia and written feature. In each section I will discuss the challenges, strategies and some triumphs. My conclusion will summarise my personal reflections from the two main focus areas in my essay.


Written feature

On the first day the guest speakers gave us a good sense of some of the history of the Chinese community in Johannesburg. The content of the presentations by the speakers helped to frame some possible stories and angles that could be told by the class.

After the presentations, I went home to think of some possible ideas for a compelling story. I had to focus on a story that could be told in the given time frame realistically. This is a list of my original feature ideas: the adaptation of Chinese culture as a survival strategy for easier assimilation, Chinese school, immigrant youth and sub-cultures exclusive to South African immigrants.

The class trip to new Chinatown in Cyrildene was the event that narrowed my feature ideas to one story. Before lunch at the Northern food restaurant, we walked along Derrick Avenue in groups. The group that I had walked with first headed towards the North of Derrick avenue to see the arch and to take some pictures. On our way back, I bought some fruit at the fruit and vegetable shop that was close to the arch.

I met Peter there whose mother owns this fruit and vegetable shop in Cyrildene.  I asked him about the Chinese school and whether he attended it. He said that the Chinese school no longer existed and that he attended another school in Lyndhurst. Before I met him, I had Googled the Chinese school and an address in Bramley Park appeared. I had planned to go to the school on Friday after pitching our ideas to our mentor that morning.

I was a bit confused after Peter told me the school no longer existed as the address on Google made me assume that the Chinese school still existed. I asked him how old he was and he said 19. He told me he was in grade eleven and struggled at school because of language. I could tell from our conversation that he was not the most comfortable with English. Because we did not have too much time and I wanted to talk to him properly, I took his number to meet with him again. He agreed.

When I pitched my story on the Friday, I had pitched doing a story on the Chinese school.  My plan was to arrange an interview with someone at the school and hoped to find an interesting angle from this interview.

After I had shared my story idea with my group, I planned my events for the day and weekend. After the pitch Ray and I went to the school. It was school holidays and none of the staff were back that day. I found that Peter was correct in that there was no longer a Chinese school, only a Sandtonview school. I called Maureen Lok Fat from the Chinese association whose portfolio is Community and school. She confirmed that there was no longer a Chinese school but a new school. This prompted me to uncover what happened to the school and how its disappearance affected the children of new immigrants like Peter for example.

During the first week I had been contacting the GDE, Lok Fat and Erwin Pon the head of the Chinese association to understand the story behind what happened to the school.


One of the aspects of the project I had battled with initially was whether I was expected to write a story that was more of a slice of life, whether I was expected to stick to a news feature rather than a profile, or whether I should do more of an investigative piece where I tried to find a story that uncovered an issue.

When I expressed this issue to some of the mentors I was told that I could do either.  What I did know was that I was interested in focusing on a human interest story that had never been told before.

An ongoing challenge throughout the project was language. In the first week when I was looking for more immigrants to share their stories of where their children were to school, language was a big obstacle.

Another hurdle was trust. Most of the guest speakers shared that the Chinese community, particularly the newer immigrants would be the most reluctant to talk about their personal stories. Particularly with my human interest angle, in order for me to adequately tell a rich story, I would need my sources to trust me and feel comfortable with sharing personal details with me. This was incredibly challenging.

Another main challenge throughout my project involved the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE). The GDE first interpreted my inquiry as me asking them for permission to conduct research design at their school which wasted a few days on their side. The bureaucratic nature of the GDE contributed to everything take longer than needed. At the end of my project they responded on the second last day with only a few sentences as comment.

Strategies and triumphs

A strategy that I used to gain initial access with sources was to learn a few key phrases in Mandarin. The community responded better when spoken to in Mandarin first than English. Toward the end of the first week, Ray discovered Google translate as a tool to assist us with communication. This worked with resounding success.

For access into the immigrant population I would start by contacting bodies that were likely to talk to me such as the Chinese Association who assisted in giving me more information and tips on how and where to find more sources.



For multimedia my initial idea was to report on the underground Sudoku pub scene in Johannesburg. I thought it would be great for video as there would be great visual opportunity to film with this topic.

As my story concerning education began to emerge in my first week, I thought of focusing on language and education in my multimedia too. One of our first speakers Dr Moyo told us about the South African Police Service (SAPS) learning Mandarin. When I went to the CPF in the first week as a strategy to find more immigrants, they invited me to film the police in their lesson.


Getting sources who were willing to go on the record either on sound, photo or video was difficult. Most of the Chinese community were reluctant to be on camera. Getting permission to film at some locations was also a hurdle that stagnated the production process. What further crippled production in terms of permission was if no permission was granted, I had less time to come up with a solution.


