On The Big Island

Tamatave, Madagascar
March 27, 2001

Our airport experience at Antananarivo was a bit hairy and annoying. Cheuk had to play “fixer” guy again but we got through OK without having to pay any bribes. David is horizontally down and out with a nasty case of Montezuma’s Revenge. I guess I’m going solo as my own sound bitch for the day.

No one here speaks English. Everything is old, smelly and broken. The place plays like a worn out Tom Waits song on old scratchy vinyl. The infrastructure is as bad as its food.Soupe chinoise translates as “flies floating in wonton soup”. The impossibly low minimum wage makes exploitation, corruption and a “parallel service sector” inevitable.

The heat here makes Mauritius a child’s play. We each take a pousse pousse through the dusty pothole booby-trapped roads to Boulevard Joffre. We meet Mrs. Chan, our potential subject and boss lady of Restaurant Cantonnais. I immediately fell in love with her funky noodle shack full of frontier flavour. She is also a tough little old Chinese lady who I can picture throwing out any bad ass that might dare to give her any trouble.

But unfortunately she is throwing us out. Somewhere along the line, she’s decided to have nothing to do with the film or us and there was nothing anybody can do to change her mind. But she was kind enough to re-direct us to another Mrs. Chan at Restaurant Le Jade. I was nonetheless disappointed to miss out on an opportunity to film her.

Two Malagasy kids
Two Malagasy kids

With David down and losing our story, we head back to escape the afternoon heat after lunch at Hotel Joffre. We pick up some street ambient along the way. Our shooting time here is limited by the extreme heat and sun. We only have so many tolerable hours in the morning and less into the early evening after the heat dies down before we lose the light. We’ll have to make tonight an earlier exception so we don’t miss the kids at the local Chinese school.

Many of the teachers are Métis. All the kids were Métis as far as I can tell. I film a couple of classes in action. The kids are extremely well disciplined and smart. I was really impressed by how they have retained the culture including the language skills. I film some of the older children writing their names skillfully in beautiful Chinese calligraphy on the chalkboard. It makes me ashamed for slacking off and forgetting most of mine after leaving Asia… in my exile.

We are going around in circles this morning looking for Le Jade. This particular part of town doesn’t seem to have any signs. With everything closed, it’s like being in the twilight zone, impossible to remember landmarks. We eventually stumble upon it by chance just before lunch. I’m famish.

After getting thrown out by the other Mrs. Chan, Cheuk is a little bit more gun shy this time. We’re spending a lot of time massaging the situation before dropping the bomb. It wasn’t until after lunch… then dinner… before Cheuk asked Mrs. Chan about shooting there. We didn’t roll any tape until the next day.