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A Wealth of Culture The culture of Papua New Guinea in the timeline

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Old 12-02-2004, 03:18 PM
***aCe*** ***aCe*** is offline
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The early beginnings of China town in PNG

THE relationship between China and Papua New Guinea can be traced back into the early colonial days even before any bilateral trade agreements were signed between the heads of the two countries.

The relationship began informally perhaps in the early 1900’s at Matupit island in East New Britain province which was then under German administration.

Here on a strip of land between Matupit village and the then Rabaul yacht club rose the first China town in Rabaul, recalls long time Chinese business man and naturalised PNG citizen Sir Ling James Seeto.

Back then the name was not China town but German village because everyone who lived there worked for the Germans.

The Chinese were first recruited into the country by the Germans to do carpentry work, build boats, plumbing and other menial work.

Sir Ling said at that time the Chinese were being recruited because they were the cheapest and reliable form of labour around.

There was such a big influx of Chinese that everything was in disorder.

In fact at that time there were about three to four thousand Chinese living in Rabaul, recalls Sir Ling.

Mr Lee Tam one of the Chinese recruits approached the German administration if he could set up a business at Malaguna and the land was granted to him.

Eventually, other Chinese began to settle near him and also set up their businesses and in this way having all Chinese together in one location gave way to the concept of China town.

A whole range of businesses activities sprouted from catering, kai bars and trade stores to other businesses.

Sir Ling who is one of the third generations in PNG was born in 1930 and grew up with the other children in China town.

The first China town was a shanty town with the houses built out of corrugated iron, cardboard boxes and timbers.

Now having their new homes and businesses in the country, the Chinese became a part of PNG and were not exempted from experiencing invasions and the rule of colonial powers like the rest of the country.

The Chinese survived German administration before WWI, and then Australian administration after WWI.

Then when WWII came around, the Chinese had to endure the Japanese who had invaded Rabaul and secured it as their strong hold.

After WWII they once again came under the rule of Australians.

Prior to WWI the Chinese worked for the Germans. The Germans did not interfere with the Chinese and how they lived and set up their homes and businesses in China town.

Then WWI came and Australia and Great Britain with their allies went to war against the Germans. The Germans were defeated and as part of the Versailles treaty, they had to hand over all their colonies.

Rabaul came under Australian administration and while the Chinese continued to live there, the Germans were now displaced.

The Australians saw how disorganised the place was (China town) and approached Mr Lee or Atam as he was popularly called by the people if they could give the place some sense of order.

In return they gave Atam a plantation in New Ireland called ‘Lakakot.’

The Australians then surveyed the area, subdivided it and gave out leases to the people who then built their houses and business in an orderly fashion.

Then WWII struck. The Chinese people were left to face the Japanese soldiers. Meanwhile the Australians were getting on ships and leaving Rabaul.

The Japanese invaded Rabaul in 1943 and took the Chinese as prisoners of war.

"For one week they retained us in their camp and later released us. They relocated us to Ratongnor which is about seven km on the north coast and here we built shanty towns and lived there for the duration of the war,” recalled Sir Ling.

The Japanese soldiers were friendly and invited the little children to their camps to watch movies, gave them drinks and treated them like their own children.

“They were okay as long as we obeyed them and bowed down when they approached us,” said Sir Ling.

After WWII and the Japanese defeated, the Australians resumed control over Rabaul.

A second China town arose. The Australian administration took over a plantation near Matupit. They graded the road and built huts. The Chinese resettled there and it became known as the Matupit farm.

The farm was subdivided into a proper town in the 1950’s.

This is where the China town remained until the volcanic eruption in1993 which wiped out the whole township of Rabaul.

Sir Ling said they never realised that they were different until they returned to China.

“In 1974, I returned to Hong Kong and found it really difficult to understand their Cantonese and likewise they did not understand my Cantonese.

“So we became very different to our Chinese culture and the accent. For all our lives growing up in PNG meant that we were placed between the white man and yellow man.

