Saturday, October 29, 2011

One suburb - two separate worlds

By Lincoln Tan and Simon Collins
5:30 AM Friday Apr 15, 2011

Investor Murray Gleeson and his Malaysian-born partner Jeffery Yang feel society is 'more integrated now' and more outward-looking. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Investor Murray Gleeson and his Malaysian-born partner Jeffery Yang feel society is 'more integrated now' and more outward-looking. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Meadowlands, a shopping centre in one of the most Chinese parts of Auckland, tells a story of how New Zealand is still adjusting slowly to a new community in its midst.

It is now 14 years since Hong Kong migrant Kit Wong built several blocks of shops and restaurants to serve the local Chinese population.

In 2006 Chinese made up 30.7 per cent of the surrounding census area just south of Howick.

When the Herald visits, Filipino migrants Arturo and Jane Pasamba are the only non-Chinese customers around.

"We've got Chinese friends," Mrs Pasamba explains. "We are also interested in their cooking and my daughter is now learning how to speak Chinese at Rutherford College."

But just across Meadowland Drive at the older Meadowlands Shopping Plaza dominated by a Woolworths supermarket, most shoppers are Pakeha. They see the Chinese as isolated.

"They don't assimilate as readily as some of the European populations," says teacher Kiri Kirkpatrick, 35.

"I play hockey. Not many of them play hockey, although there are a few."

A retired man says only two of the 150 members of his bowling club are Chinese - "whereas when we were in Vancouver a couple of years ago, something like 40 per cent of the members there were Chinese".

We ask non-Chinese people here, "Has your life been affected by the growing number of Chinese people in New Zealand?" Only nine say yes; 14 say no. Even here, Chinese newcomers and other Kiwis still live largely in separate and parallel societies.

In broader Kiwi society, many are still wary. A poll this week on asked, "Is the increasing Chinese influence in New Zealand a positive thing?" Of 11,000 responses, 67 per cent said no.

It's not that the Chinese are shunned. Ask the Meadowlands shoppers how much interaction they have with Chinese people in various settings, and they all have some kind of contact.

Kiri Kirkpatrick has Chinese pupils in her class and had close Chinese friends growing up in Bucklands Beach. "I went to Hong Kong with one of them," she says.

Retired couple Sue and Hank Mooy say "lots of Chinese people" are in their square dancing club, and some have taken square dancing back to China.

Investor Murray Gleeson and his Malaysian-born partner Jeffery Yang feel society is "more integrated now" and more outward-looking.

Gun dealer Clive Jordan imports 30 per cent of his guns from China and says 40 per cent of his customers and 30 per cent of the local pistol club members are Chinese.

"We were fairly insular in our culture and it's broadened our horizons," he says. "They don't all look the same any more!"

Mr Jordan and several others often attend Chinese New Year celebrations in the Howick Domain. Others were among the 250,000 Aucklanders at this year's Lantern Festival in Albert Park.

Nineteen of the shoppers feel their interactions with Chinese people are mostly "positive", against three who say they are mostly "difficult".

But ask them which ethnic groups come to mind when they think about the term "New Zealander" and many admit that Asians are still only an afterthought.

"If I'm honest I tend to think of European and Maori," says Hebie Capill, 42. "If I have to think about it more, the others would be there, probably Pacific Islanders before Chinese."

Equally, many Chinese people live in their own world. Auckland Chinese Community Centre chairman Arthur Loo says there is "no real incentive" for new migrants to learn English because they live in a parallel Mandarin-speaking society.

"We're trying to involve some of the Mandarin-speaking ones into our activities, but we've got to find some common interests first," he says. "There aren't very many of them who can hold a decent conversation with an NZ-born kiddo about rugby."

Even at Auckland University, where 35 per cent of students are Asian, Chinese Students Association president Krono Wei says most Chinese students live and study with other Chinese.

"White people play with white people, Indians play with Indians, Pacific play with Pacific," he says. "There's not much socialising across the boundaries."

Mr Wei worked part-time clipping rugby and cricket tickets at Eden Park and saw only one Chinese face in a year.

Yet out of 500 young people packed into the popular Chinese nightclub Primo, he sees only "two or three or five" Kiwis.

Even the internet is segregated. When Malaysian-born business student Linda Tay wanted to be friends with some of her China-born school mates on Facebook, she struggled to find them because Facebook is blocked in China.

Instead many Chinese use their own sites such as Renren (, Pengyou ( and Kaixin (

Separateness can become nastiness. Law student Melody Guo, who featured in yesterday's Herald with her two Kiwi flatmates, says people have thrown rocks at her family's car when they travelled around New Zealand.

"It's quite common," she says. "It happened everywhere. It's either from another car beside you or someone just walking by."

A 2005 Asia-NZ Foundation survey of 94 Asian people in focus groups in five cities found that "the vast majority" had experienced some form of racism.

"Most common was verbal abuse and 'the finger' - often by teenagers or children.

Overt racism included damage to cars identifiable as 'Asian', bottles or stones being thrown, being laughed at because of poor pronunciation."

Statistics NZ's general social survey of 8700 people in 2008 found 23 per cent of Asians had experienced discrimination in the previous 12 months, compared with only 16 per cent of Maori, 14 per cent of Pacific people and 8 per cent of Europeans.

Many of the people in this series are trying to counteract this by bringing Kiwis and Chinese together.

Botany pastor Samuel Chong, who invited the Herald to a Neighbours Day dinner for his street, has organised a Neighbourhood Watch group.

Last year Ms Guo formed an International Social Network at Auckland University ( and drew more than 300 people to social events, with equal numbers of international and domestic students.

In 2008 a young professional group launched a scheme called Omega ( which has matched 482 skilled migrants with local volunteer mentors.

In Rotorua, Waiariki Institute of Technology has signed up 100 domestic students to be "buddies" with some of its 450 international students, paying them $15 an hour to spend two hours a week with a newcomer for a term.

The 2005 Asia-NZ Foundation study recommended much wider use of mentoring for all immigrants, backed up by orientation courses. Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples has proposed powhiri for all new settlers.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres says that although it is natural to fear change, China will be a growing influence in the world like it or not.

"Having a proportion of our population which is engaged with and related to and knowledgeable about China is a major economic and social asset for us," he says.

"We should obviously acknowledge that the political and social and cultural climate of China is fundamentally different from the political and social and cultural climate of New Zealand. But I don't see any evidence that China wishes to destroy that in New Zealand."

He believes New Zealand's values of freedom and tolerance are expressed partly in accepting and celebrating a diverse society.

"In the end it will probably strengthen our society to have this diversity," he says. "A society that values its own diversity will also be able to engage with people throughout the world."
By Lincoln Tan and Simon Collins | Email Lincoln

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