Richard Ping Kee has never set foot in China, yet his passion for his Chinese heritage is undeniable.
The 70-year-old shares endless stories with his granddaughters about his Chinese grandfather and great uncle who migrated to Australia in the early 1900s.
“They had business dealings in Tingha [in northern NSW]. It was a general store. They sold everything from pick handles to cloth, haberdashery to grocery and that’s how they got started,” Mr Ping Kee said while perusing an album of black and white photos.
For Mr Ping Kee, these treasured tales give his granddaughters a chance to appreciate their unique ancestry.
“It’s important to understand where they have come from because there aren’t many Ping Kee’s in Australia. It gives them a chance to enrich their lives,” he said.
“There are things in our DNA that prompt some people to pick up an Aussie chopstick i.e. a spoon or use bamboo chopsticks. It’s something I had no trouble learning how to use."
Tingha pays tribute to Chinese past
The annual Lantern Festival in the town of Tingha, about 100km north of Armidale, is where east meets west.
More than 200 people attended the event including Richard Ping Kee and his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters as well as other descendants of Chinese residents who once lived in the town.
“Tingha has never seen anything like this before,” said Colleen Graham, President of the Tingha Citizens Association.
“The Lantern Festival represents the contribution the Chinese people had on the town’s identity.”
Festivalgoers were treated to a feast of spring rolls and fried rice under a string of lanterns which symbolise the light from the full moon and spring's longer daylight hours in China.
Tingha was once home to a thriving Chinese community.
In the 1870s, there were 2,000 migrants seeking to make their fortunes from a tin mining boom.
"When the Chinese were here they had fantastic celebrations and they would let off fireworks and they would have street parades,” said Mrs Graham.
Though most Chinese migrants left Tingha after the mining boom, their spirit still remains.
"[This festival] is about remembering a very rich Chinese history in Tingha,” said Adam Marshall, Northern Tablelands MP.
“It also acknowledges that not only are the Chinese people and culture an important part of our history but also a very important part of our future as we see now our two countries coming very close together."