Thursday, December 23, 2010

They will call Aotearoa home

Sophie Bond | 20th May 2010

Frank Hua came to NZ from Tianjin, in northeast China, in 2004. MICHELLE HYSLOP

Surprising findings have shown up in a substantial study of Auckland's major migrant communities - British, Indian, Korean, South African and Chinese. Sophie Bond reports.

The noodle clamped in my chopsticks is more than 50cm long and still going. Everyone laughs as it slips and splashes back into the bowl.

"These are handmade," says Jenny Wang, one of my lunch companions. "The chef tries to make them as long as possible. In China, we have them on birthdays and we say if you can pick it up in one piece you'll have a long life."

It's not an elegant manoeuvre, but on my second try I lift the noodle out in one piece. Lunch in Panmure's Xi'an Food Bar with two local Chinese women is proving to be fun and fascinating.

In Auckland, most of us will know a neighbour, a colleague or someone we see every day who has moved here from another country.

Ours is a city of fantastic diversity; migrants make up about 38 per cent of our population, meaning we have an even higher proportion than Sydney, often touted as a multicultural mecca.

In the last financial year 27,215 people were approved for New Zealand residency with many of them settling in Auckland.

So, who is coming here, and why? How do different migrant groups cope with the culture shock? What are the advantages of ethnic diversity?

Over the next year, these questions will be tackled in reports by Massey and Waikato universities.

Their researchers have been working together since 2008 on the Integration of Immigrants Programme, a study of the settlement experiences and strategies of Auckland's key migrant groups since 1986-7.

This study will produce five reports based on interviews with migrants from Britain, India, Korea, South Africa and China - the major sources of new Kiwis.

We begin with Bamboo Networks: Chinese Employers and Employees in Auckland, focusing on the experiences of 40 Chinese migrants working in the accommodation, food and retail industries.

Professor Paul Spoonley is research director for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University and the study's leader. He points out that, in Auckland, about 40 per cent of Chinese work in hospitality and retail.

"I'm not sure whether they choose to do that or whether it's a fallback position because they can't get a job elsewhere.

"We found [participants] weren't getting jobs here that used their Chinese qualifications and that's true for most migrants. It's the same for New Zealanders going to the UK, of course. There's a sense of having to start again."

The study asked participants about their reasons for moving to New Zealand, difficulties faced, workplace experiences and how reality differs from expectations.

AT the last census, in 2006, Auckland's Chinese population sat at 97,425, close to double that of the 2001 census. Professor Spoonley points out this means a significant proportion of Auckland's Chinese population are recent arrivals. "I expect that within about five to six years a quarter of all Aucklanders will be Asian."

The results give some interesting insights into the lives of the Chinese migrants interviewed. The employers among them work an average of 65 hours a week; 45 per cent have a family member working for them without wages or salary.

Three-quarters of the employees came on student visas and 65 per cent felt their current job does not make use of their qualifications. Almost all interviewees plan to still be living in Auckland in three years; more than half saw themselves retiring in New Zealand.

For 95 per cent of employers, Mandarin is the main language used to communicate with staff. Professor Spoonley says language is a particular issue for all participants and, as a host country, we could be doing more:

"There's quite a hostile response in Auckland to the idea that we should provide services in Mandarin and yet, if you are going to meet the needs of these migrants, the thing you could do that would be most effective would be to provide services in Mandarin."

Overall, employees have better English than their employers but agreed lack of language skills and local knowledge were hurdles to integration.

THE importance of fitting in and understanding Kiwi culture resonates throughout the report and my conversations with other Chinese migrants.

The executive director of the Chinese New Settlers Services Trust is tall, elegant and well-spoken. Jenny Wang came to New Zealand from Dalian, in northeast China, in 1994. Her experiences and observations of being a newcomer moved her to set up the trust: "In the 90s, the immigration policy changed and lots of Asian migrants came to New Zealand. I think at that time, as a country, we were not ready for so many different people with no English background and there were a lot of settlement issues."

Moving from a job in the Chinese Government's education department, Mrs Wang started again in Auckland, first studying English then social work to prepare for her new role.

The trust's first office was in the garage of her Papatoetoe home. Now there are seven branches around Auckland with a combined staff of 26. Among other things the trust offers employment services, culture seminars, language lessons and counselling.

Mrs Wang says it's her experience that Chinese migrants are trying very hard to integrate into New Zealand society.