“We are different and after 100 years of living in PNG we don’t know much about our own culture and traditions,” said Sir Ling.

The Chinese like the Papua New Guineans were also segregated from the Australians and British. They were not allowed to mix around with the white people or go to their shops and their schools.

Since they were not allowed to mix around with others, the Chinese courted and married those who lived in China town. “So everyone was more or less related to each other,” said Sir Ling.

The Chinese were also not allowed to go to Port Moresby and needed visas if they were to travel there.

In 1956 they were then allowed to move into Port Moresby. Sir Ling came to Port Moresby in 1965 and now owns renowned businesses such as Lings Freezers and the Kwila Insurance office.

The Chinese who grew up in China town became naturalized PNG citizens.

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Old 14-02-2004, 11:22 AM
Steven Mago Steven Mago is offline
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PNG Chinese and the Rabaul Connection

Hi there,

Just read the very interesting account of the history of PNG's Chinese and their hardships, struggles and challenges over the years since the German colonisation. I am always interested in the history of my country and this is one piece of historical account by Sir Ling James Seeto that has broaden my knowledge of my country.

I am from Matupit Island and I grew up in the late 60s at a time when the PNG or rather Rabaul-Chinese influence and presence was at its best. I knew the days of China Town and Malay Town and the Ambonese Club, the Quamintang (excuse my spelling), Atam and the list goes on.

The memories of a unique aroma of chinese food is very much alive and vivid in my mind; at around 6pm everyday, you would drive through Matupit Farm and Malay Twon and you would be totally overwhelmed by the sweet aroma of Chinese food.

There would be grand of Chinese ladies and men walking the streets, saying hellow to their Tolai wantoks selling buai outiside the Chinese shops, others riding bicycles, others chatting over the hibiscus edges while the rest would be doing the everyday things that ordinary folks do on a normal day.

The Rabaul "bung" or market every Saturday was always a hive of activity, more like theatre and there would be an abundance of Chinese vegetables, many of which I still don't know the names of, and freshly-picked flowers grown in the Burma Road area towards Navunaram, and specially sold to the Europeans and Chinese. This was Rabaul that is only in my memory.

This was PNG at its different best and a far cry and two worlds apart and away from the PNG and Rabaul that I know today. There used to be Palms Theatre for the Europeans and there was also the native theatre for the "natives" at the time like me and my father, the good old Mr. Mago used to take me to the native theatre to watch old black and white movies and at times, he would sneak me into the European theatre, with the assistance of now deceased Bernard Gangloff, a Chinese/German/Rabaul relative of my father's who was married to Mona.

Then there was the Chinese "Old People's Home", whose equivalent today would be the "nursing homes" in Australia where you would find grand old Chinese men and women who were placed there by their children and relative.

I now realise the rich and colorful history that surrounds Rabaul and I am today even more proud to be a Tolai and to have lived through the later part of the good years; a time when the PNG-born Chinese lived in perfect harmony with their Tolai wantoks as "barturana (s)", brothers and there was not feeling of animosity.

At the time, everyone lived and got alone very well and there was no distinction of color. At the time, everyone was a Tolai, a Papua New Guinean and everyone respected each other.

Thank you for bringing back the good memories of my early years.

Steven Mago
Matupit Islander
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Old 15-02-2004, 01:58 PM
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I havent quite got the same story as Steven to tell...but having arrived in Lae in the early 1970's, I recall many a chinese shop.

China town was well and truly established and trade stores were everywhere.

I can clearly remember Chandra and his sister Ileana arriving from Indonesian and as they say the rest is history. Chandra has many different companies now ie Papindo, Haus Bilas just to name a couple and Ileana went sideways into property; hairdressing; leasing shops; shipping and must own a fair amount of land and property in the Port Moresby area. Like the puk puk building in Boroko...the SVS centre near 2 mile.....the Plaza Guest House building in Waigani Drive near the car club and much much more.

