摘要：Michaela Pelican, Junior Professor (Assistant Professor), University of Cologne,Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology Albertus-Magnus-Platz, came to Ban Han Street, Guangzhou to conversate with Li Dong about the picture at July and Augest, 2014.
CONVERSATION WITH LIDONG ABOUT HIS PICTURES
by Michaela Pelican
Li Dong started taking pictures about Africans in Guangzhou in 2011. At the time, he was hanging out in Xiaobei, but took pictures while sitting in stores. He realized that it was difficult to work with Africans, and so he turned to a different project on handicapped children and children abandoned by their parents. Then he started taking pictures of migrants. When getting very familiar to the area and also the people – migrants and foreigners – he turned back to taking pictures of Africans. He was working on the migrant project most of 2011 up to 2013, but at the same time, he was gradually developing links with the African community. A key moment was in late 2012 when his friend who runs a clothes and umbrella repair place, Mr. Li, introduced him to an African man from Angola. Then, Li Dong concentrated on the African community project and rented a 5m2 apartment to live in Bao Han StFrom Mar, 2013. Later, Li Dong became friends with his neighbour from Sudan. These and other people introduced him to the daily life of Africans in Baohan Street. He printed out some of his photographs on A4 and gave them to the people with whom he had developed a closer relationship.
Series 1: Sergio and Mr. and Ms. Wang
Sergio asked the owner of the repair place, if he could rent the sewing machine for some time to sew his own clothes. The owner agreed and later called Li Dong, telling him that there is an African person in his shop, if he wanted to meet him. This is how the relationship started. Li Dong came and was able to take some pictures of Sergio sewing his clothes. Sergio is a very friendly person who has good relations with Chinese people. Even though he does not speak Chinese, he uses his body language and his smile. At the time, he has already stayed in Guangzhou for 3 years, and as Mr. and Ms. Wang told Li Dong, he is still around. Sergio used to buy cheaply made clothes and improve on their quality, e.g. the hemlines. That is why he used to go to the repair shop to do that finishing work.
Li Dong was also able to visit Sergio in his home. At the time, Sergio was having an import-export company and renting an apartment that was used both as on office and a home for himself and his African shop assistant. His apartment included an office space with a computer and TV, a bed room and a room for the assistant. Li Dong visited Sergio twice, but when next he passed by, Sergio hade moved somewhere else.
Sergio’s story is closely linked to the story of Mr. and Ms. Wang. They are rural migrants who came to Guangzhou some 20 years ago. Mr. Wang is from Hunan province, the wife from Hubei. They met in Jingzhou where the husband got a job. They worked there for a few years and then moved to Guangzhou. At the beginning, Mr. Wang was working in building and construction work, laying and repairing floors (artisan), being employed in a company. Ms Wang was also working in the same company, assisting other workers (as a runner, errand girl). When they moved to Guangzhou, they were both working in a clothes factory. After being cheated by the boss, they changed to a different clothes factory, but had the same experience. So they decided to become independent and have their own shop. The husband taught himself using the internet, and as he is a skilful artisan/handyman, he learned to repair things, such as umbrellas, shoes, clothes etc. While the wife is working in the shop, the husband is sitting outside in the street with his small stall. They work and also live in their store, where they have a tiny room in the back. Their son, who is already 20 years old, was trained as a hairdresser. He has started his own life and is working in Huadu Section of Guangzhou, one hour driving away here.
Series 2: Monem
One of the themes that has captured Li Dong’s attention is the issue of (il)legality and the way the government is managing African migrants. He learned much about the difficulties of Africans in Guangzhou from Monem, his neighbour in Xiaobei, focusing on Baohan Jie (Baohan street).
