Friday, October 05, 2012
Alice Wang: Kiwi dream's missing ingredient By Alice Wang 5:30 AM Friday Oct 5, 2012 The 'Asian' work ethic is common to all high achievers. Alice Wang says the Kiwi sporting work ethic doesn't translate into other areas. Photo / Natalie Slade Expand Alice Wang says the Kiwi sporting work ethic doesn't translate into other areas. Photo / Natalie Slade I read the opinion piece by property developer Sir Bob Jones about the positive contribution that migrant families make to New Zealand society. Being a Chinese immigrant myself, having moved here at 4, I feel like much of the "Asian" identity in New Zealand has been structured around certain characteristics, namely having a disciplined work ethic, and perhaps a willingness to work "harder" than your average Kiwi. I say "harder" because I'm not trying to make a value judgment on Kiwis being lazy - they definitely aren't - but rather, I know that my parents (as with the parents of many young Chinese) have worked extremely long hours and in low-paid menial jobs that I probably wouldn't have lasted very long at. My parents both knew how to "chi ku", meaning to endure hardship. Both came out of the better side of the cultural revolution in China with masters degrees, but had to start from scratch when we arrived in New Zealand to put dinner on the table every evening. I knew how hard my parents worked, and so I got my first proper part-time job in 4th form. Apart from having a roof over my head and food in the pantry, I have not asked for a dollar since. I paid for my own school deposits and music lessons in high school, and started giving money to my parents when I started university. This work ethic has been the subject of both admiration and also criticism. I was glad to see Bob Jones write on Tuesday: "I have boundless admiration for the courage of Asian migrants, setting out to an alien land, language and culture, so that their children will have a better life." But there are still many people who are uncomfortable with the growing Chinese population and its ability to enter into restricted courses (Medicine being a notable example) as well as their competitiveness in the workforce. What I say of Chinese applies to many other migrant communities as well, but here I wish to speak as a Chinese who has spent 80 per cent of her life in New Zealand. The idea of migrants "stealing" jobs is not a novel concept. I remember being quite shocked to discover a number of discriminatory laws in New Zealand's history: The Shops and Offices Act 1901 where the closing hours of shops were to be decided by "British" New Zealanders only, and the Factories Act Amendment Act in 1910 where the restriction of hours of work in laundries was designed to "reduce the advantages of Chinese keepers of laundries in competition with Europeans". And one only has to think back to Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother to remember the criticism from Western parents about her "Chinese" strict parenting and high expectations. I don't necessarily endorse all of the author's views, but a number of high-achieving Pakeha Kiwi university students have remarked to me since the book's publication that they had "tiger" parents too. Having just come back from a brief visit to the United States, I think what is lacking in New Zealand is competitiveness. New Zealanders push above their weight in sporting endeavours but no one criticises a sportsman or sportswoman for training too hard. In fact, we celebrate hard work and determination. Many of our national heroes come from a "zero to hero" or "rags to riches" story. Yet somehow this outlook doesn't seem to translate the same into other areas of life. The "Asian" work ethic that we like to label here is present in almost all the high achievers in the United States, many of whom are Caucasian, because every single pathway in the US is a competitive one. To get into a good high school you need to do well in entrance exams. To get into a top university (and therefore have a good shot at finding a good job), you need to work hard and start planning what you're going to put on your college application form three or four years ahead. Wasn't the American Dream all about working hard and maximising your opportunities, irrespective of your background? Isn't that what equality of opportunity, a valued ideal in New Zealand, all about? The reason that migrant families work so hard is because they come from places where there was no sense of entitlement. It's easy living in a population of 4 million because you, the individual, kind of matter. I suspect that had I grown up in China instead, I would have had to work twice as hard to get to where I am now. In many Asian countries and places like the United States, you are no more than a statistic. To get anything in life, you have to fight damn hard for it. The people do not feel like society owes them anything, and so to put their children through school and get food on the table, parents work three odd jobs and 80 hour weeks. They tell their children to study hard because they know what "really bad" looks like, and they want their children to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that the parents have worked hard to give them. I know that our customs might seem strange sometimes - even impolite, perhaps - but no one is perfect, and we don't try to be either. A little bit of tolerance and human compassion, on both sides, can go a long way. Alice Wang is a fourth-year law and arts student at the University of Auckland. She is on the university council and the organising committee of New Zealand Chinese Association's 2013 Leadership Development Conference. By Alice Wang 13 comments Add order by Latest | Oldest | Most Liked 'thats life' (West Auckland) 10:22 AM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 What can I say except "cream rises to the top" but butter and milk is good too whatever one can afford. To each his/her own and remember you reap what you sow. And rightly so "A little bit of tolerance and human compassion, on both sides, can go a long way." Well done Alice Wang. 15 likes Reply Like Report ARH (New Zealand) 10:22 AM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 Nice article Alice. My wife is a foreigner and she does believe Kiwis are lazy - and from my experience having been introduced to many foreigners its a common opinion held by those moving to this country. I tend to disagree and think perhaps we are just a bit more laidback. Foreigners who move here tend to be looking for a better lifestyle for themselves and their children - not job opportunities, at least not those who are highly educated. I think economic migrants tend to go to more prosperous countries. We are fortunate in NZ to live in a country that is uncrowded and small enough so that everyone has easy access to the outdoors, sport and recreation. These are vitally important to our health, though not necessarily our economic health. You're right that we aren't competitive enough, though. The lifestyle won't count for much as the nation as a whole gets poorer through lack of competing and associated innovation. 11 likes Reply Like Report Big T (New Zealand) 10:23 AM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 I don't see how any of this is supposed to convince me that working 80 hour weeks and spending your whole life working as hard as you can is a good way to live. China and the USA are, by all accounts, incredibly competitive places where you have to work like a madman to get anywhere. Despite everyone working so hard these countries are afflicted with massive inequality and poverty. Despite the hysteria around "poverty" in New Zealand, lazy old New Zealand remains one of the better countries on the planet to live in. More competition does not make a country better by default. The ideal human existence is not defined by "maximising potential" or "working as hard as you can". I would rather be dead than wasting my life working as hard as you suggest. In my opinion that is not a life worth living. That is not a life that brings any pleasure to the person living it. I support anyone who tries to stop that way of living becoming the norm. 19 likes Reply Like Report Therese Monroe (Glen Innes) 10:23 AM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 A very interesting article, thank you. 6 likes Reply Like Report Paul (New Zealand) 10:23 AM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 You want us to 'increase competitiveness' and generally kill and trample all over each like they do overseas yet at the same time ask for a 'bit of human compassion and tolerance'. Sorry, you really can't have your cake and eat it too. The same cultural traits you seem to endorse are probably the same reasons immigrants leave their countries as they are sick of fighting just to eat or be not be able to trust anyone. 16 likes Reply Like Report fifty-eight (New Zealand) 11:04 AM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 Thank you, Alice. I am happy as a migrant parent to see you write your feelings about the culture of most East and SouthEast Asian migrants and what makes them different when viewed from Kiwi eyes, specially the traditional ones. Your perspective is extremely better than mine having lived most of your life here. We came to NZ 6 years ago because we wanted a better future for our 2 children, academically and professionally. My wife and I then had relatively high-paying jobs in well-known firms, with free company cars, big bonuses and perks, and Masters degrees. But we left our comfort zones just to make sure our kids can start a better life in a totally new land. We struggled just to find work as our qualifications were unacceptable here. I am now a machine operator and my wife does support accounting clerk work. Though menial, our pay is enough to provide a roof and enough food on the table for the family. But we are happy when our children excel at school-all the aches and pains we endure disappear instantly. We are proud of our kids, and are also proud of you and other kids who continue to pursue their goals and make New Zealand internationally known for it's diverse talents. 19 likes Reply Like Report Andy () 01:23 PM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 It is interesting to see some people jumping up. Donot bury your head in the sands, arrogant is the enemy, for the goodness of our next generations. 1 like Reply Like Report fifty-eight (New Zealand) 01:24 PM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 Big T I don't see how any of this is supposed to convince me that working 80 hour weeks and spending your whole life working as hard as you can is a good way to live. China and the USA are, by all accounts, incredibly competitive places where you have to work like a madman to get anywhere. Despite everyone working so hard these countries are afflicted with massive inequality and poverty. Despite the hysteria around "poverty" in New Zealand, lazy old New Zealand remains one of the better countries on the planet to live in. More competition does not make a country better by default. The ideal human existence is not defined by "maximising potential" or "working as hard as you can". I would rather be dead than wasting my life working as hard as you suggest. In my opinion that is not a life worth living. That is not a life that brings any pleasure to the person living it. I support anyone who tries to stop that way of living becoming the norm. show more Just an observation: NZ has the Work-Life balance ethic. But I doubt if this is really followed or works. A migrant friend of mine went to Australia a month ago to work on same position-title in the same industry he had here. For a relatively higher salary his actual work is only a third of the work he does here. That would translate to 3 people in Australia doing the work of 1 person here. Perhaps this is the issue: cramming the work of 2 or more people into a single individual. Asians and Americans may work "harder and longer", but then their vacation/holiday perks/leaves may be better/longer than ours. Then again perhaps it really is cultural. Asians experience the difficulties working in their respective countries with little to look forward to, yet when they work with the same effort here, even with menial jobs, they get a lot more back. Another part of Asian culture that may make a difference is the family bond: the whole drove is in a single house/compound, from the grandparents to the grandchildren. Enjoying each others' company after a hectic day, even saving for all members to go to Queenstown 2 years from now is good enough for them. Competion, maybe. Perseverance, yes. Satisfiction (Northland) 01:24 PM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 I agree with most of what you say Alice, especially the comment about people discouraging others from working hard. All too often I get that comment "Don't work too hard". I'm coming to the realisation that they don't want me to work hard, because then they will feel guilty for not working hard. You don't have to work your life away, but working hard is important if you want to achieve your full potential. Observer (Wellington Region) 01:24 PM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 Hard-working (especially skilled) immigrants are awesome. The author apparently grew up in an immigrant family. Keep up the good work. Immigration truly has its place. And I commented on Sir Bob Jones' article a few days back as well. I thought he was generally wrong. I am an immigrant myself, an American, being in NZ almost 3 years now. I came in the skilled migrant route and had to hop through my share of hoops and pay a fair amount of money for the visas and residence status. And I've heard Sir Bob Jones' sentiment in my homeland (the States) from free marketers (usually rich guys owning businesses) that America, too, should throw open its borders to anybody who feels like coming in and working. And that is a bad idea. The standard of living here is such because of laws and limited immigration. To throw open the floodgates would generally cause massive of amounts of people of all stripes (but generally poor) who would compete with local Kiwi in semi- to low-skilled jobs. You'd be hurting your own, born and bred Kiwi's. But to the author's specific points in this article, I completely agree and applaud all hard-working immigrants here. deepred (New Zealand) 02:10 PM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 It seems people generally move to NZ to escape the rat race, before it causes them to collapse from what the Japanese call 'karoshi' (death from overwork). Additionally, the documentary "Race to Nowhere" chronicles American students who have been pressured to succeed, to the point where some of them can be driven to suicide. 0 likes Reply Like Report Mandah Oh () 02:16 PM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 Big T I don't see how any of this is supposed to convince me that working 80 hour weeks and spending your whole life working as hard as you can is a good way to live. China and the USA are, by all accounts, incredibly competitive places where you have to work like a madman to get anywhere. Despite everyone working so hard these countries are afflicted with massive inequality and poverty. Despite the hysteria around "poverty" in New Zealand, lazy old New Zealand remains one of the better countries on the planet to live in. More competition does not make a country better by default. The ideal human existence is not defined by "maximising potential" or "working as hard as you can". I would rather be dead than wasting my life working as hard as you suggest. In my opinion that is not a life worth living. That is not a life that brings any pleasure to the person living it. I support anyone who tries to stop that way of living becoming the norm. show more I think you have interpreted the article a little wrongly. She isn't saying working an 80 hour week is ideal, she was saying that the older generations have had to work damned hard to make a living for their families and this gives motivation to their children to get qualifications and work hard through early life so they don't end up doing the same hard weeks as their parents. I do agree that the "ideal human existence is not defined by maximising potential" but in this day and age, we have no choice but to work. That is why so many people strive to their best with the opportunities that are given to us. I am a university student myself and I would LOVE not to have to get a degree and work my way up in a career; it shouldn't be what life's about. Life should be about making ends meet for everyone in everyway, then maybe we ALL be happy. David Chan () 02:32 PM Friday, 5 Oct 2012 Thank you for sharing this article with us. I understand New Zealand has a lack in competitiveness, but in a way we can be seen to be a more ethical country than that of larger and more competitive countries such as China (the government/ living standards)or America (central banks of america). In a certain degree its a good thing but in another degree we lack improvement. Being a Chinese person who lived here for over twelve years, I certainly think we need to push ourselves but not in away which we over promote competition.
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