Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Tombstones and Takeaway

Tombstones and Takeaway
Amanda Bolch
Chinese migrant Jackie Or saw a lively business opportunity in creating Auckland's first private cemetery

A migrant entrepreneur shows he can turn his hand to anything

Jackie Or is a success story in New Zealand's food industry. At shopping centres around the country, his Chinese food chains sit alongside McDonald's and KFC.

Magic Wok, Crazy Stirfry and Crazy Noodlebar are names synonymous with high quality fast food for thousands of New Zealand shoppers.

Or has a knack for finding a niche market at the right time (something he has proved a second time around with his latest venture - Auckland's first privately owned cemetery).

Or moved to New Zealand in 1982 - his knowledge of the country limited to the fact that it had lots of sheep. However, as a chef, he also believed there would be plenty of work opportunities. He spent the first two and a half years in his adopted country working at the New Orient Restaurant in downtown Auckland.

In 1985 he started out on his own. "Most of the Chinese food here was being adapted to Kiwi tastes, but I wanted to have something really Chinese, really authentic, with meals such as chicken feet, pig's trotters and salted fish."

Another restaurant later, he decided the restaurant business was "too hard and the hours too long", so opened up a takeaway in a shopping centre. "The concept was good quality food, freshly cooked in front of the customer. At that time it was a new concept and we found it was really accepted by the Kiwis."

Today he has nearly 20 shops from Auckland to Dunedin, in the south of the South Island. He employs about 40 staff, most of them ethnic Chinese. "I never dreamed it would become this big," he says.

While he believes there are still such opportunities for new business migrants, he admits it would be a lot harder for them today. "When I first stared 15 years ago, there were only a few fast food outlets. Today there are many - McDonald's, Burger Kings, KFCs and Wendys. Auckland is a very competitive market now. We have got more fast food and restaurant outlets per person than Sydney and Melbourne."

It may seem like a clich�, but it is true that many Chinese migrants - and Asians in general - set up restaurants. Or estimates there could be as many as 600 Asian food outlets in the city. "I guess the capital involved in such a venture is not that big and because some Chinese don't speak English well, which is a disadvantage for them, starting up something like a Chinese restaurant is a lot easier."

But he says one problem was that many people did not do the right research. "They come here, set up a restaurant and do not compare the turnover of their neighbour.

So they are spending NZ$400,000-$500,000 (US$164,400-$205,500) without an estimate of turnover. Many people do that and because of that, many restaurants fail."

Rental costs, which he says are higher than a lot of people think, and a shortage of skilled Chinese chefs and waiting staff are other problems to be considered.

While Or has seen much growth in the Chinese business community since he first became a part of it, he says business is not his prime reason for coming to New Zealand. "People do not come here for business reasons. They come here more for the lifestyle and their children's education. Here there is lots of space and there is fresh air and the weather is pretty good.

"Because we only have a very small population, it is very hard to make a business very profitable. But saying that, I am one of the lucky ones and there are opportunities for enterprising people." And his latest venture shows just how enterprising he is. About six years ago, a staff member was telling Or how she wanted to bury her father next to another Chinese person, but was unable to find anywhere to do that.

After getting together four partners, including the head of one of New Zealand's top clothing chains, and finding the right land - which took two years - the result is a very special cemetery. "The Oakfield Memorial Park is set on 39 acres and is the first private cemetery in Auckland. While it available to the whole community, it is also the only cemetery with a Chinese section."

What also makes the cemetery special is that it is has been designed with the right feng shui - it features a landscaped garden, with two lakes and sea views. "We have been marketing the cemetery for about 15 months now and have already sold about 150 plots, the most expensive one so far being NZ$128,000, which is a plot for an extended family"

Asians ditch identities in hunt for jobs

Desperate job-seeking Asians are not only taking on Anglicised first names but also officially ditching their traditional surnames for European-sounding ones in the hope that will help them find work in New Zealand.

One Chinese woman even changed her name to Brenda Jones in an attempt to get a job interview in the tough economic climate.

About 21,000, or 9.2 per cent, of the Asian population are without jobs, and experts say their foreign-sounding names have contributed to their unemployment woes.

Massey University researcher Paul Spoonley says New Zealand employers, especially in small and medium-sized businesses, tend to eliminate Asian applicants very early in the process through surname discrimination.

"We have a lot of research and anecdotal evidence that New Zealand employers are reluctant to employ Asians, so changing surnames is a novel way of getting a CV read," he said.

Last year, people born in Asia formed most of the overseas-born people who sought to have their names changed with the Department of Internal Affairs.
CCID: 30518

Since March last year, 2029 immigrants have registered to change their names, with the top five countries of origin being Samoa (291), China (264), India (152), Iraq (98) and Malaysia (97).