Monem is from Sudan. He came to Dubai on the invitation of his elder brother who has stayed in China for 8 years and runs an export company. Monem made friends with Li Dong and they went to the Canton Fair together (April 17, 2013). Monem was particularly interested in construction equipment and generators. At the Canton Fair they checked out the Senpoo generators, and Li Dong also showed him pictures of a construction site of luxury hotel that he was to supply with furniture from his company. On April 21 they visited the mosque and Li Dong observed them praying. Later, in the evening, Monem took Li Dong to a Sudanese restaurant around Xiaobei where they met his brother. While the brother is good in English and also speaks a little Chinese, Monem’s English is broken, but they got along with each other very well. The last meeting was in May at Monem’s apartment, just a weeks before Monem’s departure back to Sudan.
Monem invited Li Dong over to his place to take some pictures. He was together with his friend with whom he had been sharing the apartment for some time. As Monem was about to leave back Sudan next day, the friend had to look for a new place to stay, but was short of money. Monem asked Li Dong, if he could lend him 1000 RMB for his friend, just for a few days to get by. Unfortunately, Monem’s elder brother had gone out of town, otherwise he would have asked him. Li Dong explained that he could only borrow him 500 RMB at this moment. Monem gave him his brother’s business card and said that on Monday,two days later, his Boss-his brother will be back Guangzhou, Li Dong can call the phone to contact his brother, he would return the money to Li Dong. . Li Dong agreed and took the card, but never went to see the brother. He rather thought that this would give him the opportunity to reactivate the contact at a later stage when he might need it.
Also, Li Dong did not worry because he had met the elder brother at the Sudanese restaurant and had even taken pictures with him. Some days after Monem’s departure, Li Dong saw the friend passing in the street as he must have found a new place somewhere nearby. However, Li Dong did not talk to him and probably the friend did not notice him.
Because of the close relationship with Monem, when Li Dong got the information that Monem would be back Sudan for his new Visa, Li Dong proposed to borrow him a camera Canon G1X to take pictures back in Sudan of his family and friends and bring them back to Li Dong, when next he returns to China. But Monem told him, he would rather buy a camera by himself for his family and then bring the pictures. For Li Dong, this was a rather honest move, as Monem did not just take the camera and disappear. Maybe, he knew that he was not to come back. At the time, the landlady and Li Dong were wondering about Monem’s situation. While initially, Monem told LI Dong that he had been in China for 1 year, his passport only had a 2 month visit visa (as the landlady told Li Dong). They interpreted the situation in the way that the elder brother had brought Monem over to assist in the business, but Monem did not do well in business, and so when the visa was about to expire, he was sent back (in May 2013). LI Dong has never seen him again.
Monem also explained to LI Dong that to come to China, he spent 1600 USD for the roundtrip. He came to China with a tourist visa and stayed for 2 months. Now the visa was about to expire. He had bought some things and sent them back to sell, but was waiting for the money to be sent to him, so he could invest in renewing his visa. As this did not work out, he finally had to return.
Series 3: The police, 27.3.2013
When Li Dong got up in the morning at 10.30am, he heard some noise down in the alley, so he went down. This was just the second day after he had moved into the house. He met policemen encircling an African guy lying on the ground, and being surrounded by a group of on-lookers. He asked the store owner opposite of his house what was happening. He explained that this was a common scene, and that this boy was caught without a valid visa. Looking at the on-lookers’ facial expressions, Li Dong felt that they pitied the African guy who was taken away by the police in handcuffs.
Li Dong’s interpretation of the on-lookers emotions was also based on the story his landlady had told him another time. She explained that she felt pity for some of the Africans who came to stay in China with little money, and their visa expired. There was one case where a person jumped out of the window when the police pursued him. He did not die but injured his leg. They took him to the hospital, but because he had no money, he could not pay for the proper treatment and remained handicapped. The landlady was ashamed about the police’s harsh treatment of the African man.
Sometimes Chinese people were not happy with their African neighbours because they are noisy and loud. So they may ask the community police (auxiliary police) to come in to settle the matter. At the same time, the police may use this opportunity for random visa checks. Li Dong made an analogy with a cat and mouse game; meaning that some of the Africans (particularly those in an insecure position/without valid papers) are just like mice, hiding in the dark corners. Sometimes, they will go out to do their business, but they are very careful and alerted to the cat, that is the police. As soon as the police is in sight, they return back into their mouse whole, hiding from the police.
