Sunday, January 29, 2017

Kolkata born Chinese who migrated to Canada in 1970s is now representing Canada in the Bengal Global Business Summit

Kolkata born Chinese who migrated to Canada in 1970s is now representing Canada in the Bengal Global Business Summit

 | Jan 20, 2017

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KOLKATA: When Joe Li left Kolkata in 1974 he did not even have a high school degree. After more than four decades he is representing Canada in the Bengal Global Business Summit as a regional councillor from the City of Markham. For the Indian born Chinese lifehas come a full circle.

Li was born in the 1950s in the heart of the biggest settlement of Chinese in India nestled between Tiretti Market, Bentinck Street and BB Ganguly Street. He studied in sacred Heart School on Weston Street. The school exists till date. "I have memories of eating Biryani in Royal Indian Hotel and gorging on Chinese Breakfast near Tiretti Market," Li told TOI on the sidelines of the Bengal Global Business Summit at Milan Mela Ground on Friday.

When he was in the 10th standard, Li's friend sent him a picture of his place in Toronto. "I liked the place so much that I decided to migrate to Canada. Though my parents were against it I borrowed some money from my grandmother and started my journey," said Li who eventually took almost 10 years to reach Canada. "By a stroke of luck I landed up in Sweden where I worked for 10 years before reaching Canada," said Li.

Within a few years of reaching Canada, Li joined the Conservative Party of Canadabut electoral success eluded him till 2010 when he was elected a councillor from the City of Markham. "I started working on the trade links with India and China which brought me to Kolkata for the first time in 2010 after migrating," said Li. In 2012 when Li was a part of a business delegation to Gujarat, the then chief minister Narendra Modi had asked the mayor of the City of Markham about the Chinese in his team.


"Mayor told him that I was not a Chinese but an Indian. After hearing this Modiji turned towards me and asked me if I was a Chinese or an Indian. I paused for a few seconds deliberating if I should reply in English or Hindi. I went ahead and told him in Hindi that Modiji main dekhne main Chinese hoon par mera dil Hindustani hai (I may look like a Chinese but I am an Indian by heart). He started laughing," recalled Li. None of his trips to Kolkata are complete without a trip to his home in Grant Lane behind Poddar Court where he was born and grew up."When I went back in 2010 after almost 30 years I found that the house was locked. I told the guard that I used to stay here hearing which the guard allowed me inside. I went and sat on the stairs where I used to play as a child. I also visited my room," said Li. Another thing without which his trip is incomplete is the Kolkata food. "I have been hogging on Kachori, alu dum, bhat, dal and fish. Yesterday I also had the Kolkata biryani with alu. I plan to have nehari (a beef delicacy) before I leave on Monday," said Li, his eyes lighting up at the prospect the culinary delicacies awaiting it.


Li feels that Kolkata has changed for the better since 2010 when he visited the city after 30 years. "In 2010 I found that the city was still gloomy. But in the past seven years many positive changes have happened. The city looks cleaner and there are several flyovers and malls. Even the business prospect looks decent," said Li.