A Portuguese doctor's family story with China

Source:Xinhua Published: 2018/12/5 16:21:03

Pedro Pacheco Jorge Barreiros and his wife Graca, an old Portuguese couple, live in a modest mansion in Lisbon. Their apartment is a little bit like a mini museum, decorated with artifacts and bookshelves, including Chinese-style furniture and calligraphy, paintings and books about China.

"Most of them belonged to our grandfather, Jose Vicente Jorge, who was an avid collector of Chinese art," Pedro told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"He even wrote a book in 1940 called 'Notes on Chinese Art' based on his collection," said the 75-year-old man, who had served in the Portuguese air force's medical department for a long time and once headed a Portuguese air force hospital.

Pedro inherited his grandfather's love of art. His apartment also features a number of pictures painted by himself.

"I love painting and I especially like painting pictures inspired by poems, particularly poems by the Portuguese poet Camilo Pessanha and the Chinese poets Li Bai and Wang Wei," said Pedro.

"Chinese poetry has always been a big inspiration to me, and it has a singularity that's not found in other poetry," he said.

Pedro was born in 1943 in Macao and considers himself a typical product of the region's mix of bloods. His family can trace its origins back to Portugal, India, Malaysia and China, with his great-grandmother being a Chinese woman from Shanghai.

"The first language I spoke was Cantonese. As a child I found Cantonese much easier to learn than Portuguese, but unfortunately, after the Second World War, we moved to Portugal and I gradually forgot my Cantonese," Pedro said.

Nevertheless, Chinese was often spoken at his home. "Our house in Lisbon became a meeting place for anyone from Canton, Shanghai or Macao," he said.

Petro said that his mother and his aunt spoke Chinese and they were both born and educated in Beijing, and his grandfather worked as a diplomatic representative of old China to Portugal and spoke and wrote Cantonese and Mandarin very well.

Pedro moved to Lisbon when he was three, whereas Graca remained in Macao until she was 10, before moving to Mozambique and then South Africa. She and Pedro are cousins, so she has the same mixed family background.

In Portugal, Pedro studied medicine, and then became a doctor and a major general in the Portuguese Air Force. His studies and postings kept him away from Asia for almost forty years.

"I finally went back in 1990 and the moment I set foot in Canton, the first time I'd been on the Chinese mainland, I felt at home," Petro said.

Nowadays he and Graca go to China every year, visiting Macao and other cities in the Chinese mainland.

"It's impossible to get to know the entire country, but we try to combine sightseeing with learning more and more about China. Our last trip was to Nanjing, for example, and although Portugal is full of beaches, the beach we go to most is Sanya on Hainan Island," said Petro.

While they both love exploring China, they have slightly different tastes. "I prefer smaller places, beautiful villages with traditional houses, but Pedro loves the big cities," said Graca.

Echoing Graca, Pedro said that Beijing is his favorite place.

"I have been (there) many times, twice in an official capacity, when I was in charge of the Air Force health service, and many times since to visit friends. For me, Beijing is the very essence of China. I like Shanghai, but there are places elsewhere in the world that are similar, whereas Beijing is unique," he said.

"But I also really like inland cities," Pedro continued, "especially Kunming, where you can go walking and the landscape is just amazing."

"I love Chinese painting and I always thought it was very imaginative, but then you go and see places like Kunming or Guilin and you realize it's actually highly realistic! The rocks are really like that, the trees are really like that! It's extraordinary," Petro said.

While Pedro has a passion for painting, Graca for food. She has written a book about the gastronomy of Macao and seeks to promote and preserve its traditions and encourage culinary authenticity.

"There isn't a specifically Macanese restaurant in Lisbon, but there are lots of Chinese ones nowadays and the food is very popular. Nevertheless, some people still think only in terms of sweet and sour pork!" Graca said.

"This is a shame because there is such great regional variety in the cuisine of north and south China, though I must admit, my favorite remains Cantonese," said Graca.

For Pedro, it's not just the food itself.

"It's the whole concept of eating lunch together or meeting for tea, because people in Portugal might go for lunch together, but they sit side by side, and it's not so easy to talk, whereas in a Chinese restaurant the table is round, which makes people more sociable," he said.

When Pedro first came to Lisbon, there was just one Chinese restaurant, but now there are many. Pedro believes it reflects broader shifts in interest and awareness.

"The interest in Chinese culture has increased hugely in Portugal in the last 40 years, and the kind of interest has changed too. It used to be the appeal of the exotic, but now it's a question of engaging with an established culture," he said.

Noting that China's status in the world has changed over the past 40 years, he said he believes that "China is now occupying its historic place."

"The number of conflicts in South Asia have reduced as China has grown, for example, and that's important. I think the role China is playing, not only in terms of China but the whole region, is remarkable," he added.

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