Series 4: Man reading Koran
The picture shows a man, looking up, very sensitive. For Li Dong this picture illustrates African people living in shock/fear about his visa situation.
The series was taken on the third day of his stay in Baohan (March 28, 2013), at 9pm. Li Dong went to the bridge near Xiaobei station and started taking a series of pictures in the underpath. He took random pictures of people shopping. He saw this man reading some books, focused on the book. Li Dong wanted to photograph him, but suddenly, there is some noise and the man was looking up. Li Dong took the photo. When he saw there was nothing, the man saw Li Dong, but Li Dong forgot his reaction.
For Li Dong, this picture illustrates the fear that African people have to live with regarding their visa situation. Maybe this picture is not about the visa problem. But because he did the research there, he came to understand that many feel so bad about the police coming to check their papers. Also, there are some 200,000 Africans in this area, and half of them are irregular. So, while this photo may be about a different issue, for Li Dong it reflects that apprehension of the police, visa control. To talk more about visa issues, we will turn back to Monem’s story, with whom Li Dong had a more indepth relationship.
Monem is a very honest, so he knew he had to return to his country in time. When the deadline to reture to get another vilid Visa is closer and closer, Monem become more and more frustrated .But there are other persons who are so smart. They know two ways of staying in China: First, when they reach China, they throw out their passport, and made decision to become a illegal immigration, that means they will play the game with police as mouse and cat. Other persons come to China in a legal way. They buy some goods, and export the goods to their home country. They are waiting for the money to come back so they can extend their visa to continue the business. But sometimes the money is not sent back in time and so they overstay their visa. LI Dong gives an example. There is an African man who stayed for 6 months. During the first four months, he gave the money to the landlady on time. But the last two months, the man could not pay in time. The landlady did not know about the situation. She had checked his visa at the beginning, and because it was valid for long, she did not worry and forget about it. In the fifth month, he paid later, in the sixth month, he did not pay at all. Then, someday, the police came into the building and randomly checked some people living in the building. (This does not mean that the landlady called the police). They just knocked the man’s door and he opened. Unfortunately, his visa had expired and the police took him to the police station. He was very unlucky. As he was an honest person, he just stayed in this place, not knowing what to do. Others when their visa expires, would just hide somewhere, so the police cannot catch them. But this man was too honest and did not know how to go about it. At the same time, the police asked the landlady to pay a fine of 5000 RMB because she had the responsibility to check her client’s visa. The landlady did not agree to pay the punishment fee to the police. Li Dong asked the landlady if she went to court to find out if it was her responsibility to pay the fine. The landlady said she did not get any money from the African. Li Dong does not know how the story ended.
Series 5: Men drinking in front of the shop (4.6.2013, 22h)
While in Baohan street, Li Dong noticed a shop popular by Africans sitting outside and drinking beer in the evening. So, he joined them from time to time, developing some contacts and taking pictures. One evening, he was there with two men, a Cameroonian who was a footballer and a second man who worked as a middleman, helping traders to buy goods.
The left man is Serge, a middleman who is helping traders to find certain shops. The shop owners will pay him some money for introducing customers to his shop, and he will also charge the African trader whom he is showing around. Serge is also doing some business with African traders who order goods through him. Serge is maybe from Cameroon or Nigeria, he has stayed for long, and knows the market. They spoke in English, but Li Dong does not know if the man also speaks Chinese. Because this man has stayed in China for long, he understands the situation and can mediate between the two sides.
His neighbour in the picture, the young man with a blue shirt is a footballer from Cameroon. The guy is an excellent performer. He told a story vividly to his African audience. Maybe the guy knew that Li Dong was taking pictures, so he may have used the opportunity to show his performative talent. Li Dong forgot the story, the guy was telling, but it was something about his recent experience in China. While the Cameroonian guy was a great performer, he was difficult to talk to. He did not really open up to Li Dong’s questions, so Li Dong focused on his performance, and took a series of photographs of him telling a story to his friends.
