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Last standing Chinese eatery in downtown Nairobi holds strong

By Lucie Morangi In nairobi | China Daily | Updated: 2015-03-06 07:24

His father, who pushed for the eatery to work, probably didn't know how important the government would eventually become to keeping Tin Tin alive. James Tin was into mechanical repairs in Mombasa, on the Indian Ocean coast, before he established the restaurant.

Their roots lie in Hong Kong, from where James Tin had fled as a teenager ahead of the Japanese invasion. When Henry Tin turned 8, he and his siblings were sent from Kenya to Hong Kong to learn Mandarin, and they stayed there for six years before returning.

After completing secondary school, Henry Tin enrolled at Muslim Technical Institute, now Mombasa Technical University, and became, like his father, a marine engineer.

Father and son opened a workshop and continued offering their services on ships that docked at the port. And then they opened a restaurant serving Shanghai-style food on April 1, 1978.

When they opened a second restaurant at Westlands, a fast-expanding part of Nairobi fueled by the Indian population, the younger Tin became its manager.

He recalls how challenging it was juggling between business and raising a family.

"I was spending a lot of time at the restaurant so my two children had to finish their homework at the restaurant before we all headed home."

Business flourished, a reflection of the restaurant's ability to please local palates and its proximity to government offices. On the other hand, the restaurant's offerings of authentic Chinese cuisine were overrun by an influx of Western fast-food restaurants. James Tin died in 1993.

Henry Tin says that as a result of being away from China so long, the way he speaks makes him stand out. However, he speaks Kiswahili well and perfectly pronounces indigenous names.

"I was born in Mombasa, and I am a businessman. I have to be smart to be easily understood by my suppliers and employees."

Tin is happy that he has met English-speaking Chinese who have settled locally and even those who have gone further and speak Kiswahili. Likewise, he is proud of Kenyans who learn Chinese.

"This shows that the two cultures are quickly merging and there is acute awareness that the future of both nations lies with breaking language barriers."

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