Strategies and triumphs

The police story was great for my video and everyone was incredibly co-operative. This story also eventually revealed the issue of the SAPS targeting the Chinese community which allowed me to dig deeper and change my angle for the better.

Convincing sources to tell their stories for the purpose of South Africans to know their plight helped immensely.  This managed to help sources want to tell their story. The Wits language students responded the best with this strategy.


Going into the project I underestimated the extent to which language would be such a barrier.  It forced me to realise the difficulties I will face when I work as a journalist in the future when English or isiZulu are not spoken by sources.  The project forced me to reflect on my own and the national psyche concerning the Chinese community.  Throughout the project when I interviewed South Africans who were not of Chinese descent, it became more apparent that there was still a lot of discrimination and prejudice towards the Chinese community. At the end of it I have learnt a lot about not fixating on getting a story I want but letting a story unveil itself. I have also learnt to adapt to situations and not dwell on changes and not see them as failures but rather as opportunities to enhance the story.  I hope that my story will encourage readers to empathise and reflect on their own potentially problematic opinions with this forgotten demographic.


End of the century: The story of the Ramones

Last night after I handed in my draft, I watched the documentary of the story of the Ramones band.

I have always been a fan of the band. I even had the t-shirt once before it disappeared from the laundry room when I was in residence.

I had always known that there was conflict within the band. I remember in psychology that the example that was often given to describe a temperamental person was a member of a rock band. It would be surprising if there was no conflict at all.  But I was not aware of the quarrels that caused such a rift in the band until I watched this documentary.

Overall, it is incredibly sad that the Ramones were the catalyst of a whole movement of the punk rock scene. After they were the original band who came up with this sound, all the major bands that borrowed their aesthetic had multiple number one hits and had major success such as the Sex pistols and Blondie.

Sadly the Ramones never got that prestige or commercial success. What brought me to tears after the doccie crescendo’d with emotion they showed the scene about Joey (the lead singer’s death). Joey died of cancer. The film goes into detail about how much of  a fighter he was.  He did not believe that he was going to die to the extent that Joey refused to have the pipes doewn his throat to feed him four days before he died because he still believed that he was going to live.

Joey really is a hero and maverick. He really was a voice and symbol of the voiceless and those who are mocked in life. After being such an outcast for most of his life, he shone the torch through his music and performances to remind everyone to be yourself and not change for anyone. RIP Joey. You are one my heros!

Multimedia inspiration

Today was spent eagerly anticipating the reply from the GDE that was promised. Sadly none emerged. I doubt I will receive anything before tomorrow. Sniff.

Most of my draft that was due for Fred today was complete, it was just lacking this comment. In between checking my email, phoning the GDE and editing my draft I was watching a few documentaries for inspiration for multimedia.

Here is a short one that I watched today:

Over the weekend I finally watched Exit through the Gift Shop which was directed by the famous artist Banksy. I thought as a documentary directed by an artist that it could inspire the video I must make for in-depth.

Here is the trailer:

The movie is focused on a shop keeper who eventually evolves into an artist himself. Banksy who directed the film inspired the man to become an artist himself. The documentary touches on the influence of Banksy on the world.

Banksy’s art is anti-war and anti-establishment. All his works have a broader theme that comment on social and political issues.

Hence I decided to watch it as it relatively relates to my multimedia which aims to deal with integration a social and political concept.

Shandu and I went to Dinesh to check whether maps would work with our topics. Dinesh agreed that they would. After having read the chapter yesterday on Chinese schools in Colour, Confusion and Confessions I learnt of the trail of the Chinese school in Johanneburg and how it eventually became one school. I will map out the different areas it travelled before it landed in Bramley Park. Dinesh shared that youtube has some Google map tutorials. I will be studying those tonight.

Xie Xie for reading my post!  Onwards and upwards!


October 5 2013: Finale

October 4 2013: Xingqwu

October 3 2013: Xing qi si

October 2 2013: China Mall tour

October 1 2013: Yitian liang

Lots and lots of editing, cake and an assertive phone call

Today I sent the entire day at the department. The closest thing to me leaving the building before home-time was when we went to the parking in the basement to help carry items upstairs.

It was our super lecturer Dinesh‘s birthday and she spoilt us rotten with yummy treats. (Thank you Dinesh!!!)

The sugar-rush which followed was just what I needed to focus on the load of editing and reflection that was done today.

I first went through all the multimedia that I have up until this point. I realised that for a six minute video I probably had most of my footage. I am going to meet Lisa Keyser on Thursday to record her insight on the prejudices and challenges of the Chinese community in China mall.

