Thursday, October 09, 2014

Twelve Questions: Norman Ng

Twelve Questions: Norman Ng 5:00 AM Thursday Oct 9, 2014 ... Twelve Questions with Sarah Stuart Norman Ng, 82, was a child in the first wave of refugees allowed into New Zealand as Japan invaded China. Seventy-five years later, he is a successful businessman who still goes to the markets each morning. Norman Ng says although he grew up as a Kiwi, his father was strict in ensuring that he stayed true to his Chinese roots. Picture / Dean Purcell 1. You own the skinniest building in K Rd: how did your name end up there? I opened my first fruit and vege shop in 1960 in this building. I worked hard to save every penny and eventually bought it in 1967. This was my first business venture on my own and very sentimental to me. I wanted to share the pride of my success and have my name on it. 2. What do you remember of arriving in New Zealand? It took us six months to get here. I can remember running away from the village through the rice paddies on my bicycle as aeroplanes were flying over us and there were bullets hitting the ground. We had to walk to Hong Kong which took a very long time and we stayed there for a month while my father organised and paid for our passage. He had come to New Zealand in 1919 and saved all his money so we could come too. The ship was a cargo ship that stopped in Papua New Guinea and Darwin and we slept under the decks in dormitories. I remember when we got to Auckland, Queens Wharf, and my father was there. 3.What did your father do? He was a hawker, selling fruit and vegetables to the boarding houses, going door to door. When he started he had a bamboo stick with baskets on the end. We were extremely poor and I distinctly remember shifting around a few times within the first year. Our first place was a small room on Nelson St shared between my mother, father and two older sisters. A few months later we moved to a small house on Cook St and eventually we settled in an upstairs flat above the fruit and vege shop we rented on 244 Hobson St. We didn't have hot water, a bath and our toilet was separate from the property, about 20m down our backyard with no lighting. 4. How hard was life for your parents? As you could imagine, life as a foreigner in any new country is hard enough at the best of times. My mother died in 1941 just two years after arriving in New Zealand. Our father spoke very little English. I remember going to the hospital and how sad we were [when she died]. I missed her so much. When you think of it now you could cry. 5. Did you feel Chinese or Kiwi growing up? There were very few Chinese to connect with back in those days. I started school in Primer One and grew up as a Kiwi but my father was strict in ensuring that I stayed true to my roots and forced me to read and write Chinese every day. He thought we might have to go back to China as we were only temporary residents. But luckily after the war we were granted permanent residency. We were so happy then. 6. Did you experience any racist behaviour? I was picked on a lot during school. The other kids would often call me "Ching Chong" or "Chink". After two decades, more of the Chinese community became educated and forged successful careers in their chosen professions and we became more accepted as Kiwis. Oh, you couldn't get any Chinese food here when I was young. I think there was one restaurant but that was to feed the American soldiers. We made our own soy sauce out of Bovril mixed with water and salt. 7. What did your parents teach you? My father was a hard, strict man with a great emphasis on discipline. He ingrained a hard work ethic into our lives because we had come from a poor background and he made great sacrifices to get our family away from that environment. He taught us to work hard and save everything. We were only allowed to eat ripe fruit that was about to go off to minimise wastage at the shop. I guess we were taught to constantly save for a rainy day and never forget where we came from. I don't gamble. Don't drink. Don't smoke. There's a lot of luxury in the world but you avoid it. I'm not interested in flash cars or flash clothing. I do travel now though. In the last few years my wife and I have been all over the place. 8. What kind of father are you? I have modelled myself on my father. I have the same family values as he did for us as kids, to work hard, stay humble and secure a future for our children. 9. Has business always been a part of your life? Yes, and still is. I haven't stopped going to the produce markets just yet, although I wish they didn't start so early. 4am on cold winter months is not pleasant. I've had the same codename at the auctions - Super - since 1960. It's what they all call me. I live and breathe business though these days I leave the hard stuff to my son, Jason, and I mostly sit here and say hi to everyone. My wife's [still] working though. She works like a horse. 10. Do you think New Zealanders really understand the Chinese community? I've lived in New Zealand for 75 years and watched our generation build respect and understanding. We were in a good place but recent generations have dampened the efforts of the earlier generations by no fault of anyone. Mainly they are from northern China and they all speak Mandarin. It's a big change. I think we'll have to experience a new cycle of acceptance. 11. How has K Rd changed in your time? It was so busy and bustling. I remember 17 fruit shops on K Rd... They were mostly all Chinese. It was the "it" place for shopping with late night trading hours every Thursday night. It was one of the few places with late trading back then. 12.What do you want your legacy to be? I guess I'm a hard-working, humble man who gave everything I could to build a strong foundation for my family and for our future generations. - NZ Herald