Mr Yau speaks about moving to the UK from Hong Kong and the problems he faced and about starting a family and setting up a takeaway business. He later speaks about the Newham Chinese Association, why it is so important for the community, how he became involved and his hopes for the future in Newham.
Mr Yau was born in Hong Kong and grew up in the countryside. In 1988, at the age of 24, he immigrated to the UK which was his first time travelling by plane. His first job was working in a Chinese restaurant in Kent. He remembers having to wear a sweater and feeling cold when he arrived in the UK in July and how people looked at him strangely for wearing his slippers.
“I didn’t know why people were staring at me. It was until later that I realised that wearing slippers in a public place is considered an unusual thing to do in this country. Here everyone wears shoes when going out.”
It was lonely when he first arrived – he had no friends and could not speak English. He remembers that in the first few months he ate at McDonald’s during all his days off. This was not because he liked the food but because he was too shy to order food anywhere else as he didn’t understand any of the menus. He’d always have a hamburger and orange juice as this was all he could say.
Mr Yau met his wife through a colleague at the restaurant where he worked in 1989 and they got married in 1991. The 1990’s were a difficult time for them with a young family, a mortgage and the introduction of the unpopular Poll Tax by Margaret Thatcher, many businesses were suffering and they struggled to make ends meet. In 1994, a relative kindly lent him $500,000 Hong Kong Dollars, equivalent to £50,000, to purchase a property which became his first Chinese takeaway shop in Leyton and they sold their home to pay for the refurbishment. Their family of now five had to live in just one room above the business. The first year of the business was hard work, starting at 7am and going to bed at 2 or 3 am, but after 6 years of hard work, the business was doing well and they decided to get a loan to purchase another property in Manor Park, and lease out the Leyton business. Mr Yau explains why the catering industry is so important to many Chinese immigrants:
He ran the takeaway shop in Manor Park for three years before selling the business due to problems with the building. At this time the competition for Chinese takeaways was growing and eventually Mr Yau and his family moved to Essex and decided to open a fish and chip shop instead. Mr Yau is extremely proud of his family – his four children are all grown now with three graduating from University and now working in IT, Graphic design and Jewellery design and the youngest taking an apprenticeship with Transport for London.
“So, when looking back, my wife and I are feeling fulfilled. To be very honest, in my case, I can say I started from nothing. When I came to the UK, with a mere 10 thousand HK Dollars (£1000) on me, I arrived here without friends or possessions; and I didn’t inherit any ancestral property or assets, I had nothing with me…I basically started from scratch.” 白手成家
(This reflects the ethos of a famous Chinese proverb: Creating successes from nothing – 白手成家 )
Mr Yau was involved in many Chinese organisations which is where he met Mr Chi Fei Wan, then former Chair of Newham Chinese Association (NCA), who asked him to join. Mr Yau was too busy at the time but when visiting Mr Wan during a stay in hospital, he was so moved by his words that he decided to join:
“He held my hand tight, as if he was afraid that I’d go. He looked at me and said: ‘How’s the Newham Chinese Association doing?’ I replied: ‘Please take care of yourself. Right now, it’s you that need to take care. Why should you be worried about other things?’ He said: ‘Really, the Chinese Association needs you. Please help.'”
Mr Yau began as a sponsor for NCA for 2 years, then as a member for 6 years and has now been Chair for 2 years.
Mr Yau says that the NCA offers a place for the Chinese in this area to attend activities such as playing mah-jong, dancing, Tai Chi, karaoke, Cantonese opera, day trips and dinners. They also support people who have problems speaking or writing English, with going to school or seeing a doctor, lawyer or contacting family. They also organise different cultural activities in the community to enhance people’s experiences in Newham.
Mr Yau explains above how the Chinese community have been badly affected by the virus; The Newham Chinese Association centre had to close and they’ve struggled to support people with many elders becoming isolated, whilst also having to deal with safety and a rise in hate crime.
Mr Yau have been trying to support the community the best they can during these difficult times and distributed masks to the community and Newham Council that were donated by Huizhou, China.
Mr Yau says that his two main objectives for NCA are looking at income and education as many Chinese community groups have had to close their doors due to lack of funding. Mr Yau wants NCA to be innovative with development projects and find sponsoring institutions and to one day have their own building so people can come in any time. He also wants to train the younger generations, like their current student group to support others and further contribute fully to society.
Using his business knowledge, he wants to help Newham develop a stronger economy and grow, one idea being for businesses from China investing in Newham. Mr Yau is ambitious for the borough:
“Newham will become the third financial district in London, UK. Compared with Bank and Canary Wharf, it is more advantageous, in terms of geographical, transportation, and environmental. If we can take a healthy city as the theme, I believe Newham will become one of the best. The borough has everything. I believe everyone will compete to move in. So, I have a long way to go and more challenges.”
When asked about his achievements he says that the happiest thing for him was having a family and watching them grow. He believes he will retire in 10 years and says that:
“If at this time, I retire to Newham, I can also enjoy the various community services, making my life more colourful, and I will feel I have achieved something.”