I also had a stern phone conversation with the folk at the GDE.

have completely succeeded at forwarding me to most of their staff and ‘promising’ to get back to me only to send me to somebody else the next day. I also found out that the “technical glitch” that they referred to for four days was someone (who is not even from the department) who they were going to use for comment. I found out that this expert was a former teacher and the glitch was that she “apparently” did not pick up after trying to call her twice ON A CELLPHONE NUMBER.

So, after that I asked for her number myself and she picked up.

I was told today that they misunderstood that I needed official comment and that I will get it tomorrow. This is after about a double-digit number of emails I sent that explained from the initial message that this is what I had requested from them all along.

In between assertive phone calls and munching on yummy cake I was editing my next feature for Fred. I sent it to three of my classmates for their assistance. I then spent time editing and amending my draft from their comments.

I really enjoyed the whimsical parts of the day such as singing happy birthday multiple times and looking through fellow classmate pictures from the Bronkhorstspruit temple that they went to view today.

I spent most of the evening reading Colour, Confusion and Confessions by Melanie Yap and Dianne Man. Their chapter on the history of education of the Chinese community really helped me with final multimedia brainstorming.


October 5 2013: Finale

October 4 2013: Xingqwu

October 3 2013: Xing qi si

October 2 2013: China Mall tour

October 1 2013: Yitian liang

Producer cap on

Today was spent predominantly by me amending my next draft to send through to Fred.

I have two intros that I have to choose from. Both would work. the one is focused on an individual where the other is focused on a scene setter. This is one example of the multiple areas of conflict within my feature. Thankfully we were given a week to fix ours stories. Hew!

In the late afternoon Shandu, Prelene and I headed to Cyrildene for some cut-aways for the multimedia.

I also had a meeting with my sources. Two of them have finally agreed for me to film them at school as long as their faces are not seen. I am relieved. I have one more obstacle to this … permission from the school. My experience so far is that when you tell the institution that you are a journalist, immediately folk get cagey. Then I add that I am a student journalist they warm up and become less anxious. Very interesting psychosocial reactions.

Today was all-in-all productive. We managed to get nice shots of Cyrildene for our shotties for next week.

October 5 2013: Finale

October 4 2013: Xingqwu

October 3 2013: Xing qi si

October 2 2013: China Mall tour

October 1 2013: Yitian liang

Police Academy

I went back yesterday to get some more footage for my multimedia. Luckily for me the inspector popped in to make sure that everyone was there I managed to get a nice interview with him for my multimedia. Hurrah.

Busi and I also finally got to film a bit at the language school. However they were not in the language lab today and might not ever be again because their course ends on Monday. Sigh. Tomorrow will be our third try at the language school. Hopefully we won’t be out by the third strike.

October 5 2013: Finale

October 4 2013: Xingqwu

October 3 2013: Xing qi si

October 2 2013: China Mall tour

October 1 2013: Yitian liang

An empty newsroom

I know this is grin and grabby as our photography lecturer TJ Lemon would say, but hey I think it captures a moment of sort. Photo: Nolwazi Mjwara

This is what I came to this morning in the journalism lab. Then Funi my neighbour came and I felt a bit better. Photo: Nolwazi Mjwara


I know this is grin and grabby as our photography lecturer TJ Lemon would say, but hey I think it captures a moment of sort. Photo: Nolwazi Mjwara

This morning I rushed to school to meet a classmate for an interview. I arrived to an empty newsroom. The only thing that was missing was tumbleweed to complete the scene.

It seems that everyone was out on the field, considering that today was the third last day before the end of research.

Thankfully Funi came later and I had a neighbour again.

I was all prepared for my shoot today at the Wits language school. I had al my shots and questions ready.

I even arrived 30 minutes earlier to mingle with my sources a bit during lunch.

Then I was told that I could only film tomorrow as today there would not be much to film.

Slightly disheartened, I deliberately parked by the Origins centre to pass the South West engineering building where the Migration studies department resides.

I managed to get some assistance regarding figures as Fred suggested that I need figures on the growth of the population.

I went to the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits and they put me into contact with a guest who spoke at one of their seminars. I have emailed her today and awaiting a response from her.

Busi was generous enough to share another academic source with her this afternoon. Ben Scully from the sociology department helped by giving us areas which we could expand on for a real in-depth story.

Busi the angel also invited me to another source who attended the Chinese school: Howard. He helped a great deal with further contextualising the story and sharing how the Chinese school helped him when his parents moved Here.

Here is a video of him sharing his favourite moments from his time at the school.

Howard and Busi for president!

This is Howard who shared his memories of being at the Chinese school. Photo: Nolwazi

This is Howard who shared his memories of being at the Chinese school. Photo: Nolwazi




October 5 2013: Finale

October 4 2013: Xingqwu

October 3 2013: Xing qi si

October 2 2013: China Mall tour

October 1 2013: Yitian liang