On a different picture of the series:
Sitting next to the footballer is also a man in a white shirt. He has stayed in Guangzhou for long. When Li Dong met him first in June 2013, the guy looked okay. But when he met him again in October, he looked so worn out, dirty, bad clothes. This man is very young and probably did not have a lot of experience of doing business. So he experienced that life is not easy. That’s Li Dong’s interpretation why he looked so worn out when he met him again. At first, the man agreed Li Dong to take his pictures, and Li Dong also gave him some prints. Later he no longer wanted to be photographed and said that Li Dong already had enough of his pictures. Li Dong did not develop a strong relationship with the guy, he just met him sometimes and took his photograph. But the person he was actually interested, was the middleman and another person who said he was a writer.
The writer Berd is from Cameroon and is a children’s book writer. He only speaks English, no Chinese. He may have told Li Dong more about his writing, but Li Dong did not understand. Because Berd is also an artist, he could understand Li Dong’s interest. And because he had some influence in the African community, he could assist LI Dong in his work. When they went together in a shop, for example, Berd would explain and mediate what Li Dong was doing. He also introduced some people, so Li dong could take their pictures.
When Berd first came to China, he was rich, but when he left, he seem poor. Last year June to August 2013, Li Dong met him in the street. After that, he did not meet him again. Maybe Berd moved to Foshan, because it is cheaper there to live. Li Dong came to know this man because he often saw him drinking beer late at night. Also Berd has close relations with Chinese sex workers and one of them has become his companion. For Chinese men, this lady was considered to be too big, but African customers appreciated her size, saying that she has an African body. Berd also asked Li Dong to take some pictures in the street, and commented that they show there is no nature in this area. 
Series 6: Johnson, the American
While hanging out in Baohan Street in the evenings, Li Dong met Johnson, an African-American teacher. Johnson also worked as a middleman from time to time, showing traders around places, connecting them with businesses, or giving advice referring to the American system. Even if Li Dong does not know so much about the person, the man was friendly to him and helped him take pictures.
Johnson is from the US. At first, Li Dong did not believe that the man is from the US. So he asked the landlady, and she confirmed because she saw the passport. Before Johnson came to China, he was a teacher. But seemingly he was an alcoholic and was fired by his school in America. Li Dong proposed to him that if he was a teacher, he could be working in a school/training centre teaching English to a class. But Johnson said, he preferred to teach students on a one-to-one basis. He did not want to do training class in China. Li Dong got the impression that the Africans respected him for being African-American, but maybe they did not really trust in him / believe him.
Li Dong sometimes asked Johnson to have some drinks together. So the man agreed, and Li Dong took some pictures of him, and also gave him some prints. Li Dong advised Johnson that he should also learn some Chinese. At first, the man did not want, but with time, he agreed and he bought a book with English and Chinese and started learning. Li Dong found out that the man is really poor, and is an alcoholic, hanging around the street. At first he told Li Dong, that this street was for poor Africans, he did not want here. But finally, he came to the landlady and rented a room. He used to come to Xiaobei and hang out, do some business with Africans there, export, but maybe he also got involved in shady dealings. Li Dong guessed that the man had stayed in China for 1-2 years, before he came to Baohan street.
During the time, Johnson was the only African-American the street. So other people thought that being an American was a different thing. Also he boasted that things were better in America, that the laws were different. That’s why other Africans looked up to him and said that he came from a more developed country and thus must know more. Also, he emphasized that he was African-American and thus well connected with the Africans and new their problems. The Chinese people did not believe that he was American because he was so poor, was drinking and hanging around the street. Also, the landlady told Li Dong that Johnson used to ask his family to send him money. At some point, he just disappeared and the landlady has never seen him again.
Zhou Yang and Michaela Pelican followed up on the contact of Monem’s elder brother Kathy. They went to the company, but it was no longer existent. They also tried the phone number (fix line), but only got an automated message indicating that the number was temporarily disabled, because the bills have not been paid. So, maybe the company has been dissolved only a few months ago. Also the new company looks like it is still new, not yet fully furnished. But there are no further leads of how to get in contact with Kathy.