AS THE ONLY CHINESE STUDENT in Chennai’s St Bedes Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School in the late 1980s, Albert Yen’s lunchbox drew much attention. Albert devoured his homemade noodles amidst gawking peers who suspected him to be eating snakes. This barely a few years before Maggie Noodles became the staple lunch snack in schools. Albert can’t remember a time when he felt less Indian than his peers in his 42 years in Chennai.
Albert’s attachment to India is a legacy from his father, Yen Miesin, now 69, whose most vivid childhood memories are of trams chugging along the roads of a much older and emptier Madras.
Their family is a part of the small Chinese community in Chennai, many of whose members fled China at the onset of Communist rule in the 1950s. The Yen family’s Chennai story, however, goes back even further.