James Seeto I remember well as I used to play tennis with his daughter Belinda Seeto and of course Cedric Chee my husband's employer for over 14 years. The airline company was first known as Chee Air and later as Morobe Airways. I remember Mr Chee telling me what it was like for the chinese community during the war when they were all rounded up and put in a camp in Rabaul. He told how horrible it was and how they all felt at the time. I think this too made them all stronger and able to succeed when in fact the war finished.

I ran a video library in Lae for many years and my partners were Chandra and Cedric Chee. I did the work and they took 50% of the profits. It did buy me a cute little yellow car and for me back then it made me very happy not to have to drive around in a bomb anymore.

I can still recall a young man by the name of Wayne Golding and his lovely wife Pat. Wayne at the time used to work in the office for Seeto Kui. He remarked to me one day that he was heading for stardom and would leave Seeto Kui and start his own business. That same Wayne is now in his own right a very successful businessman and the President of the Manufacturers Council of PNG.

The saying in Lae back in those days was that Seeto Kui owned half the properties in Lae and Harry Pelgen owned the other half... Harry was married to a chinese lady and she used to have the biggest diamond on her finger punching away at the cash register whilst pregnant with another child. I can picture the children in the shop attending to their various duties.

One funny thing I can definitely remember.....one day I popped home from work. My son Nathan who was around 4 at the time came running out and said....mummy there are chinese in the cupboard. He grabbed me by the hand and led me into a bedroom in the house.....YES THERE WERE THREE TEENAGE CHINESE BOYS IN THE CUPBOARD. Seems they were visiting the house one would assume trying to court my teenage daughter Cheree. When they heard my car coming they got scared and ran and jumped into the cupboard. I can still picture their frightened faces when I OPENED THE CUPBOARD....haha

I can recall many a time playing tennis at the Tennis Courts in China Town and mixing with the many chinese residents of Lae. They had names like 'Lucky Soo'!

Jim Seeto was always a little different to the other chinese as he would mix socially with us aussies and would play a game of golf and his children as I said played tennis and also mixed with the expatriate community. My husband and I attended Belinda's wedding in Lae.

Other chinese seem to keep to themselves and except for a wedding or out at a restaurant, we never saw much of them as they were I guess always working building up their businesses. The saying was once they had eaten they would always depart and go home. It was very true...home they went.....not once do I recall seeing them hang around and drink the night away like the average aussie.

Chinese New Year would always go off with a BANG and the many chinese crackers would hang from every chinese store in town.

A lot of the chinese could still not speak good english back in those days and I can recall our neighbour one day yelling out to the guy next door.... SLOW THE MUSIC DOWN, SLOW THE MUSIC DOWN....

what do you think this aussie did....YES, he TURNED IT UP!!!
In fact back then to most trade store owners it was far better to communicate in pidgin which 90% of people could speak in the 70's including the aussies.

I can still recall being told how Eriku gots its name. Someone once mentioned that it came about because of Eric Woo......somehow the translation got interpreted into ERIKU.

On the Gold Coast if any of you ever drive around the streets of Runaway Bay you will think you are back in Lae. I believe a chinese person from PNG developed this area and named all the streets after streets in Lae.

I can still remember my husband bringing home a red envelope with his yearly bonus inside.....

The many beaufiful chinese restaurants that were in Lae in those days makes my mouth water just thinking about them. I am pretty sure thats where I got hooked on 'Sweet & Sour Chicken' to this day. And the pork buns.....mmmmhhh nice. Fortunately, the likes of the Grand Palace here in Port Moresby now have them on their weekend menu.

My Uncle married a chinese lady by the name of Doreen from Rabaul and I now have four chinese mixed raced cousins. Back in the 50's I used to have fun explaining to my fellow school friends how I came across my chinese cousins when they would arrive down from PNG for their 3 months holiday every 18 months.

My children got used to eating chinese sweets that Mrs Betty Chee would give them so much so even today when I am heading south, they will ask for Ginger and salty plums! I always found salty plums really bitter but my children loved them!

How about anyone else out there reading this....do you too have a story to tell about the chinese community of PNG.
Gail Thomas
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