Although Samoans topped the department's name-change register, the Weekend Herald understands many of these were to add chiefly titles rather than adopt Anglicised names.

Other countries with significant numbers include Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.

Asian immigrants told the Weekend Herald they changed their names in a desperate attempt to find work.

Most did not want to be identified because they thought it could jeopardise their job hunt.

The Chinese immigrant who changed her name to Brenda Jones said she did so after failing to get a single job interview when her former classmates, European New Zealanders who graduated from the same IT course, were getting employed.

"I was feeling very desperate and very small," she said. "Changing my name is not something I am proud of doing, but I really didn't know what else to do."

Another, who changed her surname from Teoh to May with an English first name, said a job interviewer at Work and Income advised her to do so.

"She told me that with an Asian surname, employers will automatically think that I cannot speak English," said Miss May, a former retail manager.

A University of Auckland School of Business survey in 2005 found anti-Asian discrimination to be significant among employers.

It found that even without immigration status consideration, having a Chinese or Indian name significantly raised chances of being considered unsuitable.

Chinese applicants with Anglicised first names were considered slightly less unsuitable than those with traditional names.

Justin Treagus, director of Omega, a programme which uses a mentoring scheme to help immigrants find employment, says the recession has aggravated discrimination.

"I think the economic recession has brought many Kiwi employers back to their old habits, and maybe even made it worse."

One Asian immigrant, who changed his surname from Wang to King, believes it has worked for him.

Lai Ming Wang, now Terence King, says it got him an interview that eventually landed him a bank job.

"I got that job interview only after submitting my CV with my new surname, and getting that interview meant I could prove that I am well versed in English and have the ability to do the job," he said.

An Internal Affairs spokesman says only those who are New Zealand citizens or permanent residents with indefinite visas can register for an official name change - but others are still free to use Anglicised names unofficially.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres says it is unlawful under the Human Rights Act to refuse immigrants a job or an interview because of their ethnicity or race.

"It takes away someone's chance to be judged on their merits and it goes against the idea of New Zealand as a fair society."
By Lincoln Tan | Email Lincoln 4:00 AM Saturday Apr 3, 2010

New Orient Closes

Changing tastes put squeeze on ethnic restaurants

Ethnic restaurants in Auckland are being forced to think beyond sweet and sour pork, fried won tons and sushi - and those which do not keep up with the times are facing the curtain.

Auckland's oldest Chinese restaurant, the New Orient, closed this month after nearly 40 years in business.

This follows the closure of the city's oldest Japanese restaurant, the Ariake Restaurant and Sushi Bar, which folded in the same week after 30 years.

Operators of the two restaurants say changing expectations from Kiwis and new migrants have largely contributed to their demise.

"It used to be enough to have sweet and sour pork and fried won tons on the menu to make it an exotic restaurant to Kiwis, but times have changed," said director David Lam, who has been involved with the New Orient since 1973.

"We have just not been able to keep up with the new restaurants, and it is sad that we have to close."

Mr Lam also blamed the tough economic times, and the lack of carparking in the central city for the closure.

He said about 70 per cent of the restaurant's clientele were Kiwis or local-born Chinese. Few patrons were recent migrants.

Retired seaman Ricky Wallace, 75, remembers the New Orient as a fixture in the Auckland dining scene. It was one of only about three Chinese restaurants in Auckland in the 1970s.

"I've lived in Malaya in my younger days and love eating Asian food. This place used to be the only place where we could get a decent rice meal, and it's eat all you want for one price with live entertainment" he said.

Mr Wallace hasn't been to New Orient in the past 10 years, preferring instead to dine at the food halls or restaurants serving more "exotic" meals set up by more recent immigrants.

"One amazing thing that has happened with immigration is the fabulous food, and Kiwis are just spoilt for choice now," he said.

With increasing migration from Asia and Kiwis more well-travelled, Chinese restaurant operators in Auckland have to think outside their noodle boxes to draw customers.

Many also include "live" fish and crayfish tanks, to emphasise the freshness of what's on the menu.

Jacky Orr, who operates the China Yum Char Restaurant on Beach Rd, this month also started Red Guard Cafe, a Chairman Mao-inspired cafe and restaurant in the city - where staff wear Chinese military outfits.

SkyCity has also renovated and rebranded its Chinese restaurant, Ming Court - now called Jade Dragon.

Ariake manager Miyuki Sakairi said the restaurant suffered because it tried to keep things too traditional.

"To survive in Auckland restaurants needed to give diners good food and new experiences," she said.
By Lincoln Tan | Email Lincoln 4:00 AM Tuesday Apr 6, 2010