With my interviewee demographic and target audience narrowed down, I began looking into the broader context of East & Southeast Asian diasporic subjecthood, particularly in the past two years. Perhaps more than hard facts, however, I relied immensely on my own lived experience as a queer Asian femme living in London throughout the pandemic:
To move beyond the more abstract conceptions of resilience, however, I began researching the histories of the Chinese diaspora in London, who first arrived in the late 18th century as indentured labourers employed by the East India Company. However, as anticipated, much of what I could learn about this subject relied on anecdotes and popular culture:
Of more contemporary accounts, the most frequently cited resource is Timothy Mo's 1982 novel, Sour Sweet, which follows the tribulations of Chen, a Hong Kongnese immigrant, and his wife, who have been living in London for four years- “long enough to have lost their place in their society from which they had emigrated but not long enough to feel comfortable in the new.” Most notably, Chen works 72-hour weeks as a waiter in a restaurant just off Gerrard Street, amid a “complex of travel agencies, supermarkets, fortune tellers, quack acupuncturists and Chinese cinema clubs.” Gerrard Street now boasts London's bustling Chinatown, which sent me down a more contemporary path in my research. It came as no surprise that much of the recent reporting on Chinatown revolved around the impact of COVID-19. The story of Soho's oldest Chinese restaurant, Yming, which closed its doors after 35 years, was particularly arresting:
Despite boasting an array of household names as loyal customers, Yming shut down in November 2021, testifying to the impact that COVID-19 has had on Chinatown. Reading these stories further urged me to encompass a wide cross-section of the demographic, particularly in terms of generational status. Furthermore, it made me reflect further on how the cookbook might directly benefit the community and its businesses. London's Chinese Community Centre, founded by Yming's owner Christine Yau over 40 years ago, could serve as a key collaborator for the cookbook.
I then diverted my attention back to the overarching goal of this project- to preserve and uplift the intricacies and resilience Asian diasporic foodways in a tangible form. I located a number of existing projects that helped narrow down both the conceptual and aesthetic aspects of my work:
I then mapped out an initial list of key collaborators and partners, alongside a rough timeline: