I have become like my parents where, when I’m in a city in some other part of the world, I have to visit Chinatown, if there is one. In case you were wondering, Chinese roast duck looks and tastes the same just about everywhere — London, Paris, Vancouver, Manchester, and after this weekend, Liverpool.

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Since England has sort of become my second home it feels important to learn about the Chinese immigrant experience here.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Chinese immigrants came to work the seaport as longshoremen. They established associations as support centers for Chinese people arriving in England. These associations would help one get on his feet by finding him housing and employment. They were also social centers, as associations were made up of people from the same provinces who spoke the same dialect. The See Yep Association in Liverpool is made up of four counties from the province of Guangdong, where both sides of my family originated.

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Chinatowns are all more or less the same to me, but my visit to Liverpool was rather significant. My grandfather immigrated here before bringing back my grandmother from China to live here. I wonder if my grandfather, who died long before my mother was even married, ever went to this association, or “gung soh.” I stepped into the hallway but all I heard was the sound of mah jong tiles from upstairs.

According to her birth certificate, in 1940 my Scouse mum was born in this building on Derby Lane, about five miles from Chinatown:

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It’s a medical office now, but it was a cafe with living quarters above, where my mother and her family lived. My grandfather wasn’t a longshoreman but owned and operated the cafe below.

My mom remembers my grandma going across the street to fetch meat pies and recalls that the aroma was the best thing. I didn’t see any pasty or pie shops around. Just houses, take aways and hair salons.

It felt strange to retrace my Liverpudlian history, when I never experienced any of it myself.

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