Letters from the dorm: A taste of Asia in Britain

Letters from the dorm: A taste of Asia in Britain

I recently attended the most talked about college event of the year. The Candlemas Ball means a great deal to members of St Chad’s College at DurhamUniversity - and not only because it gives us a reason to dress up. It is an annual tradition which dates back to 1956.

It is taken so seriously that a special committee is appointed each year to organise it. What makes Candlemas so exciting is that the theme is revealed only a week in advance.

You would never guess what this year’s theme was. The moment I was told, my stomach churned: Far-Eastern Fantasies.

Don’t get me wrong. As a Hong Kong-born Chinese, I am extremely proud of my roots. What I cringe about is when Westerners misrepresent the very customs I hold dear.

The menu read as expected: crab wonton, spring rolls, chicken wings and roasted duck. I was ready for a display of “Asian” culture.

In the run-up to the actual ball, I saw Pokémon posters on the walls. There were also pieces of card with the names of Macau’s casinos. I found it amusing because I could understand the Chinese writing. I still had doubts about the theme, but it was unfair to blame my college friends; many simply do not know much about Asian culture. Still, it upset me to see these Asian stereotypes on display.

But as it is my final year at Durham, I decided to go along with these “Asian fantasies”. I put on my sparkly blue gown (I didn’t have my qipao, unfortunately) and launched myself into the ball.

As I entered the college ground with my friends, I found myself drawn to a stunning red dragon hanging down from the ceiling. And as I was walking around an Oriental-themed college that evening, I found it funny to see a sushi bar in the Senior Common Room. And I couldn’t hide my smirk when I saw Mulan being played in the college chapel.

This year’s Candlemas Ball displayed the Asian stereotype. But it was actually highly entertaining and I had a great night! 

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