"There are a lot of cultural differences. They may not understand the legislation - such as you can't leave a child under 14 at home alone, or you can't just take as much shellfish as you like at the beach. Even how to do rubbish collection is very different here."

Migrants want to participate in society as soon as possible and we can help.

"If you have a Chinese neighbour, they are probably not that different from you. If you see them doing something wrong, tell them gently. It may be something they have never before had to deal with."

Mrs Wang's observations fit with the findings of Professor Spoonley's team. While Chinese migrants have "outward ambition" and want to fit in, they find it necessary to be inward-looking in the early years.

The report's title, Bamboo Networks, refers to the social ties Chinese migrants form for
support and advice. Professor Spoonley says these networks are relied on extensively and are a source of strength.

"There are very obvious examples of Chinese networks and centres in Auckland. I'm not sure many people understand how big and how economically significant they are."

These networks play a key role in settlement, particularly as migrants are, in general, left to their own devices, sometimes even facing indifference from New Zealanders and New
Zealand organisations.

ON the flipside, three Chinese business owners I spoke with emphasise they found New Zealand a warm, welcoming country. They say that when information is at times hard to find, the Chinese business mindset is to persevere and give everything you've got.

I meet one such go-getter, Frank Hua, in his opulent Newmarket restaurant, where we chat with a translator's help. Mr Hua came from Tianjin, in northeast China, in 2004.

"I went to many other countries around the world and New Zealand is much friendlier to migrants than other places. There are so many nations living all together here."

Would some level of English make life easier? "It's not a big issue because I have Chinese friends and a manager who speak English. But," he is quick to add, "I'm studying now because better English means I can share life with the Kiwis."

In China he worked in real estate; here, he hopes his two restaurants can provide a "bridge of understanding" between two worlds. "At the beginning, I thought New Zealand didn't really understand the Chinese so I wanted it to be like a window showing Chinese culture and what real Chinese food is like."

With a huge smile Mr Hua says he considers Auckland home, and wants to put his efforts into creating business ties between New Zealand and China. "I have been able to bring some important Chinese businesspeople here. At present, I don't think we are taking the chance to encourage Chinese businesses to invest here.

"Chinese people are hard-working and I think this is a gift to the economy. They are really good at doing what they do."

The Chinese migrants I speak to cite New Zealand's clean, green environment as their top reason for emigrating. Those interviewed for the report echo this attraction.

"The reasons they come here are quite distinctive", says Professor Spoonley. "It's about lifestyle, education for their children and themselves and it's a safe, clean city in global terms. If you look at Auckland in international rankings, it's one of the most livable cities in the world."

Census results show Chinese in Auckland are settling in a distinctive pattern, leading to concentrations of Chinese commerce and community. The main ethnic precincts - "ethno-burbs", as the report calls them - are in Auckland Central, Three Kings, Hillsborough, Avondale, New Lynn, Howick and Pakuranga.

Professor Spoonley believes recognising Auckland's diversity as a strength is vital for a flourishing city. "The super-city is a moment where you could say, 'Well, let's make Auckland a city that celebrates its diversity and use that diversity for economic advantage'."

He cites Vancouver - rated the most livable city in the world - as an example of a place which makes ethnic diversity a key component.

"One of the things I think is disappointing is that Auckland has what I would call a diversity dividend. The question is: are we actually capturing that ethnic and immigrant diversity?"

Liked it so much, they're selling the country

Anne and George Zhou emigrated from Beijing in 1994. They came on a short-term work assignment but liked it so much they stayed.

The couple say the green landscape and friendly people are the best things about life in New Zealand: "Our children are born here and this is our country now. Every day we think how lucky we are to live here."

Having travelled extensively, they believe "New Zealand really is the best country in the world".

Now, through their Panmure travel agency and tour company, they are proud to sell that image to Chinese and Indian tourists.

The Zhous bought into a franchise and say the existing staff and head office were a great source of support in the early days. They emphasise it can take time for migrants to settle in.

"English is the biggest thing and having an understanding of Kiwi culture. You've got to understand the local business culture, not try to use your Chinese mindset to figure it out."

Arrival lounge

The top six source countries for migrants recorded by the Department of Labour in the year to February:

United Kingdom: 4626 (17 per cent)
China: 3538 (13 per cent)
South Africa: 3266 (12 per cent)
Philippines: 2449 (9 per cent)
India: 2177 (8 per cent)
Fiji: 1905 (7 per cent)

Total from all nations: 27,215

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